Family Friendly Tech and Advocacy: Tech Psychologist's Guide by Dr. Jeanne Beckman

Family Friendly Tech and Advocacy: Tech Psychologist's Guide   by Dr. Jeanne Beckman
Finally, a book to help families find the right technology to accommodate reading disorders (dyslexia) and other disabilties! ISBN 978-1-60264-089-4

How to purchase my book

To purchase through Virtual Bookworm (my publisher) you can click Virtual Bookworm Publisher: Tech Psychologist's Guide or
Amazon no longer allows Illinois professionals to get credit for referrals to Amazon due to a sales tax dispute. I will be referring to Powell's in the near future.

What is that TinyURL notation that you see in my blog? For those who use a screen reader, the link that is hidden behind words like Tech Psychologist Guide remains hidden. However, screen readers can read aloud the website address, or URL, if it was produced by Also, sometimes these addresses are so long that they wrap around several lines or overlap into colored areas of a website that obscure the actual address. Intrigued? You can create your own tinyurl's at

Monday, April 11, 2011

The pace of technology improvements is so great that the line between technology for those with disabilities and those without is becoming increasingly irrelevant. That's great for everyone, because the greater number of technology users, the lower the price. It used to be that technology for those with disabilities was out of the financial reach for many who could benefit.

Here's a terrific article by Nicole Black about ipad apps for lawyers:

A friend of mine from my Public Defender days who still works at the PD’s office recently emailed me and asked to write an article about iPad apps for lawyers. I was happy to oblige—especially since I regularly write about topics like this at my blog, the Legal iPad (

First off, before you purchase any apps, spend some time with your iPad, think about your workflow and decide whether you plan to create content, consume content or both. This decision will necessarily affect which apps you choose to purchase. As I’ve oft repeated, creating content with the iPad is easier said than done and for many, it will be used primarily for content-consumption. Since iPad apps tend to cost quite a bit more than iPhone apps, you may as well avoid wasting your hard earned money and invest in apps that you will actually use.
There are also a number of legal-specific apps available that you may want to purchase. If you are a litigator, there are 3 different trial presentation apps...

Sharing information spurs innovation.

Do you need help in using or adapting today's technology? Whether you need small tweaks in your technology use, or have more comprehensive needs, my practice assists you in hitting the ground running in your work, learning, and leisure environments. Please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman for a confidential appointment at 847-446-1251.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Accessible YouTube

YouTube has been a great way to connect ideas, people, and innovation. However, in the past it was not accessible to those with hearing and other disabilities, as well as those who speak a language different than the YouTube author, etc.

Now, YouTube has introduced a captioning service. While I've found that that automatic components are often not available for videos, a person can upload text so that the video has almost immediate accessibility.

If you need assistance in obtaining accessibility and/or inclusion services,
please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A different Kind of Travel Show

Zach Anner took up Oprah's challenge to create a new program for her network, and Zack submitted a charming video. Although he did not win (reportedly, there was some controversy regarding the voting process)Zack was not deterred and has continued to create videos. Here's his audition:

He now has his own website: Check it out!

Even though Zach has obvious physical challenges, I'm glad his mother helped to nurture his creativity and sense of humor. She did a great job, and I hope to continue to see Zach sharing with anyone who will listen.

There are many who seek to exclude those who are different, whether wheel-chair bound or walking, Muslim or Christian, but they are all members of our communities. Do not allow those who spew hatred over the media silence those who dare to remain visible. You rock, Zach!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Taylor Mali: What teachers make | Video on

I came across this wonderful video today entitled "what Teachers Make."

Please remember that parents are a child's first teacher, and remain the most important teacher throughout their child's life. While raising children to think ethically is difficult, it is, nonetheless, the most important part of our jobs.

Do you need assistance in helping your child to grow? Contact Dr. Beckman at, visit her at, or call her at 847-446-1251 (near Chicago, Illinois).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking ownership of disabilities in learning?

Frequently, I have heard school personnel state that students should “take ownership” of their reading or writing disability and “do it the regular way.” However, the law states that students should receive accommodations to allow them equal access to their regular curriculum. Thus, books on computers that read the words aloud, dictation software so that students can write by dictation, and human note-takers in class are all examples of accommodations.

Remediation is specialized tutoring to improve the skills of the person with disabilities. Multi-sensory reading tutoring, manuscript or cursive instruction, and instructions on how to organize your written work are examples of remediation.

Accommodation, without remediation, will destine these students to a truly handicapped life. However, if a student cannot walk to class, we don't say they cannot attend a regular class until they can walk independently, nor do we tell them they should take ownership of their disability and walk like their peers because they'll need to later in life. We provide a wheelchair as an accommodation to get to class, and provide adequate and appropriate remediation of physical and occupational therapy so that they can become increasingly independent. They may never be efficient enough to walk everywhere, but to be able to walk a few steps toward a library shelf would be a reasonable goal. The same holds true for those with invisible disabilities. Because it would impede their ability to access, learn, and demonstrate acquired knowledge of the regular curriculum, we cannot require them to use an inefficient method to access the full curriculum because of a value system that says they "should," rather we need to provide them fully accommodated access to the full, regular curriculum while providing enough research-validated remediation that they will make reasonable progress at acquiring the skills for independent reading/spelling etc. "the regular way." A benefit of using Dragon is that they will be able to use this tool throughout their lives, as non-disabled individuals use Dragon in the business world, while using a method such as Co-Writer is so slow and tedious that many students find it frustrating because it hampers the speed and quality of productive output of many of the students with learning and other hidden disabilities.

For more on this topic, see my book, Tech Psychologist Guide, at

Do you need help in getting reasonable accommodations and remediation?
Dr. Jeanne Beckman is available to assist you in determining what you need to learn and thrive. Please call her at 847-446-1251
or email her at

Monday, February 8, 2010

Vision problems and dyslexia?

In an article about the role of vision and learning disabilities, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Council on Children with Disabilities issued a joint statement:

Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Vision

By: Reading Rockets (2010)

Thanks to advances in imaging techniques and scientific inquiry, we now know much more about learning disabilities (LD), dyslexia, and the role of vision problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Council on Children with Disabilities, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology published a joint statement that summarizes what is currently known about visual problems and dyslexia. The statement also covers what treatments are and are not recommended when diagnosing and treating vision problems, learning disabilities, and dyslexia.

The eyes play an important role in sending visual signals to the brain, and a lot of information presented at school is presented visually. For these reasons, it's important to make sure your child is able to see well and correctly. Schools often do vision screenings at the beginning of the year, and your pediatrician's office can refer you to an ophthalmologist with experience in caring for children. However, vision problems are not the cause of dyslexia or learning disabilities. The federal definition of learning disabilities is careful to state that the learning disabilities do not include learning problems that are primarily due to visual difficulties.

Because vision problems do not cause dyslexia or learning disabilities, treating LD or dyslexia through approaches such as eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses won't help a child struggling to learn to read. Therapies and treatments like those described are not supported by scientific evidence, and are not recommended or endorsed. [emphasis added]

If your child is struggling with reading or other learning issues, it is important to have him or her evaluated by a licensed clinical psychologist who also has an expertise in the technologies that can provide equal access to the regular school or college curriculum. To learn more about this topic, please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at 847-446-1251 or visit her at

Friday, February 5, 2010

The power of Mother as Advocate

In the Wall Street Journal today, I read Dorothy Rabinowitz's review of the upcoming program, "Temple Grandin," which is about a woman with autism who has been able to develop her tremendous talents to make our society a better place.

