Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rounding it Out

When it comes to accessible technology, there is really a wide swath of things to cover, and a wide range of experiences... one can never really know where to start.  So, here are just a few more resources, that you might find useful or interesting, but that we really didn't have time to cover.

If you are in the position of supporting a family that has just received a disability diagnosis, or who is just starting to explore accessible technology, then you may want to direct them to The Family Center on Technology and Disability.

Need more tutorials?  Check out Accessible Tech.  They have an archive of webinars that can help you adjust the accessibility setting son your iPad, create accessible video and accessible webinars.  Can anyone say distance learning?

Well, actually, speaking of distance learning, Georgia Tech's Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA) has been researching distance learning with the Georgia Tech Research on Accessible Distance Education (GRADE) project.  You can learn more about accessible distance learning by visiting their website.

If you would like more information on welcoming children with disabilities into your congregation, you can read a digital copy of Sally Patton's book "Welcoming Children with Special Needs."

Finally, for a general overview of all things 'Worship and Technology,' you may just want to check out the Central East Regional Group's (CERG) "Ministry and Worship in the Age of Technology" webinar.  You can see the webinar below.  A few final notes before you begin: (1) this video is quite long (1 hour 27 minutes), if don't have time to watch the entire thing, you may just want to check out the 10 minutes that cover worship tech that start at 55:55; and (2) this video does not address accessibility, but it is a good overview nonetheless.

Wising you luck on your journey to accessibility, inclusion and engagement,

- Meredith Plummer

Can You Hear Me Now?

The most common disability among Unitarian Universalists is hearing loss. When we post a recording of our worship service on our website, we have another opportunity to be inclusive of people with hearing loss.

If you post an audio only recording of a sermon, post a transcript of it, too. Kasey Kruser, of the UUA Web Team, points out that not only will it be accessible to someone with hearing loss, it will also be accessible to someone who doesn’t have an earbud with them or doesn’t have the software to play it. And, it makes it show up in internet searches!

If you post a video recording, you can use the automatic captioning that YouTube does. But, this automatic captioning often gets it wrong, and can distort your meaning. Always watch the video with the captions on and the sound turned off before you upload it.

The Rev. Barbara Meyers, whose Mental Health Matters series is fully captioned, offers this advice:

YouTube has a utility that helps a lot with captions. You prepare a text file with the exact text spoken in the video, and upload it to YouTube. The utility will automatically figure out where to place the captions. You can check what they did and make changes if necessary. This set of captions can be selected from the CC on the bottom of the YouTube window. 

This is all done from the Uploads menu of the YouTube Video Manager selectable from the user’s Dashboard.  It has to be done by the person who has uploaded the video to YouTube.

Whether it's a transcript or captions, if the sermon is not preached from a manuscript someone will need to create one after the fact, or take the time to make corrections when using speech to text software.  When you do, many more people will be able to hear you.

To learn more about closed captioning, visit YouTube's support page at Add Subtitles and Closed Captions and Caption Action 2: Internet Closed Captioning.

- Suzanne Fast

That All May Worship

Technology shapes how we worship together.  Before photocopiers, the order of service was printed in the hymnal.  If you couldn’t read it, you could learn it by rote.
The copy machine and the microphone have been the dominant technologies in worship for some time.  When the order of service changes frequently and differs from congregation to congregation, you can’t rely on rote memory to follow along.  With the ability to change fonts, it also became possible to make large print orders of service. Other assistive technologies that came along in this same time period include large print and Braille hymnals, and fm headsets.

Technology is changing again, and it presents new opportunities and new barriers. Projection screens in worship encourage us to look up! when we sing. But we still need the large print and braille hymnals. For that matter, we may still need the regular hymnals because those of us who don’t stand may not be able to see the screen when the people in front of us are standing. Looping provides a vastly improved technology for people with hearing loss. This is particularly important in today’s services with multiple voices speaking. Those of us who don’t stand still need a printed order of service, and large print orders of service still matter. With today’s technology we could offer electronic orders of service, so that someone with a text to speech App can hear what’s coming next right in their ear. If an electronic order of service is available in advance, someone with a Brailler at home can print it out.

Live streaming, both audio and video, make it possible for some people to join in worship might not be able to otherwise. Other people, who use a screen reader to get around the Internet, may find live streaming hard to access. That depends somewhat on the technological platform we choose for live streaming, but also on how we set up our websites.

What’s over the horizon? Electronic hymnals? I wonder. Live captioning isn’t that good, yet. But it will be. And Broadway theaters offer audio descriptions over headsets so that blind people get a description of the action on stage. When will that become affordable for congregations?

