What We Don’t Know Could Help Us

What We Don’t Know Could Help Us

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

March is Developmental Disabilities Month. I like to remind people that we need to keep our focus on the Abilities in disAbilities. The abilities that so many of our individuals have are fantastic and add so much to our world. Yet, we do not always know how to best support them and allow them to demonstrate what they know. Several discussions at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Conference reiterated that to me, as well as expanded on how the movement to virtual learning and therapies during the pandemic limited continued development for many individuals.

Access to technology and information is a key discussion point for many. We have had so much to do to get our individuals back since the pandemic, we have not always had the time to review what assistive technologies are available. We have had time where we could attend sessions, invite experts into our buildings, or research what others are doing taken from us and replaced with a concentrated effort around making up for any discrepancies in learning and therapy caused by 12-18 months away from in-person activities.

Something as commonplace as switch access has been a difficult topic for some to fully research. With the range of switches and alternative ways of using them, we can support many of our individuals better than ever. However, what is the “right” switch and how do we learn about it are questions that I am constantly asked. First, the “right” switch is the switch that works for the individual. We need time and trusted support in determining what that switch might be based on the abilities of the individual. When I speak of “trusted support,” I am referring to people who have the best interests of the individual and you in mind. I have had several groups come up to me concerned with the fact that their 3rd party AT Evaluators only have certain products or manufacturers that they recommend, creating instances where assistive technologies are recommended which can be cumbersome to operate. The first thing I always suggest to those in this situation is to see who else might be able to support the recommendation and findings of the AT evaluation.

An example of this is the fact that many of the AT Specialists and teachers with whom I have spoken know and understand what a proximity switch is, but cannot distinguish the differences between items like the Candy Corn Proximity Switch, the Honeybee, and the Movement Sensor Switch. All three of these can work with the idea of proximity. The question to be asked is what will be best for the individual? I had one discussion where the specialist knew that the individual needed proximity as a manner of input, but was concerned because anything place upon the table or tray in front of the individual was immediately knocked away. That is a situation where the Movement Sensor Switch might be the best solution, as it can be mounted out of sight and simply have an area where the fiber optic input is located allowing the individual to wave and activate whatever the switch connects. I am also still a big proponent of using a small Candy Corn Proximity Switch with the lights and sound on as a mounted cheek switch or even part of a head-array as it allows an individual with sensory issues to access devices without needing to touch the device.

Discussions on access sometimes lead into questions on AAC. The supply chain and technology creation delays have limited our ability to get some devices. Lengthy back-order situations have created the need to adjust or continue to use older equipment. What many folks do not know is that there are devices which operate like some of those devices which are not able to be received. I look at what Ablenet has done over the last few years and am amazed at how they have really thought about the future. They are creating products that adhere to environmental codes that are still being finalized, making their carbon footprint even smaller. They have also worked to maintain high levels of availability for their products while creating better systems for the access and delivery of those products. In the case of AAC, their QuickTalker series provides an excellent alternative to devices which have not been available. If you have heard me speak, you also know how much I love to use the Big Mack and Talking Brix2 in multiple areas of a building to create transparency of AT. Again, the critical piece is to be able to have trusted support which can discuss a variety of choices with you.

From AAC, the discussions naturally move into Literacy support. People are concerned about making texts, both digital and physical, accessible. There is no “one-size-fits-all” no matter what tablet manufacturers are telling you. Tablets, iPads, and laptops are coming with better text-to-speech products. However, some individuals may need a little more support with the way the words are being presented to them creating the need for products like ClaroRead. When approaching physical texts, there are a variety of pens available. It pains me to hear about schools who bought the least expensive pen without having any discussions on the realities of those pens. Questions surrounding internet accessibility, personal abilities to use multiple devices, the need for language translation, and the ability to receive visual cueing in differentiated ways need to be addressed. When supported well, the school receives devices which can support multiple students and has made a solid investment. What if the literacy needs of the student focus around visual impairments and those physical documents need something portable with built in OCR, like an AbleBaby? These are all questions that positive support can address with you.

We cannot forget about the sensory side of the discussion as well! Over the last two months, the demand for the Blackout Sensory Tent has been amazing. Being able to have a portable tent which fits into classrooms, gymnasiums, and other rooms means that schools can create “calming” areas which can double as rooms for students with visual impairments for a price of $220 creates a way to help many individuals without having to break the bank for a full sensory room; especially when the real estate within a school may not already exist. There are so many other ways that schools can look to create socially and school-appropriate support. The critical piece again is to have that trusted support which listens to the needs of your individuals first and is not limited by a set list of products or devices.

Find that trusted support and work on the things with your individuals that matter the most. Know that there are a lot of alternatives available to you and you do not have to pay a premium for the best care of those with whom you work. Thank you for all that you continue to do for our individuals in the classrooms, therapy rooms, and the workplace!


Posted in SH Special Education Today Newsletter