The story of Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism at age 4 and in time a symbol of hope for the afflicted, has made its way to the screen with spellbinding results. The way wasn't destined to be smooth. Symbols of hope and inspiration don't easily translate to drama, at least any worthy of the name, particularly when they come burdened, as this one does, with emphasis on achievements touching on matters that make the blood run cold. Ms. Grandin became an expert inventor of constructions designed to soothe cattle headed for the slaughterhouse...

...the Grandin character is far more complex, an accomplished woman who is an author, who has a Ph.D. in animal science and a full professorship at Colorado State University. In Ms. Danes's portrayal of her youth, that complexity comes blazing to life at every turn—the ever-present state of alert against the world's countless threats (a human touch, a sliding door), the fierce if selective curiosity, the search for modes of comfort and protection...

"Temple Grandin" (Saturday, 8-10 p.m. EST, on HBO) ...


So many times, mothers are castigated as being either an over-controlling "helicopter parent" or indifferent "refrigerator mother" to a child's needs. Rabinowitz's review states
Not that Temple lacked a dynamo of a mother of her own, one who refused to give up on her child or allow her to be institutionalized as doctors suggested. Eustacia is an exquisite mix of delicacy and force in Ms. Ormond's superb portrayal.

Thomas Edison's mother, Nancy Elliott Edison, also refused to accept the school's diagnosis of her son as "addled" and she home schooled him. Due to her efforts to teach him to read as well as to constantly read to him, Thomas Edison grew up to become the record holder of the greatest number of patents issued in one person's name. This record still stands today.

LEGACY OF BULLYING: When children and their mothers are bullied, are shamed, about their learning differences, depression, discouragement, failure, and reduced productivity often results. This legacy gets passed on, so that the child who suffered this shaming grows up to shame his or her own children, to shame his or her students. This is how bullying is passed on through the generations, to the detriment of our communities and country.

So mothers, do not accept that you should back off and leave the education of your children to others who claim to know better. Do not accept the pejorative comments about being a helicopter parent or worse. It is in our genetic wiring to "provide pertinent parenting with a push" for greater independence for all of our children.

Do you need assistance for your efforts at "P-Cubed" (Provide Pertinent Parenting with a Push)? Please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at
or visit

Our children, our communities, our country depends on mothers

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Artist with no eyes astounds those who believe he cannot paint

Today, a friend shared a video of a Turkish artist who was born without eyes, yet "sees" well enough to paint landscapes in full perspective. When cognitive psychologist Dr. Kennedy of the University of Toronto investigated this artist's brain via MRI, he found that those parts of the brain normally activated by visual input were fully activated when this artist drew and painted. Here's the link:
Imagine what others who "learn differently" could do if society stopped telling them what they "can't" do.
Assistive technology (technology to allow independent access to learning, work, and leisure environments) is essential for those who learn differently. To find out how technology can help you or your loved ones to access success, please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at 847-446-1251 or visit her website at

Friday, August 21, 2009

Brothers using "talking machines" win writing contest

There are many who believe that those individuals cannot speak the conventional way are so disabled they cannot effectively participate in "regular" society. However, there are two Canadian brothers who have so effectively challenged that stereotype that they have both won prestigious writing awards. In an article found in the Abbortsford Mission times, there was an article about these brothers and the technology that assists them in sharing their voices.

Abbotsford has two young, talented writers in its midst, but unlike many wordsmiths who can bounce ideas off others, Lyndon and Tyrone Brown depend entirely on their own creativity.

The two boys have severe dyspraxia, which prevents them from being able to talk.

To combat their frustrations and express their thoughts, the Browns have taken to writing.

Last week, they both found out they had won the prestigious 2009 Commonwealth Essay Competition, which allows youths from Commonwealth nations around the world to show their writing talents.

"It's the one time they are focused," said Melody of the boys' dedication to writing.

She added, it was difficult for Tyrone, 14, and Lyndon, 12, to believe they had won a prize (100 pounds of sterling, which is around $200).

"They just couldn't believe it ... they are used to being written off," she said.


These students use Lightwriters, a tool which speaks the words that these brothers type. There are many other technology tools to assist individuals of all ages and abilities to become active participants in their communities.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GhostReader text to speech for Mac

For those who need the computer to read aloud to them, there has been the assumption that a PC, rather than Mac, was required. Here's a press release from AssistiveWare regarding GhostReader, which reads text and PDFs aloud on the Mac platform.

GhostReader 1.6 delivers new voices and Safari 4 compatibility

GhostReader box

Amsterdam - 16 April 2009 - ConvenienceWare™ / AssistiveWare® today announced the release of GhostReader™ 1.6, which delivers new voices for Arabic, Greek, Russian, Italian, Turkish, British English, and Norwegian. It also provides Safari 4 compatibility and adds new large educational discounts. GhostReader is a powerful, yet easy to use multilingual text-to-speech solution for Mac OS X that reads aloud PDF, Word and other documents as well as selected text in any application. It can also convert any text to audio files, MP3s, or bookmarkable audiobooks for playback on iPhone and iPod. Sit back and relax while GhostReader reads for you!

GhostReader 1.6 includes the following enhances:

  • New voice languages: Arabic, Greek, Russian.
  • New high quality voices for existing languages: Italian male voice, Turkish female voice, British female voice, Norwegian male voice.
  • Compatibility with Safari 4.
  • New localization: Italian (provided by our partner Active Software).

GhostReader can be used by anyone who prefers to listen to text rather than read it. Many professionals, writers, educators and students use it on a daily basis to save time, to proof read their own writing or to learn the pronunciation of foreign languages or to improve their reading and listening comprehension.

For more information, please go to

Being able to learn by reading, regardless of whether by traditional books and eyes, by listening, or by other means, is a right to which everyone is entitled.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is discouragement inherited?

The other day, I heard a father of a college freshman with significant learning disabilities speak about how his son needed to "try harder," "get more organized," "pay attention," "buckle down," and perhaps be allowed to fail. He also said that maybe University X is not the right school for his son. The implication is that this student is not trying hard enough, is perhaps partying too hard, and just being a typical adolescent who is abusing his new-found freedoms. Is there truth to what he says?

Whenever I hear these kinds of comments about students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders, I try to see whether these comments would fit if a different disability were substituted. So...if you had a student who was blind, would you say he or she needed to "try harder" to read regular text in books? If you had a student in a wheelchair, would you say he or she needed to "try harder" to go up a flight of stairs? No, you wouldn't. You would provide appropriate accommodations, such as Braille texts or an elevator to get to another floor. So why is it so different for those with learning disabilities? And why would a father be parroting the very phrases that the child was subjected to in grade school and high school?

The answer to the first question, I have come to believe, is three-fold. First, it is difficult to "see" a learning disability or attention deficit disorder because it is internal, it is due to the manner in which the different parts of the brain communicate. It is obvious if a person is blind that he or she cannot use traditional text, yet there have been those who have discriminated against those with vision impairments. There have also been cases where those in wheelchairs have been forced to literally drag themselves up stairs in order to reach a government court or other public place. Secondly, there is variability in performance among those with learning disabilities, even within an individual. This variability can depend on the specific demands of the particular task, the competing demands on the person at the time, fatigue, and other factors. Thirdly, while most public officials and school administrators have learned that it is not politically correct to demean those who are blind or have other visible disabilities, it still seems that there are many who believe it is acceptable to demean those with learning and attention disabilities. We know from research that overt, or even subtle biases about an individual or group of students will diminish their performance to match those low expectations.

