Veterans Day Opens Parents' Eyes to Technology
Parents convened in the Grousbeck Center for Student and Technology for a Veterans Day Open House, on Nov. 11, 2011. They met with three experts who, through each of their simultaneous presentations that filled the flexible space of the main function room and spilled into the Student Center, showed parents how technology could aid in their children’s education.
Perkins School for the Blind President Steven Rothstein opened the informal event acknowledging how the vast diversity and growing advancement in today’s technology can address the unique needs of any child.
“The way to get through is different for each one of your sons and daughters,” Rothstein said. “They’re all different. They all have unique, special elements, abilities and great pieces of their personality.”
Each presenter thus offered their own brand of information to give parents more options on their journey. Perkins Assistive Technology Coordinator Jim Denham demonstrated various electronic and accessible devices that can help kids in their studies. Amber Bobnar, Founder & Web Administrator of Perkins' WonderBaby.org, went over online resources and her holiday giveaway program. Eric Jerman flipped through an array of iPad apps that can engage and even educate kids with visual impairments.
Denham hosted his session in Flex Space 2 on screen reading software—JAWS and less expensive or free alternatives—digital books in both cartridge and downloadable formats, and digital note takers for students with visual impairments.
“I love reading books, but getting them on tape used to take forever,” he said. “Luckily, talking books have gone digital now. You can request cartridges from the library. You can also download books, from a website run by the National Library Service and read it on a digital talking book player. There are thousands of books on this website.”
Amber Bobnar, who is the mother of a student at Perkins, showcased Perkins' WonderBaby on the Student Center’s SMART Board. Bobnar’s site grew out of her acknowledgement that resources were few and far between online for babies who are blind. She offered resources found directly on her site and resources from other sites she finds helpful.
“I think I’ve talked to just about everybody who has a website or has a group online that has something to do with kids who are blind,” she said.
She also introduced her holiday product giveaway program. Her process involves scouring the Internet for toys and other products, which she thinks would be fun for kids who are blind or visually impaired. Included among the 14 items parents can enter to win this season is a Perkins Panda. Designed right here on the Watertown campus, the Perkins Panda acts as soft-to-touch plush teddy bear complete with print/braille picture books, stories on tape and activity guides.
“One of the fun things that I get to do on WonderBaby is contact people and say ‘You have a wonderful product. Would you like to donate one?’” she said.
Eric Jerman ran Flex Space 1 on his iPad, that projected its digital display onto a giant white screen. He focused on accessible iPad apps, that have helped Jerman connect with his 3-year-old son, who has a metabolic disorder causing, among his conditions, Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI).
“My son can see things, but his brain has a hard time interpreting what it is he’s seeing,” he said. Jerman then used the example of a black and white picture of a cow in a snow storm. “In this case, you’d have to use your many years of visual experience to find the cow. Well, it’s like that every day for a kid with CVI.”
The iPad came out when his son was about 1½. He thought this cutting-edge technology could connect his son to the world, through the potential its now over 500,000 apps offer.
“Pretty quickly," Jerman said, "I thought, 'My son can’t see what’s going on five feet beyond him. So I’m going to bring the world to him using the iPad.'”
In searching for iPad apps, Jerman developed a strategy for narrowing down the sometimes overwhelming selection. This process involves thinking of apps in five distinct categories:
- Cause and Effect
- Digital Books or Interactive Stories
In the “cause and effect” category, Jerman demonstrated how a very basic app, called Peekaboo Barn, could engage a child with CVI.
“Certain colors stand out for CVI. Red, yellow, high contrast things,” he said. “From a CVI standpoint, you can’t get much better than Peekaboo Barn. You got this big red barn with white trim (high contrast) and it’s bouncing—it has movement to it—while you hear a thump-thump sound. It’s begging the user to touch it.”
Then Jerman broke out a slightly more complex “cause and effect” app, Peek-a-bouncer, which allows the user to control how long an animal appears on the screen.
“Even in the progression of using these first two apps, you start to see it’s building up a vocabulary for the child to learn how to interact with the iPad,” he said. “Those are useful skills that will come in handy for more complicated apps involving communication. The first app, Peekaboo Barn, you just touch it and something happens. With Peek-a-bouncer, I have to touch and hold my finger on the screen. Not a big difference, but it is a difference. Cognitively, it takes a little bit of a step for the kid to realize that the funny hippo remains on the screen as long as he keeps his finger on there.”
Jerman's presentation, "Appsolutely Engaging & Educational," is slated to grow into a regular blog on Bobnar’s site Perkins' WonderBaby. It will review existing knowledge and late-breaking developments in the ever-growing cache of accessible iPad apps. So far he's gathered over 200 of these apps for students with special needs, in his hunt for fun and educational ways to teach his son.