Technology can include or exclude people with disabilities.  It's up to all of us to pay attention to who's in the room and who isn't, even when it's a virtual room.  It's up to all of us to tell hardware and software providers that accessibility matters to us.  And it's up to all of us to create safe places where people with disabilities can be involved in finding technologies to make worship more accessible for them.

Learn more about live streaming at Please Stream Me Into Worship.

Learn more about audio descriptions at Seeing the Show with their Ears.

- Suzanne Fast

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Expanding the Boundaries of Congregational Life

Innovative uses of technology go beyond worship.  They also extend into other areas of congregational life where people with mobility issues or other challenges that make personal contact difficult can participate fully.  Examples include Board and committee meetings, Adult Faith Development classes, book groups, meetings with the minister, small group ministry, leadership training and “brown bag” discussion groups, to name a few.  While face to face contact is optimal, we are realizing that it is not always necessary, and it is certainly the next best thing to being there.

Several web-based platforms are available for people to meet virtually.  Skype, Zoom, Anymeeting, Fuze, and Google Hangout are among the most popular.  You may have a favorite of your own.  Each comes with their unique advantages and disadvantages.  But in general, for large gatherings, programs like Fuze and Anymeeting are preferred, since you can manage the discussion via raising of hands or flags.  For more intimate gatherings, Skype or Google Hangout are preferred.

The technology is being refined every day but for people with hearing or vision limitations, we're not there yet.  Challenges in seeing and hearing well while using these platforms still exist.  And for those who are not used to technology and meeting virtually, the glitches can be frustrating.  So we need to be mindful of who is in the virtual room with us and we need to be understanding.  Here is the mantra that we should follow:  Keep an Open Mind; Exercise Patience; Have Faith.

For more on virtual meetings in congregations, check out Rev. Renee Ruchotzke's video from the Central East Regional Group (CERG), "Best Practices in Virtual Meetings."

-Mark Bernstein

Apps, Apps Everywhere

There are scores of blog posts out there dedicated to 'the best apps' for children and children with special needs.  I have scoured through a few of them in order to find the ones best suited for an RE class.  If you are considering getting a tablet for your RE program, I would recommend an ios operating system, over an android - in terms of the availability of cheap and free apps, there is none better.  If you have a tablet for use in your RE program, I recommend you review some of the educational tutorials on SlideShare, starting with "iPads in the Inclusive Classroom."

Instructional Apps
One of the biggest complaints I hear from children and parents is that Sunday school can be too much like school - too reliant on auditory and linguistic forms of instruction, negligent of all other learning modalities and intelligences (learn more here).  This means that at best, children who are not auditory learners do not connect with the lesson content, and at worst, children who posses an intelligence other than verbal/linguistic intelligence feel worthless, stupid and not welcomed.  And, while any child could fall anywhere on these continuums, it is our children with disabilities such as ADHD and ASD that, overwhelmingly, suffer.

So, here are some apps that might help vary instruction.  I hope, at least, they will spark a few ideas...
  • Recycle HD - "Combining solid information about how to keep the planet healthy, interactive games, high-definition images and videos, this app is successful at inspiring kids to adopt healthy habits - and makes for a great complement to any environmental science lesson." - Education.com
  • Google Sky - Point your tablet toward the sky, then wonder and learn about the constellations above.
  • The Children's Bible - Bible stories and activities for children.
  • Britannica Kids App Series - Employ our 3rd principle on the spot with this handy app series!
  • Barefoot World Atlas - Learn about other cultures around the world with this interactive globe.
  • My Friend Isabelle - Children can learn about disability and differences with this interactive picture book.

Holiday Apps
When modifying instruction, don't forget the holidays!

The Arts
Music and art are integral parts of our congregational life - especially in RE.  Here are some apps that can help those with poor fine motor skills, or who are non-verbal, participate.
  • Doodle Kids - This painting app will draw random shapes in random colors with random sizes to create a beautiful effect.  Developed and programmed by a 9 year old from Singapore.
  • SpinArt Free - Create beautiful mandalas with this classic art game gone digital.
  • Children's Percussion Sounds - An easy and fun musical application.  Children tap a percussion instrument to hear it make a sound.
  • Kidomatic Camera - Children can take, edit and share pictures with this quirky app.  To think of how much I've spent of my program budget developing pictures from disposable cameras, when we could have just used this and printed them off ourselves!
  • Chaos Lab - Explore chaos theory through interactive pictures.  I wasn't sure if I should put this under instruction or art.  But, either way, it sure is interesting!
  • Tonepad - Fun and easy way to create music.
  • Percussive - Choose between several different xylophones and create music with just a tap of your finger.