So, why would a father make pejorative comments about his son? And, can discouragement be "inherited?" I have come to believe that the reason you hear these kinds of put-downs coming out of the mouths of parents one would expect to be defending and advocating for the child is that many of these parents have similar disabilities themselves, and have incorporated these biases into their own self-concepts after years of being put-down by others for their own weaknesses.

So how can we facilitate a change to this system where students with disabilities not only face undue barriers to full access to an inclusive education, but also face continual verbal put-downs for failing to perform to their potential because they did not have appropriate accommodations? How can we facilitate a fundamental shift back to a time where families and communities were the center of learning, producing hard-working, community-minded citizens, employers and employees? How does science and technology fit into this picture and when is the old-fashioned "human touch" the only appropriate method?

Come back for part two of "is discouragement inherited?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fighting for your child

Here's one of a series of videos found on LD Online This particular one is about parents getting the reading support your child needs

I found myself taking notes about the work being done by all the great researchers. It would be great to be able to disseminate their work to the schools were children are still floundering...

Walk On

One of my fellow techies shared this video with me about DJ Gregory, a young man with cerebral palsy who set a goal of walking every hole of a full year of the PGA tour. His ability to persevere and achieve his goal despite his limitations should help us all to keep focused on where we want to go. He also has a blog of his year:
Enjoy this ESPN video:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Low Expectations Derail Student's Chances to Be Ready for College

In the Kansas City Star, there was an article about a high school senior, Dustin Villarreal, who, his parents argued, had received inadequate preparation for taking college prep exams with special-education support services so that he could get a good ACT score and be ready for college. The school argues that they had given him adequate tutoring with the Huntington learning Center, but that they were not required to provide him with a guaranteed ACT score.

In a hearing requested by Dennis and Dee Ann Villarreal, parents of 18-year-old Dustin Villarreal, the family alleges the district failed to provide “a free and appropriate public education” by failing to provide an annual Individualized Education Plan goal of “a favorable ACT score that would facilitate his transition to a four-year college. The district, however, contends it has no legal obligation to ensure that any student, with or without disabilities, achieves an appropriate ACT score.

Dustin has Apert Syndrome, a congenital disorder characterized by malformations of the skull, face, hands and feet. Apert occurs in one per 100,000 births.

Dustin’s physical abnormalities affect his speech, hand coordination and manipulation, upper body strength and range of motion, vision and hearing, all of which affect his ability to learn in an educational setting, his parents said.

But Dustin wants to go to college and hopes to becoming an elementary school teacher. Other goals include securing a financial future and, eventually, having a family.

So, is it so wrong that the school should say they've done an adequate job? I would argue that there's a big problem with this view. First of all, if the student is not achieving at least at grade level, the school should have examined whether their specialized tutoring was adequate to meet his needs. I would argue that, it did not meet his needs because he did not make sufficient academic progress compared to his age peers. Secondly, Huntington Learning Centers are private franchises geared toward providing generalized homework help, not public school individualized remediation.

I would also argue that it is highly probable that the student has faced subtle discrimination and low expectations for his ability based solely on the physical characteristics of his Apert's Syndrome. His teachers may not realize that they had low expectations for him, but there is plenty of research supporting "Pygmalion Syndrome" whereby teachers' unconscious expectations have a greater impact on students learning performance than the students' actual abilities.

I believe our great country should radically change how we view the necessary educational experiences that will prepare our children for productive adult lives. Instead of stating that schools are only required to provide a mediocre or adequate education (the current legal contention of deep pocket public school legal teams funded by their local taxpayers), I believe that students should be provided ample opportunities to MAXIMIZE their learning abilities. This means screening every preschooler for learning challenges and talents, and providing customized education that is validated by rigorous research, not the good ole boys' pet reading projects.

This radical change also means that, in addition to maximizing potential (right away) with rigorous specialized "remediation" the school needs to be providing technology to access reading and writing right away (in preschool if the child is identified then) if the student cannot keep up with his age peers. Such technology as text-to-speech and voice recognition allows students to read the same curriculum and demonstrate what he or she has learned by writing (via dictation) his or her thoughts at a similar pace as his or her age peers.

This radical change also means providing bountiful exposure to rich vocabulary found in classic books as well as award-winning current authors and sophisticated Internet literature and database resources. Every child of every age should have daily exposure to listening to these books in the classroom setting and every child of every age should have the opportunity to utilize technology to read or write. Homework should be limited to high school aged children with the exception of having children listen to readers reading or recordings of books with rich vocabulary. There should be no time spent on test preparation until later high school ages, and such test prep time should be done after school, not in lieu of curriculum.

Thomas Edison's school had very low expectations of him, pronouncing him "addled." His mother refused to believe the school and taught him at home. Our great country cannot afford to lose any children, whether a future innovator, inventor,artist, or faithful and loving son or daughter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Inauguration: Oh Yes I Can

On Tuesday, January 20th, I joined many fellow Chicagoans who shivered in the falling snow while watching Obama's inauguration speech on the Jumbotron at the Daley Plaza in Chicago. While I could not hear the speech, I watched the closed-captioning (provided with Dragon voice recognition technology, I'm sure)and was struck with the hope that we can get our great country back on track.

Obama's speeches are full of rich vocabulary, full of vision, and full of the love of history. Without a good education, Obama would not be where he is now, guiding us back from the precipice of illiteracy, financial ruin, and overall despair.

So many times, individuals are discouraged from achieving their full potential in learning, whether due to the Pygmalion effect of low expectations for people of color or for people with disabilities. So today, I wrote a little piece to speak to the belief that any and all individuals CAN achieve their full potential.

Oh Yes I Can

Give me a lap to hear the books and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Give me the excitement of hearing about the world through books and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Walk me to the library and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Give me the books to learn and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Give me a dictionary to learn the words and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Give me the microscopes and test tubes and computers and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Give me the tools to learn and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Mentor me and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Share your excitement in learning and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Take down the barriers to learning and I will learn
Oh yes I can!
Try to discourage me from learning, and I will tell you

©Jeanne D. Beckman

Parents everywhere, please join me in taking back the education of our children. Read to them, and if you struggle to read, seek out literacy classes and computer technology at your library to read to you and your family. There is no shame in difficulties in reading unless you refuse to ask for help in learning to read. Turn off your televisions and read, read, read.

Who was it who said, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it? Obama's speeches certainly reflect that he knows history and is using his understanding of it to bring our country back to greatness. He would not have learned history if he had not read an abundance of books on every subject he could find.

Please join me in asking yourself, "What have I done today to encourage a child to reach for knowledge, understanding, and to walk the path toward community and country contributions?"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sayings to help us all through the long, dark winter

Well, now that we're in the middle of another looong January in Chicago, we find we have to reach deep inside of ourselves to find a way to survive through a few more months of the subzero cold, through the huge drifts of snow and hidden patches of black ice, through the dark stark days of administrative bullying, "scorched earth" divorces, and economic downturns...

I have a few friends who are facing critical health challenges, a few friends who are facing devastating financial difficulties, and wonder whether I am a good enough friend. I wonder whether sharing some of the sayings that I've found and posted above my computer or on my refrigerator can help soothe the soul of a friend or a yet-to-be friend.

