Saturday, May 31, 2014

Making Accessibility Accessible from our Guest Blogger, Shelly

Back in September, I was tasked with making iPads accessible to students with decreased hand strength and control, who had exhausted the typical means of hands free use (including mouth sticks). After doing a lot of research, I found that the new version of iTunes would allow switch access--perfect! I had switches, iPads and switch access, what else did I need?

In the excitement of the revelation I missed the fine print, assuming I could just plug a switch into the headphone jack and go from there. I quickly realized that was not the case and started my journey by attempting to order a piece of equipment through a school district. Being new to the assistive technology department in my school district, I figured I would put in the order and the switch would come within a week or two. Unfortunately, it first had to be determined a necessity (with documentation), then approved by special education, and finally by the district before it was ordered (the process used by most school districts). And guess what? When you order cutting-edge technology, you also have to wait while it is back ordered.

Several months later, the AbleNet Blue2 Bluetooth switch was introduced into my life. Again I was excited to finally allow my students access where they previously hadn’t been. I turned on the switch, read the instructions in the book and hit a road block. Not only was it not easy to set up, the instructions in the box were the “quick set-up” which really meant, of course, not quick or easy. They made no sense! Thankfully Google lead me to the in-depth instructions for setting up the switch with the iPad; unfortunately I can no longer find those directions to share.

Without going into detail, setting up the switch was intense and cumbersome. I have good problem solving skills and I'm relatively up to date with technology, yet I was frustrated with the set-up, especially with the knowledge that I would soon have to explain and teach someone else how to do this. As an Occupational Therapist introducing technology into classrooms for students with special needs, I had experienced resistance, specifically with implementation. If I couldn’t be there every day to implement and monitor a piece of equipment that required active interaction, it was likely not to be used.

Why is there a disconnect between dynamic and static pieces of equipment? Many times, it is training and the time it takes to not only teach the student, but also the adults interacting with the equipment daily. I have also experienced the “fear” of breaking or using a piece of equipment wrong. Even with extensive training, sometimes technology is pushed aside, and the student is helped when they can be independent with modifications.

I had an amazing piece of equipment with no easy set up and a few illogical small details (such as the little fact that no other accessibility features can be on while using a switch, a detail not covered in the set-up instructions). In addition, some adults were resistant to learn and the students had varying cognitive function, needing the adaptive switch to simply turn on the iPad. This definitely required me to employ my OT skills with a top-down approach! I showed the adults the potential of the switch and how well the students interacted with the iPad, and the increased independence (and sense of accomplishment) the students achieved. Then I slowly taught each step of setting it up to those who felt comfortable with iPads and will be with the students for a while (case managers), and then taught to those who didn't feel as comfortable.

It was a long process, but as with all new things it was worth it in the end. AbleNet and iTunes have opened the world of technology to many more individuals with switch access and Blue2. I just hope that someday accessibility features will be easily accessible to all.

Shelly is an accessible OT talking accessibility for all as she guest blogs at Smart Apps for Special Needs.

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