Closing the Gap 2022 – Reconnecting and Recharging

Closing the Gap 2022 – Reconnecting and Recharging

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, we were able to gather in person at the Closing the Gap Conference. This convergence in person created an energy that was uplifting as well as refreshing.  We grew empowered with the success stories while looking at what we must continue to do to support our individuals through inclusivity. That work, although sometimes feeling like we are facing an uphill battle, becomes so much more manageable when we know we are not alone and that experts surround us. Here are some takeaways from sessions and discussions that I wish to share with you.

I was able to enjoy dinner one evening with three amazing people-- Mo Buti, Candice Steel, and Jodi Szuter. The energy from that dinner alone could light the world for decades. One of the topics of which we spoke was the pre-conference session which Mo and Candice presented. As they looked at addressing deficit areas within students on the Autism Spectrum, they included sensory processing and social emotional learning. I am always reminded in discussions like this how EVERY student can benefit from strategies which focus on the sensory and social emotional parts of daily activities. Mo never ceases to amaze me with her energy and ability to help districts focus on expanding their educational approaches. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to hear Candice present, be sure to sign up for any sessions you see with her in future conferences. Her pragmatic ways of handling students has been a calling card of hers during her career. Now, she can share so much more and spread ideas that work. Finally, Jodi has such a depth of work and understanding in literacy especially for those struggling to read. She spoke about the sensory side of literacy and going back to engaging the students in tactile feedback with letters as well as numbers to create an inclusive foundation.

Kelly Fonner is one of the busiest people in the AT world! That was evident with her pre-conference workshop as well as five other presentations! Although our interaction was brief (we keep threatening to present together and someday we will!), I appreciate her efforts around the idea of mentoring in our AT world. AT needs are as varied as our students. How does one keep up with everything?  How can one make sure that evaluations are done properly and with the strengths of the student in mind? Kelly is that person in our community who keeps us focused on the high level and not get bogged down in the minutiae which is easy to do. Reach out to her about this idea of mentoring!

Finally, one cannot engage in any presentation with a PowerPoint and not be influenced by the work of Kelli Suding around making material accessible. I am more aware now of how much digital information is not fully accessible because of her message. At CTG, she spoke on how to build capacity through effective PD. This message is essential within education as for too long, PD was something we had to do.  A well designed and developed PD program can expand inclusivity through a grassroots pedagogy and not detract from any educational progress.

When we looked at some of the new or “renewed” products, we saw a return to access and literacy support. We also recognize the need for overall sensory support in ways that we had not previously considered.

The C-Pen Reader Pen 2 made its debut in the US. Icons now make it easier to interact with the menu.  This device continues to assist those with dyslexia and other reading issues through giving access to printed texts without having to connect to the internet. The built-in dictionary offers individuals the ability to quickly review word meanings while staying within the text itself. The fact that the words are also highlighted while the text is being read aloud also helps with word-recognition.

The Scanmarker Reader also came to Closing the Gap. Introduced into the US earlier this year, the Scanmarker Reader offers individuals the opportunity to scan and read texts through the Scanmarker app. This device also comes with a unique way of helping those with fine motor issues move along text in a straight line. An amazing strength of this full platform approach is the ability to scan in one language and have it translated into one of many other languages almost immediately. The Scanmarker Reader platform is a game-changer for our ESL students and their families.

Livescribe has also returned to action and was demonstrated. I prefer the Echo II for its ability to record (up to 200 hours) and utilize the special notebooks just like before. The playback is also improved. As individuals get older and begin to transition into the workplace, the Symphony along with the Livescribe app can provide support necessary for individuals to remember and review important information.

When looking to support those with visual impairments, AbleCon devices provide excellent individualized support at a fraction of the cost of other products.  The AbleBaby made its impression on me and many others as a portable vision support system that can hook directly to a laptop or computer and allow magnification, contrast change, and OCR capabilities for less than a document camera without OCR. Its additional products like the AbleGrabber, which sends an individual the signal of what is being broadcast on an interactive whiteboard, as well as the AbleCenter, which gives an individual control of what is being shown around a room helps to make our classrooms even more inclusive for the visually impaired.

Many of you already know that I am a huge fan of Time Timer Visual Timers. The new Time Timer watch along with the ability to have it used in a fob instead of on the wrist lets those with sensory issues around the arms still have access to a smaller and more private visual timer. The dry erase board that works with an insert of a Time Timer Mod can help to lay out specific times or agenda items that can use that timer as well.

Many of you may be familiar with the Active Floor. I remember visiting their headquarters in Denmark back in 2012 and seeing one of the early versions of it. It is a fantastic way to bring interactive learning into any room. The issue that schools with whom I spoke had related to the fact that early versions were only able to be mounted in the ceiling; thereby limiting access. They still have the ceiling mounted version (Active Floor Pro2 or the Active Floor Giga for larger spaces). As you might imagine, the quality of the interactivity and projected images is amazing. I watched it demonstrated under the full light of the conference Exhibit Hall and still was able to see the floor clearly.  For me, the key addition they have to the Active Floor Family is the Mobile Max. They have taken the idea of the Active Floor and made it portable! I can envision buildings using it for many inclusive activities and have the students all work together in movement-based learning.

Finally, the Visilift+ made its US debut. When the TAPit came to its end, many districts began looking at alternative products. Simply using an interactive monitor on a stand does not give the same access that devices like the Visilift+ give to many groups of students. Yes, it is multi-touch and it allows for that touch to be established with any manipulative. I think back to students that I helped interact with the TAPit by using wiffle balls or wands and am excited for the possibilities.

Closing the Gap 2022 was a return to the energy and excitement we have around supporting our individuals. It was a concrete reminder that we have products, the likes of which we have never had before. We also have the ability to create our own products or work with groups like Enabling Devices to personalize devices for our students. Most important though, is the message that when we join together, utilizing each other’s knowledge, we can create a world where inclusivity is transparent because it is naturally occurring.

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Posted in Special Education and SH Special Education Today Newsletter