I think my favorite writer is Ralph Waldo Emerson, an early Unitarian and Transcendentalist. He stated,

"Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

Certainly courage is a requirement in overcoming the barriers and obstacles to inclusion and access in many environments for learning, work, and leisure activities. Those who have no choice but to deviate from the beaten path must reach deep inside to constantly overcome the barriers to their needed path. Maybe you can mentor others who face similar challenges. January is national mentor a child month. See

Have you ever faced barriers where schools say that they cannot give you a certain technology because you did not pass a certain level of performance? I believe you should ask whether their barriers make sense. The purpose of accommodations is to allow access to the "regular" environment or curriculum, or at least the closest approximation to the normal environment. If you cannot benefit from the technology, then they must provide an alternate access to the normal environment, such as a human reader or human scribe. Always ask, "Does It Make Sense?"

Reportedly, Albert Einstein stated,
"Not everything that counts can be counted,
and not everything that can be counted counts"

There are laws that can help you get the access you need. You are invited to my website to find out more:

Oh, how about a couple of sayings I wrote a year ago?
Every person of every age and every ability level should have every opportunity to fully access the written word, whether by reading traditional books, computerized text, recorded books, Braille or by human readers (the only acceptable "low tech" manner, in my opinion).

Tear down those walls that blame, shame, and discourage those who seek to find the truths in scientific exploration and human existence.
Read more from my blog:

It is easy, especially during dark times in your personal life or the dark times of winter, to feel like giving up. However, despite personal challenges, despite our country's challenges, it is my belief that, regardless of what others may do and say, regardless of personal and community roadblocks, you and I have a moral obligation to keep our sights on doing the right thing for our community by asking, "Does It Make Sense (DIMS approach)?

What do you say to yourself? Whose sayings keep you going when the challenges threaten to become overwhelming?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pay Your Technology Forward

Nancy, who is a blogger at, made a New Year’s resolution to give away something every day via Freecycle ( in Wilmette, Illinois. One of the items she posted was an Ipaq, and I took it, hoping that I could refit it to serve someone with disabilities. I posted a request for ideas on a technology listserv, and here are the responses I received:

Shelley Lacey-Castelot ( said: You can install Gus AAC software on them, depending upon the version of the OS. For reluctant readers, you can put digital books with TTS on it---or just digital books with dictionary support (digital). Dragon NaturallySpeaking has an applet type program so that you can dictate into the IPAQ and upload the dictation for transcription. For kids with organizational difficulties, using Outlook with reminders of assignments and meetings works well. Hook up a wireless keyboard and it can be useful for notes on the go in the Pocket Word. The digital book reader that installs the easiest is Mobipocket; and you can download a dictionary that allows you to click on the word to get the definition.

Sharon E. said: you could use it as a scheduler. Does it have alarms? Also can it house dictionary stuff

Magi S. said: There are great possibilities for AT (in my mind) for PDAs and Smart Phones. You can get word prediction programs for all of the operating systems (Windows Mobile/PocketPC) and Palm. The iPaq had a decent speaker system, and could play mp3s, so you could use it for audio books. I believe that mine also recorded audio, and I know that my original Palm, and my new Palm Centro does that as well (the T|X I had did not without a special attachment). I love the calendar feature, and both models will sync to Outlook. We were trying to figure out how to sync to Google calendar, but I don't think we ever truly solved that. And Mobipocket is free... You could download podcasts too. There are foreign language dictionaries available that speak that might be useful. The iPaq probably has bluetooth, and the bluetooth keyboards are small enough to carry. I believe there is at least one add-on AAC program (Gus?), and I know that the ChatPCs were based on iPaqs.
There are more & more book download sites. My top three are: Mobipocket itself, BooksOnBoard (they sell audio books as well), and Fictionwise. Fictionwise has "frequent member programs" that give you a discount off the price of the book in the form of a gift certificate to use later. I get lots of free books that way! :)
I've used PocketWord as well, and the older version was really pretty good. Oh, and the color-coding feature in Outlook will transfer to the calendar. I really think that is one of the features I have used most often: I know at a glance that I have something to do, and what its for... And it places the box toward the top of the date for a morning appointment, and the bottom for an evening.

My plan is to get this iPaq ready for an individual who cannot afford regular technology, perhaps for someone who needs a speech device (AAC). Do you have technology you can pay forward? Two weeks ago, someone from Freecycle shared a scanner with me. I will be finding it a home also...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wasting Our Country's Greatest Resources

Every day, schools punish the victims of the school's failures to adapt their teaching styles to the needs of their students. Every corner of our country has benefited from Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, even though they had disabilities that challenged them from learning in the conventional ways. While most schools can understand that a blind individual, like Helen Keller (Radcliffe graduate, magna cum laude), needed adapted testing in order to demonstrate what she knew, many current school administrators often believe it is in their purview to decide whether a particular student should receive specialized (adapted or "accommodated") instruction within their "regular" classes in their community schools with their age peers that will prepare the student to be a contributing member of society or a burden.

If a child "fails" a standardized exam, it is the school administrator's failure to insure that the school teaches the regular curriculum in a way that the student can fully benefit or a failure to provide the test in a format that the student can demonstrate what he or she has learned, or both.

In a recent article in the Nashville City Paper,

Don McFolin is the parent of a McGavock High School senior with Asperger’s syndrome. McFolin is a fierce advocate for his son, and for the young man’s right to graduate with a regular diploma.

McFolin is proud of his son’s accomplishments, and will readily note that the boy is an Eagle Scout, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars, part of Who’s Who Among American High School Students, and was a participant in the People to People Student Ambassador Program.

It is the young man’s dream to attend college and then pursue a master’s degree in history, so that he can someday teach in a university history department.

“He’s a walking set of Encyclopedia Britannica,” McFolin said.

But as proud as McFolin is, he is concerned that his son won’t be able to graduate with a regular Tennessee diploma.

That’s because his son has a mathematics processing disorder, and a graduation requirement in Tennessee is passing the Algebra Gateway Test. Even if McFolin’s son completes every other requirement, he only will earn a diploma that serves as a certificate of attendance, which most accredited colleges will not accept.

As hard as McFolin’s son has worked, and as much as he has accomplished, McFolin says the boy cannot achieve his dreams without a regular diploma.
Read more:

Schools and their legal teams, funded by the deep pockets of the communities they are supposed to serve, like to argue that they are not required to help children achieve their full potential, only that they are required to do an adequate job. Or they argue that they should segregate these students from their age peers because it is too great a burden on the schools to provide the necessary accommodations so that the student can be integrated into the regular classrooms. Segregation, whether due to skin color or need for a teaching method that actually teaches the student, is against the law and against the moral fabric of our country. Children grow up to be adults, and they need to be fully prepared to be productive members of our workforce as well as their own communities.
Imagine if a locomotive manufacturer was not accountable to make sure that the train could maintain full speed and quickly stop, but was instead only required to make sure it could slowly start and slowly stop and if the train crashed, it was the passengers' faults because they somehow did not work hard enough. Imagine if the locomotive manufacturer stated that it was just too expensive and they could not afford to fix the locomotive so that it would be fully functional. A silly analogy, but failing to provide an education that allows every child to achieve his or her full potential IS A TRAIN WRECK for the individual, for the family, for the community, and for the future workforce of our country. It doesn't make sense.
It is time for parents to take back the control of their schools and demand full accountability of their administrators to insure that every child receives a full and appropriate education that allows the student to achieve his or her full potential.
It is the school's job to be accountable to the parents in making sure that every single child has a full opportunity to be prepared for his or her next environment.
There are secret but forbidden words in the education field. Parents are not allowed to ask that the schools provide an education that allows a child to achieve his or her "full potential," instead parents, if they can muster the $30,000 or so to legally challenge the bullying of the deep pockets of school-board funding of attorneys are only allowed to ask for an "adequate" education. Robert Kennedy spoke of those who dream and ask why and that he would instead ask "why not?" To those who say we cannot ask for our children to achieve their full potential, I, too, ask why not? Our country cannot afford continued mediocrity.
Thomas Edison's school failed to provide an education that provided a benefit for him, claiming he was "addled." Our country has benefited greatly because his mother, an educated woman, homeschooled him. Our country cannot afford to throw away these students.
Obama energized our country with "yes we can." I would add that, when schools tell students and families that they "can't" get a diploma or "can't" demand that school administrators be held accountable, we should say, "Oh yes we can."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tiny Tech for Peak Performance

Are you tired of lugging around a full sized laptop to dictate your writing or to use your text-to-speech for reading? I'm intrigued with the new "netbooks" that are cheap enough that school children with or without the need for specialized disability technology can use them, yet powerful enough that adults can run real programs on them.