Meditation Apps
Meditation can help calm and focus children with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or who have attention deficit hyper activity disorder (ADHD).  It is also a well known spiritual practice.  Here are some apps that might aide you if you ever decide to lead a class in a meditation...
  • White Noise for Android - This app provides over 40 ambient, environmental sounds for your relaxation.
  • Angry Octopus - Angry Octopus is actually an interactive book designed for children with ADHD or ASD as a way to manage anger using progressive muscular relaxation.
  • Breathing Zone - I will note that I have not tested this app, but I picture this app could help children learn the difference between an anxious breath and a calming breath.

Communication Apps
I've already said a lot about the importance of AAC apps in helping children with disabilities community.  Now, here are a few apps that could help you communication with children who have a disability (specifically, children who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or who are Blind).
  • Signing Apps by Vcom3D - This is a compilation of apps that can teach you how to sign.  It includes, among other things, several apps on how to communicate science terminology in sign language.
  • Sign Language Idioms - Every language has it's idioms, learn about sign language idioms here.
  • Basic Braille - This app helps you gain mastery of the Braille alphabet and allows you to practice with over 365 words.

Other Tools
Here is a collection of other tools you may find useful in your inclusive classroom.
  • Easy Kid Timer - This app was developed to help children with autism understand the concepts of patients and time.  If you want a child to focus on a task for a dedicated period of time, this would be helpful.
  • iTubeList - Save YouTube play lists to watch later.  If you have a class full of visual learners, this would be a great planning tool.
  • Is that Gluten Free? - Most of our congregations have become sensitive to peanut and tree nut allergies.  But, we are less savvy when it comes to Gluten Intolerance.  If you serve snack during your program, this app can help you know what is gluten free.
  • EyeNote - This app scans bills and tells the user what denomination it is.  If you have a child who is Blind or visually impaired in your program, this app could help them count money collected from a fundraiser or during offering.
  • BigMagnify Free - This app uses the camera feature to magnify anything.  If you have a child who needs Large Print, this could help them.
  • Autism Classroom - This app provides a wealth of easy to understand information about autism.  As well as quick ideas for lessons and activities.
  • My Pictures Talk: Video Modeling Tool - This app was developed with the intention that it be used to create social stories for people with autism (see previous post).  However, it could easily be adapted as a tool for children to create their own stories.

Tell us about your favorite apps in the comments.

In the spirit of exploration,

- Meredith Plummer

Friday, June 20, 2014

Technology in Religious Education: Part 3 - High Tech

Now, we're on the high tech highway.  Much of what I review here will be brought into your program by children with disabilities.  However, you should be aware of what technology may be appearing in your program, and the opportunities this technology presents to you and the child with a disability.  If you are lucky to have an iPad in your RE program, there is some information here for you too.

Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Finally, we've reached the last tier of AAC options.  At this level, children use dedicated communication devices, such as Dynavox, or iPad's with AAC apps, such as Proloquo2go, to talk.  In short, the child selects a picture symbol from his screen (remember symbolstix) and the devices speaks for the child.  Some children and some applications are able to build complex sentences by combining various symbols.  Other's have sentences pre-programmed to correspond to a single symbol.  You'll need to get to know the child to learn where s/he is on the communication continuum.  If the child uses a high-tech communication device meet with the parents and see if 'church' words could be added to the child's vocabulary, such as: Chalice, Joys & Sorrows, DRE, minister, sanctuary, and 7 principles.  Fold in a speech pathologist if need be.

Dynavox is a dedicated communication devices
that uses picture symbols to communicate.
There are many communication apps for ios and
android devices.  In this picture is the most
popular communication app, Proloquo2go.

To learn more about AAC devices, visit the AAC Institute.

Social Story Applications
There are many, many applications for children with special needs.  I will highlight some of my favorites in a later post.  However, I just wanted to take a moment to uplift Social Story Apps.  Social Stories are a common and effective way of developing and praising social skills in children who are on the autism spectrum.  If you have a child with autism in your program, and s/he is already employing social stories (in app form, or otherwise), a social story about church could help them integrate into the social framework of their classroom and congregation.  It takes a lot of skill to develop a good social story and so I recommend you do plenty of research and employ the expertise of a special education teacher or behavioral therapist in your congregation (that is, of course, with the parents' consent).  The concept of social stories was developed and popularized by Carol Gray of The Gray Center, and so I recommend you start your research there.

