Online class pushes all the right buttons for Virginia teacher

Assistive technology class from Perkins eLearning gives one TVI innovative ideas to make learning easier for students with multiple disabilities

boy in wheelchair with flexible hose attached

Shane has easier access to his CD player switch since Floyd took the class AT in Minutes.

April 15, 2015

Shane reached out and pushed a button. Country music filled the air.

Shane smiled broadly, but not because he was listening to a song he loved. He smiled because pushing the button was a milestone for him.

It was also a milestone for his teacher, Lori Floyd. The adaptive technology that helped Shane play his favorite music was something she discovered at an online class offered by Perkins eLearning.

“The assistive technology (I learned) in this class lent itself so much to make things easier for these children, or more accessible for them,” she said. “And it’s working beautifully.”

Although it seems like a small thing, being able to independently push a button is a big deal for Shane, 21, who attends public school in Henry County, Virginia.

He has cytomegalovirus, a viral infection that causes visual impairments, as well as physical and cognitive disabilities. He’s in a wheelchair, so even simple tasks like turning on a CD player can be challenging.

Previously, Floyd put Shane’s CD player on the wheelchair’s tray, directly in front of him. But the confined space of the wheelchair forced Shane to twist and contort to reach the switch.

Floyd, a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) for more than two decades, couldn’t figure out a solution until she signed up for an eight-week online class called “Assistive Technology in Minutes” from Perkins eLearning.

The class was taught by Dr. Therese Willkomm, who’s been called the “MacGyver of assistive technology.” Willkomm showed how to use inexpensive, everyday items to make adaptive technology devices for students who are blind or have multiple disabilities. Examples included a reaching tool made from hot dog tongs and an adapted computer mouse built from a telescoping antenna and tape.

For Floyd, the “Aha!” moment came when Willkomm demonstrated Loc-Line®, a flexible hose-like device made of interconnected plastic segments. It can be twisted into almost any shape.

Floyd purchased a Loc-Line and attached it to the side of Shane’s wheelchair. She Velcroed a jellybean switch to the end of the hose and bent it towards Shane. Suddenly, his favorite songs were an easy touch away.

Floyd also made a book holder for Shane, and is working to adapt Loc-Line for other students who are blind with additional disabilities.

“I can mount a switch or a toy, or whatever it is I want them to interact with, anywhere on their wheelchair or on a table,” she said. “It’s flexible enough, yet sturdy enough that I can put a switch or something on it. And they can touch it without having to work so hard.”

Floyd is also recommending the “Assistive Technology in Minutes” online class to her fellow TVIs.

“There was something new every single week (in class) that I could apply to this child or that child right away,” she said. “I want to say, ‘Hey, you need to know about this class because if you haven’t done this yet, you definitely want to!’”

Perkins eLearning offers a wide variety of webinars and self-guided tutorials for teachers and parents, as well as online professional development classes for certified teachers. Topics include communication techniques, literacy, deafblindness and multiple disabilities, family life and more. Learn more at Perkinselearning.org »