How can you figure out whether a particular netbook is an annoying toy or a workhorse ? PC magazine recently reviewed many of these tools.

As if the ultramobile PC space weren't already crowded enough, MSI Computer Corp. has blown in with its Wind UMPC. MSI basically (though not literally) took the ASUS EeePC 900, improved it, and slapped its own branding onto it. The Wind doesn't go out of its way to differentiate itself from the crowd, but it's still a top-tier UMPC in many ways. At $480 (street), it's the best deal on the market, complete with the Intel Atom platform, Windows XP Home Edition, and a very good user experience. The HP 2133 Mini-Note PC still has the upper hand in configuration options, but until the Mini-Note can deliver a cheaper price, the Wind is our Editors' Choice for UMPCs.

It's hard to one-up one's rivals when the price of a UMPC has to fall within the $500 range. The Wind doesn't break any ground with its design: Clad in white plastic, the unit weighs less than 3 pounds, like the Acer Aspire One and the ASUS EeePC 900. The HP Mini-Note, by contrast, thinks out of the box by using anodized aluminum, which makes it appear sturdier and appeals to business users as well. Read more:,2817,2326271,00.asp

Finding some of these netbooks online can take some work, but here are a few links to Amazon, of all places (and you thought they only did traditional books...)
Asus EEE PC 1000 H or
MSI Wind U100 or

In this crazy economy, it makes sense for holiday shopping to do double duty: increased productivity at work or school, and a terrific holiday gift.

My one suggestion if you're buying this for children: Do NOT think of buying any computer as a device to educate, because that is a surefire way to kill any desire to use it. Have you ever seen someone excited to do "drill and kill" exercises on the computer? Both adults and children learn best when they are exposed to science in the real world and the rich vocabulary found in literature that we all enjoy. I view computers as access tools to real-life science, literature, current events, history, etc. What do you think?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Voted out of kindergarten?

There was a collective shudder in the hearts of parents of special needs children felt across our country a few weeks ago when a Florida school teacher had her special needs student stand in front of his classmates while she asked her young students to vote whether they wanted to have this classmate kicked out of the class. These impressionable children voted according to their perception of their teacher's guidance, and they sent this young child packing.

The Christian Science Monitor published another parent's perspective on this tragic story

Recently, a Florida teacher seeking relief from a challenging special-needs student named Alex Barton did the unthinkable: She stood him before his kindergarten peers and encouraged them to say what they didn't like about his behavior. Then she asked the students if they wanted him back in class after his reportedly disruptive actions earlier that day. By a vote of 14 to 2, they booted him.

Alex's mom was understandably outraged; she plans to sue. The resulting media sound and fury has brought to light the quiet revolution in public schools across America: the placing of special-needs students into regular classrooms.

Federal law holds that children with disabilities have a right to a "free and appropriate public education." But free for whom? Not for the taxpayers, who must foot the bill for the testing, evaluation, special therapy, and classroom support needed by the differently-abled students, who are increasingly popping up in classrooms.

That has parents everywhere asking themselves an uncomfortable yet critical question: Does the practice of inclusion detract from my child's education? Is it really worth it?

It all depends on your point of view. Mine has changed in the past 30 years, a result of having raised two generations of children – and seeing some unexpected benefits from having my son Jonny, who has Down syndrome, enrolled in regular school.

My oldest went to school when "special ed" kids were housed in trailers behind the school. That was a step up from the days when they were institutionalized, but the segregation still emphasized their differences.

But true to our country's melting pot idealism – in which the public schools are traditionally called on to do the stirring – special-needs students were soon included in the mix. It was a welcome change, but it created individual challenges that had to be confronted and hammered out between parents and educators on a case-by-case basis.
Everyone in the community loses when an individual or family is excluded. The question, whether in schools, neighborhoods, or the workplace, needs to be "how" we will include everyone within a community with dignity, not "whether."

Teachers need extra support as well as administrative and community leadership to assist ALL of our young people to grow up to be caring and productive citizens. Community leaders working on school boards cannot do their job if the schools fail to provide them with the information about all of the available tools. While special education can be expensive, it is far less costly than ignorance. We cannot afford to lose any community member because he or she learns differently than the "norm."

Utilizing currently available technology provided by a professional trained in research and clinical methodology can bring out peak performance within communities, including in schools.

For information regarding technology for peak performance as well as classes and advocacy to assure everyone's success, please visit my website at

Monday, June 16, 2008

What is a Kludge?

I came across a new (for me) word today: kludge.

(pronounced klooj) n. Slang
  1. A system, especially a computer system, that is constituted of poorly matched elements or of elements originally intended for other applications.
  2. A clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem.

kludge. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from website:

I immediately started thinking about access technology (assistive technology) for those who have difficulty with reading or writing. These solutions are often awkward, inelegant, and inefficient, but nevertheless compensate for inaccessible curricula in schools and elsewhere.

According to Wikipedia, a kludge is a kind of "workaround" which they define as

...a bypass of a recognized problem in a system. A workaround is typically a temporary fix that implies that a genuine solution to the problem is needed. Frequently workarounds are as creative as true solutions, involving outside the box thinking in their creation.

Typically they are considered brittle in that they will not respond well to further pressure from a system beyond the original design. In implementing a workaround it is important to flag the change so as to later implement a proper solution.

It is important that those of us who work to provide "kludges" to provide accommodated access to inclusive settings to note Wikipedia's warning that these workarounds are supposed to be temporary and should be replaced by more robust solutions that specifically address the needs. Universal design not only addresses the needs, but it provides better access for everyone as well as logical social acceptance of the access solutions that allows everyone a level playing field. An example? Curb cuts and ramps at corners and for buildings not only allows access by wheelchairs, but allows baby strollers and rolling luggage carts easy access. Audio books (text to speech) for those who struggle with written text allows those individuals who are driving across town or across the country to read books while performing a routine task.

Bonus word thoughts for the day: If you investigate kludge on Wikipedia, then click on workaround, then click on outside the box, then click on lateral thinking, perhaps you can become inspired to make real, meaningful changes to including those who have challenges to "normal" abilities.

Do you need assistance in finding ways to access your school, workplace, and/or home? Please visit my website at and I'll share proven methods for success.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Follow-up on Oscar's bid for Olympic quest

In an earlier blog entry, (Score: Bullies 1, Amputee Sprinter 0) I wrote about double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius' quest to compete in the Olympics with his able-bodied peers. Officials denied his entry, arguing that his high-tech prostheses gave him an "unfair advantage" over those who had human legs. Today, Pistorius won his appeal with the Court of Arbitration of Sport:

New York Times
Panel Backs Amputee Sprinter's Olympic Quest
By Joshua Robinson

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter who was barred from able-bodied competition in January, will be allowed to pursue his dream of qualifying for the Olympic Games after an unexpected decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The Court, an international panel which has final say over legal matters in sport, overturned the International Association of Athletics Federations’ ban, ruling in effect that Pistorius’ carbon fiber prosthetic blades do not give him an unfair advantage.

