From the Jamestown Sun
By harnessing the power of a simple tablet computer, people who can’t speak can make their voices heard, people who can’t see can read books, and people who can’t play a conventional instrument can make music.
And all of that helps the students of the Anne Carlsen Center achieve their goals and become more independent.
“This is such an exciting time,” said Mark Coppin, director of assistive technology at the center. “It is truly, truly one of the most exciting times to be in special education.”
The ACC’s use of iPads as adaptive technology has earned it the Apple Distinguished School award for the second time, along with an international reputation for being innovators in the field.
The Anne Carlsen Center is the only special needs school to be given the Apple award, said Marcia Gums, ACC’s chief operating officer.
At first, the center implemented Apple technologies in the classroom and therapy settings, with a focus on iPads, Coppin said. Whatever applications an individual student needs can be downloaded on his or her iPad, so that each device is individualized to its user.
The initial success of the iPads has led the ACC to expand their usage, incorporating them into students’ entire day rather than just the school day, said Coppin, who was recently recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” in education.
“Education takes place the whole, entire day,” he explained.
The devices are particularly useful for students on the autism spectrum, as they are very visual, but still involve audio and body movement. An iPad allows a person on the spectrum to directly control a screen that is consistently the same each time the person turns it on.
One program, Proloquo2Go, literally allows a nonverbal person to speak. It shows a series of icons with accompanying text, and by choosing and stringing together the icons, a person can make sentences — which the iPad then reads aloud.
Michele Well, director of education at ACC, said she knows a student who uses the application to say “Good morning” to her in the hallway.
“He’s a conversationalist. It completely opened up his window” to the world, Well said, indicating an iPad. “… this is somebody’s voice.”
And because the students can communicate, they have fewer behavioral issues, too, she added.
Students on the autism spectrum aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the tablet technology, either.
“There are apps that are going to be out there for every student that you work with,” Coppin said.
Then there’s the coolness factor. Because it’s a consumer-level device, plenty of people have iPads, and students consider it cool to carry them around, Coppin said.
And they’re relatively inexpensive. Even at the cost of $300 to $500 each, and perhaps another $50 for a good selection of apps, the price of iPads is dwarfed by the cost of some specialized equipment specifically made for people with disabilities, which can cost multiple thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
Some of the accessibility features are built into every iPad, rather than being a special feature, Coppin said, praising Apple’s commitment to accessibility.
For example, he said, visually impaired people can open an iPad and start using it straight out of the box, just like anybody else — after a few seconds of inactivity, the tablet asks if the user wants to use voice mode, which doesn’t depend on the visuals on the screen.
Those who can’t use an iPad in the conventional way can use a stylus, or even two buttons. One of ACC’s students has a $20,000 communication system, but prefers to use Apple tech, manipulating the cursor by pressing two different buttons with her head.
She can play video games. She can also do homework, make movies and text or Facebook her friends.
“It’s really ability that we take a look at, not disability,” Coppin said.
Engaging with the world
Now every child at the ACC has access to an iPad during the day, though Well said she could use a few more iPad2s.
Unlike previous versions, those have cameras, and optical character recognition — meaning that someone can use the iPad to take a picture of text, which is then recognized by the machine as text and read aloud.
Because of the ACC’s work with adaptive technology, software and hardware creators have started using Coppin and the students and teachers at the ACC as testers for their latest inventions.
“We are doing stuff that is, in some cases, cutting edge,” said Coppin, who would like to purchase a robot for the school.
That would allow students who are medically fragile to “go” to class, Coppin explained.
Currently, they are able to use video chat to participate in classes — again with iPads, one in the classroom and one with the medically fragile student — but having a robot would allow students to also have a physical, interactive presence in the classroom. Or the museum. Or anywhere the robot could go.
“We are really looking at pushing developers to enable our students to live the most productive, independent lives they can,” Coppin said.
Anyone who wishes to see some of the ACC’s innovative use of technology is welcome to attend the students’ Christmas program at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 20.
At one time, the ACC’s Christmas program mostly involved performances from its staff.
Now students perform plays and make their own music, Coppin said.