21 June 2007

Getting Ready for the Next School Year

It's summer time, but it should not be "down time" in the struggle for Universal Design Technology for your child's, or your community's, schools.

To begin with, Argue now that every computer in the school be equipped with the free accessible software available. It is free! Why wouldn't the school do this? So begin writing letters and emails now, in June, and be sure to copy your local news media.

What should your school minimally have installed?

1. The Firefox Browser (safer and far more accessible than Internet Exlorer) with basic literacy accessibility options installed:
CLiCk, Speak - the brilliant voicing browser for reading disabilities from Charles L. Chen, now available in multiple languages with more to come.
One-Click Definitions from Merriam-Webster
gTranslate - instant right-click translation
for students with visual disabilities, FireVox, a full-featured "blind browser"

2. Digital Text Readers
Microsoft Reader with "text-to-speech" and right-click dictionaries (available in various languages) and "Read-in-Microsoft Reader" (RMR) Add-in for instant conversion from Microsoft Word. Allows books to be "read" via voice, with notetaking, test question answering, highlighting, and bookmarking.
Natural Reader, the Free Version, reads many forms of digital text.

3. On-Screen Graphing Calculator
Graph-Calc is a free, full graphing calculator that allows students to paste calculator screens directly into notes taken in Microsoft Word or other Word Processors.

4. Access to Digital Libraries - provided via bookmarks pre-set into the Firefox Bookmark Bar
Gutenberg.org - the biggest digital book source
Gutenberg Australia - some different books
University of Virginia E-text Library
History Sourcebook at Fordham University
Literature Network - the "biggest" books

5. Links to, and preps for, Google Documents
Google Docs offer free on-line word processing and spreadsheets, which allow the use of CLiCk, Speak for reading, allowing students with reading and writing disabilities to hear their writing "read back" - thus significantly improving the editing process. These docs also allow collaborative creation.

6. Your school should also seriously consider dumping its own email system and working with Google Apps for Education which would provide better email, along with Google accounts for documents (see above), as well as Google Notebook, and Google Calendar (which can alert your ADHD students via mobile phone of appointments and tasks).

Note: None of this will cost money. Much of it will save money. All of this software is proven 100% safe - so do not let your school administrators or their typically "untrained in education" tech staff tell you differently. And these installs will go a long way toward bringing your school information and communication systems in line with US and EU accessibility legal requirements*.

* Information and Communication in US Schools must be "equally effective" and delivered in "real time" (at the same moment) for all students, including those with reading and attention issues. If this is not true your school is violating the Civil Rights of students.

- Ira Socol