The court came to a decision after hearing expert testimony from Pistorius’s camp and the I.A.A.F., track and field’s governing body, on April 29 and 30 in Lausanne, Switzerland. It published its opinion in a statement at 9 a.m., Eastern time.The I.A.A.F. had declared Pistorius ineligible for able-bodied competition in January despite originally clearing him to compete last spring, pending further investigation. Pistorius will be allowed to resume his efforts immediately.

That investigation came last November when the I.A.A.F. sponsored three days of testing on Pistorius, who gave his consent, in Cologne, Germany, under the supervision of Peter Brüggemann, a professor at the German Sport University.

Brüggemann found that the prosthetics, known as Cheetahs, were more efficient than a human ankle. He also found that they could return energy in maximum speed sprinting and that Pistorius was able to keep up with a few able-bodied sprinters while expending about 25 percent less energy. Based on Brüggemann’s report, the I.A.A.F. decided that Pistorius would not be allowed to compete.

Pistorius’s lawyers, however, argued that the results of the study did not provide enough evidence to make a decision and lodged an appeal in February.

Read more:

Have you been denied accommodations due to claims of "unfair advantage" or other bogus reasons? I believe that full, equal access (with appropriate accommodations), whether for education, work, or leisure activities, is a civil right. Find out more at

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mainstreaming does not mean having the teacher do all the work in providing the accommodation

So often, I hear competent teachers lament about how administrators require the teachers to do all of the extra work required to mainstream a student with special needs. These teachers often want to do the right thing, but they do not have the resources to provide what the student needs in an appropriate manner. As this captioned video demonstrates, the teacher needs support by a person trained and certified in the particular technique (in this case, sign language, or ASL ) in order for the student to be a successful learner.

Do you need assistance in obtaining appropriate technology and advocacy for learning? Dr. Beckman is available for consultation and training at or call her at 847-446-1251


Friday, April 4, 2008

School Bullies? When schools fail, but punish the victim (the student)

In an article on Wednesday in the San Francisco Chronicle, a legal settlement was announced

High school seniors in special-education classes will be required for the first time this year to pass California's exit exam to qualify for a diploma after lawyers for the disabled failed to get them an exemption.

A legal settlement, expected to be filed today in Alameda County Superior Court, will end a 7-year-old lawsuit that challenged a state law requiring all students - including those with mental or physical disabilities - to pass the test of basic math and English skills to graduate.

Passing the exit exam became a requirement for all seniors in 2006, but lawyers from Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley won exemptions for special-education students in 2006 and 2007.

Both sides said today's settlement includes no exemptions.



It's a dirty secret that manyschools obscure the fact that they routinely fail to provide the specialized tutoring (remediation) that special education students need, and also fail to provide accommodations such as technology tools so that the students can at least learn the rest of the regular curriculum at the same time they are learning how to read.

What I don't understand is why it is believed to be legal that a school can continue to fail in providing an accessible curriculum where students actually learn, and then the student is punished by being denied a diploma. Regardless of whether this policy is in San Francisco, Florida, or Chicago, it is unconscionable. Can you imagine businesses claiming that they provided "adequate" fuel (kerosene) for jets, and then when the planes crashed, blaming the jet plane manufacturers for failing to benefit from the inappropriate fuel?

Schools need to provide both remediation and accommodations so that each student can derive reasonable benefit from the regular curriculum. If the child does not pass a state test, then the school has failed, not the student. The school must be required to provide intensive remediation and accommodate that student as he progresses with his age peers. Any other practice is punishing the victim, and doesn't make sense.

There is research that shows that almost half of those student who are EVER held back ("flunked"), fail to graduate from high school. These students have failed alright: they have failed to benefit from an inappropriate provision of education, which is malpractice. Instead of punishing the victim, punish the decision-making administrators who are running the school and replace them with administrators who will work in a team setting to implement true research-validated educational practices with a focus on measuring whether each student is receiving full benefit from the curriculum. If an individual student is not benefiting, then the school needs to change how they are teaching that particular student.

Does it make sense?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Words can't bring me down...Beautiful Music on D-PAN

Does it make sense that we "educate" our children without feeding their hearts and spirit? We need to develop the whole child, using music and art as well as the "3Rs". Even if a person cannot hear words with their ears does not mean they cannot hear in their heart.

Thanks to Glenda Hampton Anderson for alerting me to the D-PAN interpretation of Christina Aguilera's song, "Beautiful":

D-PAN uses sign language and graphics to interpret Christina Aguilera's song, I hope you enjoy it.


Friday, March 14, 2008

100 Ways to use your Ipod to learn and study better

A colleague on a listserv pointed me in the direction of a great article entitled 100 Ways to use your Ipod to learn and study better, which can be found at or

100 Ways to Use Your iPod to Learn and Study Better

If you think that iPods are used just for listening to music, you obviously haven't been keeping up with the latest technology. The Apple-developed music player now features all kinds of accessories to help you study better, and now other companies are in a rush to get their designs in sync with the iPod. Pre-teens, college kids and even adults are taking advantage of the educational benefits an iPod affords them. From downloadable podcasts to just-for-iPod study guides and applications, learning on the go has never been easier. To find out about the many different ways you can transform your iPod into a learning device, check out our list below.

Study Guides

Stop trying to keep track of all your Spark Notes and endless study guides. Use these programs to upload study materials onto your iPod.

  1. Spark Notes: Long considered a busy high school or college student's best friend, the online study guide database now offers users an iPod-friendly version. Get summaries and analyses of books like A Tale of Two Cities, Beowulf, Hamlet and more.
  2. iPREPpress: This website provides study guides, travel guides and foreign language training, all compatible with iPods.
  3. Raybook: This company has turned popular study guides and flash cards like Cliff's Notes and Netter's into iPod-compatible study sessions. Programs use video, audio and interactive media to help you learn more effectively.
  4. VangoNotes: College students can browse this website for audio downloads in subjects like Sociology, Nursing, Business, Computer Science and other disciplines to access textbook study guides.
  5. NotePods: Currently offered for just $1.99 each, these iPod-compatible study guides give summaries on Jane Austen novels, Shakespeare plays, works by Tolstoy and more.
Check out the remaining 95 of the suggestions, they can really make you a power IPOD user!

Want to read about technology to keep up? My family friendly book is a good start: Tech Psychologist's Guide, is available at

Do you or a loved one need to figure out what technology to use to keep up? Please visit my website,, for information to excel in learning, what you do, and what you love.

Need a low tech method of contact? Call me at 847-446-1251 to schedule a confidential consultation.

Dr. Jeanne Beckman

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

But why?

Have you ever noticed how young children continue to re-ask, "But why?" whenever they do not understand the logic of grownups? Well, I have a few burning "but why" questions of my own:

  • But why: why do schools say that children must learn to read the regular way before they are allowed to access the curricula via technology (text to speech software that reads books aloud)
  • But why: why do schools say that "slow learners" or other disabled students who are not necessarily dyslexic do not need text to speech software to learn the regular curriculum of their age peers
  • But why: why do schools segregate special needs children from their peers to learn? At home and in life, we do not segregate these children or the grownups they will become. Imagine if we said to our 3 year old, "Sorry, you cannot eat dinner with the rest of the family. You need to learn to eat without spilling first, and having you at the dining room table will interfere with the older children's ability to eat."
The typical child learns approximately 3,000 new vocabulary words per year. The longer they are held back, the longer they are denied accommodated access to the same curriculum materials of their age peers, the farther they will fall behind and the more discouraged they will become.