Social story allow you to share appropriate social skills.
Social Story Apps now give you the option of putting the child in the story!

Text to Speech / Speech to Text
I don't really know what to say here.  Everyone that has a smart phone or tablet should already know about these capabilities.  Of course, there are some limitations.  It is difficult for a speech to text program to pick up when multiple people are talking.  And, text to speech programs can come off as very robotic and, at times, hard to follow.  But, this may still be a technology the Deaf or Hard of Hearing employ in your congregation.

Speech to text and text to speech programs are available
on all smart phones and tablets.  Though limited in their capabilities,
they are an option for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. 

On a related note, there are now automatic captioning programs for videos.  However, I hear these captions often turn out unintelligible, and at worst, profane.  In short, the technology just isn't quite 'there' yet, so be cautious when employing this kind of technology.

Accessibility Features
All tablets now have built in accessibility features that can be turned on and off.  You can invert colors, employ a screen reader, zoom, increase print size, change the touch sensitivities, lock into a program, and much more.

In ios devices, you can access the accessibility features by
going to 'settings' and clicking on 'general.'

If you use a tablet in your program, you can learn how to make it accessible by visiting the companies website.
  • iPad
  • Microsoft Surface
  • Kindle
  • Samsung Tab - Note that Samsung's accessibility features are dependent on the tablet provider and model of the tablet.  You'll need to know these two things about your tablet before learning more.

If you are a person with a disability, what high tech devices do you employ on a regular basis?  Tell us in the comments!

For the love of science,

- Meredith Plummer

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Technology in Religious Education: Part 2 - Medium Tech

Alright, so 'Medium Tech' is not a term.  But, for the sake of this blog, let's say it is.  There are many pieces of technology out there that aren't quite 'high tech' but that are worth mentioning as far as accessibility and accommodation goes.  In one short word - switches.

Various Switches
In the picture above, you can see many different types of switches.  There is a big red wireless switch (one that could communicate with an ipad - more on that in another post), a blue communication switch, a collection of big and mini wired switches, a puff switch for those who can't use their arms at all (it's the black one with the wire attached), and a head switch (the small white one).  Not featured in this picture, but also available on the market are wrist switches, foot switches and eye gaze switches.  While many of these switches you can buy for your congregation, the puff switch, head switch, and eye gaze switch would be brought in and used solely by the person with a disability (PwD).

Switch Activated Toys
For our littlest UU's, play is a big part of learning and growing spiritually.  But, sometimes a child is so severely impacted by their disability, it seems they can't play at all.  Luckily, there are switch activated toys, and switches we can attach to electronic toys (I even know someone who attached a switch to their Christmas tree lights!).

An off the shelf toddler radio.  The big
push buttons make it easily accessible
for children with motor difficulty.
This walking dog is attached to a
switch, that when pressed, completes a
circuit and activates the dog.

Augmented and Alternative Communication
Communication is so important, I'm highlighting an AAC technology at all three tiers.  In this post, I want to introduce you to communication switches.  There are several versions of these.  They can have one switch, two switches, or three switches.  And, one button can hold just one message, or several.  It all depends on the model, the needs of the child with a disability, and the lesson's requirements.

So, to give you an example, a toddler with a cognitive disability may only need one button with one message while she is in class.  That button could say "Hi, Friends" or "Help Me."  Whatever you, the parent, and the child's teacher feel is best.

The BIGmack communicator.  Records a single message
that is played back when the button is pressed.

Or, let's say you want to welcome the child into joys and sorrows.  So, before class each Sunday you connect with the child's parent - what was a joy or sorrow in the child's life this week?  Using the dual switch, you can record a greeting on one button, and the child's joy or sorrow on the other.  Then, when it is time to share joys and sorrows, the child with a disability can share!  This button also allows the child with a disability to make choices.

Dual switch communication buttons allow
children to say two things and make choices.
And, finally, let's say the lesson of the day calls for a song.  You can use one of the 'many message' communication switches to record different sections of the song.  Then, the child can 'sing' along with their peers.

Some buttons allow you to record many messages in a row.

Switch Activated Utensils
Switches can also be attached to some adaptive utensils to assist with art activities.  Featured here is a pair of switch activated, battery powered scissors.  And, a switch activated art spinner (for painting - think of the mandalas the child will create!).

Switch Activated Scissors.
Switch Activated Art Spinner.

You can purchase switches, switch activated toys, communication switches, and switch activated utensils at any of the retailers listed below.  Tell us if there is any medium tech offerings we forgot to cover.  List your suggestions in the comments!

In creative collaboration,

- Meredith Plummer