Assessing For Success
ICT plays a vital role here at Fairfield, as getting the right technology in place can make a real difference to learning outcomes for young people with disabilities.
In school, Tracey Fillan and Rosie Murphy provide ICT and communication aid advice and assessments for children with special needs across Kirklees. Their outreach team has an extensive assessment kit with high and low tech equipment, but are increasingly looking at new digital technologies to provide accessible and motivational solutions.
We provide an advice and assessment service for children who have physical and/or communication difficulties. This may be to enable them to communicate more efficiently, to access technology, to record independently and to support their learning and understanding.
How the assessment process works
Following an initial referral from the local authority or school direct, we will visit the pupil in class and discuss with staff and pupil challenges being faced.
A pre-assessment form is then completed detailing crucial information about the pupil, such as seating requirements, communication methods etc. We also ask for copies of the Statement and therapy reports if appropriate.
An assessment meeting is then arranged at the school involving pupil, parents, therapists, school staff, and, if the pupil has a visual impairment, QTVI/ VI technician.
We bring along equipment fully-charged, and, if appropriate, pre-programmed to suit the pupil based on the information we have. One team member acts as the key assessor engaging with the pupil and initiating responses about what equipment works for the pupil, and what can be eliminated. The second team member observes, makes notes and takes photographs and/or video for our report.
As this process can be tiring for pupils we take regular breaks to ensure a correct outcome. And suitable outcomes may not always be decided on the first meeting.
Before recommending a device we will consider factors such as:
Access – what method of access is easiest for the pupil?
Sound – is the level of sound loud enough for the pupil’s environment?
Voice – are the available voices suitable and appropriate?
Portability – is the device of the correct weight and size for the pupil’s needs?
Is the device easy enough to use/programme and will it cater for the pupil’s needs now and in the foreseeable future?
Is the pupil motivated to use it?
Making a difference
The following case studies illustrate some of the ways in which we’ve been able to support and motivate young learners. For some learners innovative new devices like the IPAD offer motivating and viable alternatives, but these are not necessarily the best solution for everyone.
Paulie and his Intellikeys Board
Paulie, who is seven, had acquired brain damage and was blind following a road traffic accident. Paulie had weakness in his right hand and arm, but was gradually regaining some strength in his left. When we met Paulie he was having difficulties walking and with manual dexterity. Paulie has recently returned to school after 18 months in hospital. We were asked to have some input alongside the Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and VI service.
Paulie’s assessment began with trialling the Braille Note, but this presented a lot of challenges for him and he struggled to feel the correct keys. A laptop with Jaws speech access software was also tried, but again manipulating the key proved difficult. So despite new innovations in technology we discovered through trialling various pieces of equipment that the Intellikeys Board was the most appropriate method of access for him. We put on an overlay which helped him develop his sense of touch and work left to right. He began by feeling large textured squares as part of a number song with the full song playing when he reached the end.
Having discovered the easiest access device for him we ended the assessment for that day and made recommendations. These were:
To develop fine motor movements through practising daily exercises and working on a music keyboard.
To continue to work on the Intellikeys Board – the VI technician to make specific overlays for him similar to the one shown at the assessment.
Two months later we saw Paulie again to assess his development and work out strategies for the future. In the intervening time his spatial awareness and memory had developed as well as the dexterity in his fingers. This time he was able to feel small bumps and work left to right. He also knew if had missed one and could correct himself. His progress was astonishing. It was determined that Paulie was ready to start learning braille.
Today Paulie is developing a good braille vocabulary and continues to use the Intellikeys Board for some of his school work. He is keen to learn and develop his skills and will soon be getting a Braille Note. He has been able to remain in mainstream school and is regaining skills on a daily basis.
Bisma and her IPAD
Bisma was having a difficult time in her mainstream high school. Her visual impairment meant that she was unable to access the school computer in the same way as her peers. But Bisma was keen that any equipment she used didn’t single her out from her classmates. We decided to show her the accessibility options available on the apple IPAD to enhance the audio visual aspects. Following our assessment with Bisma we found the Voiceover option most useful. This is a gesture-based screen reader which allows the user to explore the device through touch. Bisma was able to activate the IPAD by touching the screen to hear the item’s description, then gesturing with a double-tap, drag or flick to control the function. Voiceover also gives information about the device including battery level, network, signal level and time of day. It tells you if the screen is in portrait or landscape mode and the location of the ‘home’ button. The speaking rate can be adjusted as can the volume. When there is background sound this lowers so the user can hear VoiceOver. This can be used to browse the web, chat, send and receive emails, use iTunes, edit text documents and in conjunction with iBook.
We also showed Bisma how to use the Zoom feature which allows the user to magnify the screen up to 40x by using the scroll wheel on a mouse, a trackpad gesture or keyboard commands. Magnification can be applied to text, graphics and even video. Bisma also chose to make use of the White on Black feature of the display which can be used in conjunction with Zoom and Voiceover. We also set her IPAD for audible alerts on incoming and outgoing mail and calendar events.
Our assessment concluded with the recommendations for an IPAD with a sturdy case using the inbuilt applications for school use and an IPOD for home use as that would be more portable for social situations. Bisma was thrilled to think she could have an IPAD and IPOD and be able to use them for her music and the internet as well as school work. A satisfied customer indeed! The school was also delighted as these tools are a cost effective option.
Greater Accessibility for all
Since the arrival of the technologies like the IPAD, IPOD TOUCH and IPHONE accessibility has improved dramatically. Standard features on these devices mean we that we are finally seeing mainstream equipment being used for all. The students we are recommending them for are delighted to be using the same equipment as their peers, and these devices even with additional apps (like the excellent PROLOQUO 2 GO app notably proving very popular with high school students needing a communication aid) are often a much cheaper option than specialised equipment.
This was first published in RNIB Insight magazine, July August 2011
We can offer training for our colleagues in AAC and ICT as well as courses on getting the most from IPOD and IPAD. For more information contact Tracey Fillan or Rosie Murphy.
Tel: 01924 326103 (831 6103)
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com