Does it make sense?

Do you or a loved one need to figure out what technology to use to keep up? Please visit my website,, for information to excel in learning, what you do, and what you love.

Need a low tech method of contact? Call me at 847-446-1251 to schedule a confidential consultation.
Dr. Jeanne Beckman

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Students need access to regular curricula AND specialized tutoring

In an article in the Chicago SunTimes, there was the usual lamenting about inner city students who are falling behind their peers on the ACT and Prairie State exams, the usual hand-wringing about how the curriculum needs to be changed, and the usual claims that poor students cannot benefit from the traditional high schools.

Chicago students' achievement gap

November 1, 2007


At Hyde Park Academy, a neighborhood high school serving black, mostly low-income students, reading scores have dropped dramatically over the last five years.

At the same time, at Payton, a selective public high school that is 40 percent white and 30 percent poor, scores have gone through the roof.

Natasha Cavitt teaches a junior English class Tuesday at Noble Street Charter School, which has seen a boost in Hispanic students' scores.

The gulf between these two schools — and others like them — is fueling a growing achievement gap among students in Chicago.

Over the last five years, minority and low-income public high school students have fallen even farther behind their white and more affluent classmates on state tests and the ACT, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis has found.

The backward slide shows up on reading and math scores on the eleventh grade Prairie State Achievement Exams (PSAE) and on ACT composite scores, test data released today show.

For students shut out of the selective college preps like Payton, it can be like a "death sentence," one activist said.

"Either you get into those schools or you're in schools where you're more likely to end up in prison than in college," said Madeline Talbott, head organizer for Illinois ACORN.

The news of the growing achievement gap comes six years after passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which explicitly aims to narrow this gap. The law is up for re-authorization.

The achievement gap widened because scores for white and wealthier kids increased more than for blacks, Hispanics and poor students, especially on the PSAE. In reading, minority and poor student scores are lower than in 2003. Hispanics improved their math scores.

On the ACT, minority students made more gains, outpacing the growth of black and Hispanic peers statewide and nationally. Still, their gains lagged behind white gains.

In Chicago elementary schools, the gap has narrowed significantly, but changes to state tests in 2006 make long-term comparisons questionable, experts say. There were no changes to the high school tests.

Outside Chicago, the gap between Downstate and suburban whites and blacks also grew but not as severely as in Chicago. That's because non-Chicago whites didn't improve much. Scores for non-Chicago blacks dropped since 2003, even more than in Chicago. The gap stayed the same for Hispanics.

Critics blame Chicago's high school achievement gap on its neighborhood schools, which serve most low-income and minority students.

This "reflect[s] the lack of effort by the Chicago Board to correct the deplorable conditions under which many low-income and disabled African American and Hispanic eleventh graders have to learn," said researcher Don Moore, director of the reform group Designs for Change. He cited overcrowding, violence and lousy facilities.

But the growing gap also is clearly fueled by an increase over the last five years in the caliber of white students enrolling in CPS. Between 2003 and 2007, scores for Chicago whites improved significantly more than they did for suburban and Downstate whites, the Sun-Times found.

White Chicago students are clustered in the city's selective college preps and the competition to get in has skyrocketed since 2003, increasing the ability of such schools to take top students. Scores for incoming freshmen are significantly higher than they were five years ago.

Chicago's white students are also better off financially than they were five ago. The percent of low-income CPS whites has dropped from 47 to 42 percent since 2003.

At the same time, CPS' dropout rate has declined. This likely means more low-scoring kids are still around to take eleventh grade tests, Schools CEO Arne Duncan argued.

Those demographic trends highlight a hard truth, Duncan and several principals and experts said.

"The traditional large high school, particularly in inner city neighborhoods, doesn't work for students," Duncan said.

Since 2003, minority student scores have gone up at some neighborhood schools but the biggest gains came at the selective enrollments and two charter schools that accept kids by lottery. These include North Lawndale College Prep, Noble Street Charter School, Brooks, Payton and Lincoln Park, a neighborhood school with three programs for advanced students.

Critics view those trends as evidence of a tier-tied education system. Duncan says CPS is already working to improve its neighborhood schools.

Last year, he began revamping curriculums at low-scoring schools. By 2011, up to 75 schools will undergo an instructional overhaul including new curriculum, materials, tests, teacher training and coaching. It's in place at 25 schools.

Duncan also pointed to Renaissance 2010, which closes failing schools and re-opens them as new ones.

Chicago's Noble Street Charter School, which has dramatically boosted Hispanic student scores since 2003, is being cloned as part of Renaissance 2010. It started with one campus. By next fall it will have seven in Chicago. As a public charter school, Noble has more freedom to hire staff and has lengthened its day and year by 15 percent.

"There are some things that work better for some ethnic groups, but by and large what makes the difference is good instruction, strong discipline and more time on task," said Michael Milkie, who started the first Noble Street campus and now oversees all of them.

Critics of Renaissance 2010, including Don Moore, believe the effort actually hurts minority students. The high schools that have re-opened so far are much smaller than the schools they replaced. And the closures send students to schools outside their neighborhood, often crossing gang lines, leading to increased violence and discipline problems.

Violence at Hyde Park Academy, a neighborhood school, spiked after it took in students from closed schools, though school officials say those kids weren't the biggest discipline problems. A new principal is trying to turn the school around with new test prep courses and more attention to freshman.

Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika, Rosalind Rossi,cst-nws-gap31web.article#

What I still don't see in the media is why no one is asking whether there are other explanations for why students from higher socioeconomic families do so much better in school. One question to ask is how much these families are spending on private tutoring. Some families in Winnetka, for example, even with their "good" schools, spend $20-30 thousand dollars per year for private specialized tutoring because they believe that their schools do not provide adequate attention to the necessary specialized tutoring for their children who struggle with reading and writing. These families are frustrated with segregated classes and other administrative barriers that prevent many students from accessing curricula that will keep these students from languishing in lifelong underachievement. They are also frustrated with the administrative barriers that allow only certain students to use the technology tools (such as audio books, text to speech, and voice recognition) for accessing the regular curriculum. While some of these "good" schools allow some students with high IQs and learning disabilities to use the technology, they prevent other students who are "just slow learners" (or "ADD" or others with difficulties that affect their ability to learn) from using technology tools in order to benefit from the regular curriculum. Does it make sense?

I just don't understand why administrators are still getting away with essentially only teaching the students who can learn in ANY environment, and segregating students, through poor specialized tutoring (remediation) and lack of accommodated access to the regular curriculum.

Today, on Super Tuesday, where citizens of many states are exercising their constitutional right to vote, I am beginning my list of a student's Bill of Rights:
  1. EVERY student, regardless of perceived degree of disability, has a right to access the same regular, full curriculum as his or her non-disabled peers. If the student needs access accommodations to be able to learn from this curriculum, then the student has the right to appropriately individualized access accommodations.
  2. EVERY student has the right to learn, and every family has the right to provide input to the administrative policies and decision-making process of their schools. While school attorneys often advise administrators to avoid written policies, schools administrators are the employees of the community, and must be responsive to ALL of the community's children's needs.
  3. The administrative claim that a student "must learn the regular way" prior to attending a mainstream class is similar to old segregationist tactics of reading tests and poll taxes prior to being allowed to vote.
  4. EVERY student has the right to access tools in order to achieve full benefit from the regular curriculum. While many technology experts claim that a student should always start with "low tech" first, I believe that students should always start with access tools that would assist the student in most closely approximating the non-disabled student's learning input and output. This means that, if non-disabled students read at a certain speed, then the disabled student needs technology that will assist the student in reading at that same speed. A disabled student also needs access to a method of producing written output that approximates the speed of the non-disabled student, whether dictating to a human scribe or using computerized voice recognition technology.
  5. EVERY student has the right to fully access his or her full learning potential. Administrators who claim that schools are not obligated to "maximize potential" of students are just using plain bullying tactics and obfuscation to perpetuate segregation. Our country, our communities, our businesses cannot afford to waste ANY potential of ANY student.
  6. EVERY student, regardless of perceived degree of disability, has the right to access research validated, individualized tutoring in order to improve areas of weakness. This tutoring must be provided by teachers (who have been certified in administering THAT SPECIFIC research-validated intervention program) outside of the regular curriculum at a separate time so that the student will be able to fully participate in the full, regular curriculum with his or her "non-disabled" peers.
  7. EVERY student who does not demonstrate adequate progress in the regular curriculum has the right to a timely, full battery of testing in order to determine what he or she needs in order to learn, and needs an immediate, detailed plan for remediation and accommodation in order to receive full benefit from school. Subjecting a student to "waiting to fail enough," or to retention ("failing") policies is punishing the victim of failed attention to the learning needs of that student. "S0cial promotion" without attending to the learning needs of the student is also punishing the victim and is a political strategy to avoid addressing failed administrative policies.
  8. RTI (response to intervention) was designed for young students who had not been in school long enough to demonstrate that they had not acquired the regular curriculum at an adequate pace. RTI is NOT "wait and see" but requires schools to utilize a research-validated intervention of increasing intensity to determine whether the student is only immature or in need of a full evaluation. Parents are supposed to have the right to request a full evaluation at any time during the RTI, so it is bullying for administrators to say that they do not need to do an evaluation because they are doing RTI.
  9. Using RTI for older students is a stalling tactic used by schools to avoid costly testing and specialized remediation. There are some schools that even ignore private testing indicating a learning disability for older students, claiming they are doing RTI instead.
  10. EVERY student who needs special support has the right to teachers who believe in meeting the learning needs of every student. EVERY TEACHER has the right to the necessary in-class and planning supports for meeting the needs of all students in the class.
  11. EVERY student has the right to access the classrooms of his or her age peers. "Self-contained," "resource," or other euphemisms for segregated classrooms are in violation of the Brown v Board of Education ruling which found that "separate but equal" schools are not equal.
  12. There is research that indicates that learning and performance is better for ALL individuals in heterogeneous rather than homogeneous environments. Level classes and other academic grouping systems are just another word for segregated classrooms and deprive all levels of students from benefiting from the heterogeneous communities they will participate in as adults.
  13. Coming soon....
© Dr. Jeanne Beckman
If you or a family member have difficulties that prevent full benefit from your learning/work/leisure environments, you can find out about technology tools and strategies for changing institutional barriers in my new book, The Tech Psychologist's Guide. For more information about my book, please go to my website,

In addition to individual testing, technology training, and advocacy, I am also available to speak to parent groups about community strategies for changing their schools. For more information, please go to my website,

Thursday, January 31, 2008

LibriVox for free downloadable books

People often hear me say that there are many ways to read books. Today, I found an article that blogs about a free site to download copyright free books. Here's an article found at that discusses a site for book lovers who read by listening.

By Chris O’Neal

I'd like to share a Web site called LibriVox, which provides free, downloadable audiobooks from the public domain: Users download the audiobooks in MP3 format and listen to them on their computer or copy them onto an MP3 player. According to the site, "LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the Internet. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audiobooks." Users can take advantage of the full catalog of audiobooks -- about a thousand at the time of this writing.

Because the books are in the public domain, users may listen to them as many times as they want and share them with others. If your students have access to MP3 players, providing them with audiobooks is a great way to encourage their appreciation for some fantastic literature. In addition, you can sign up to be a volunteer reader: Find a book of your choosing in the public domain, and record yourself reading it. The site, started in 2005 for the sole purpose of sharing the love of reading, works on a volunteer basis.

LibriVox is a teacher's dream -- a fun tool to encourage the reluctant reader or inspire your already-addicted ones to explore even more great literature. You'll find Aesop's Fables and the works of Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Rudyard Kipling -- the list goes on and on. How about some Edgar Allan Poe to listen to on the way home from school each evening?

Go have a listen, and let us know what you think.

Do you or a loved one need to figure out what technology to use to keep up? Please visit my website,, for information to excel in learning, what you do, and what you love.

Need a low tech method of contact? Call me at 847-446-1251 to schedule a confidential consultation.
Dr. Jeanne Beckman


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Keeping the focus, the Barry Salzberg Method

In an excellent New York Times article by Eve Tahmincioglu, Barry Salzberg spoke of how he overcame the barriers in his life and kept his focus on what he wanted to achieve.

The Boss

It’s All About Focus

THROUGHOUT my life with my parents, growing up in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, we rented an apartment and my father had two or three jobs. My mom worked as a clerk at a bank. Money and material belongings were at an absolute minimum. We didn’t own a car. Vacations were sparse.

I was in junior high when my dad passed away suddenly at age 56. It was sort of like: “This can’t be. Here I am without a dad.”

I started helping my mom by taking on summer jobs, and I worked as a payroll clerk for the New York City Board of Education.

I took responsibility for the family unit that consisted of me and my mother. I was the youngest of five siblings, and everyone else was out of the household by then. It created a level of independence and responsibility in me because I had to be helpful to my mother rather than a burden.

The turning point in my life came when I met my future wife, Evelyn. It was on a blind date and I was about 17. She bolstered my confidence and told me, “You could do a lot more than you’re planning on doing.”

At that point, I had very little vision, other than finishing high school and getting a job. I thought maybe I’d become a teacher. I liked math so I figured I could teach it.

She said: “No, no, no, Barry, you can do better. You’re smart.”

Evelyn’s parents owned their own home. Walking to their place one day, we were seeing all the beautiful houses and Evelyn said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if one day we owned a home and had a swimming pool?”

I said: “You’ve got to be kidding. I’ll never have a home, and who needs a swimming pool? I’m happy going to the public swimming pool.”

She said, “There’s no reason you can’t afford it just because your parents couldn’t.”

Evelyn’s parents were immigrants, both Holocaust survivors. Her parents would say positive things regarding what I could possibly do. They encouraged me to change my major in college to accounting from math, which I did. And they encouraged me to go to law school, which I did.

Her parents even helped us out when I went to law school after we married. We had an apartment for $190 a month in Canarsie. We paid $90 and they paid $100.

When I was a budding tax partner, my boss at Deloitte asked me to take on a leadership role, as the managing partner of a multifunctional group.

My wife said I should do it, and I did. But I had a lot of self-doubt and questions like, “What if I fail?”

During times like that, it’s about focus, tunnel vision, about learning as much as you can. Success is the only option and you kind of put your head down and drive.

When I was made a partner in 1985, we had a little bit of a celebration in New York for all the new partners. Four of the new partners went out to dinner with our spouses.

At dinner, with a little bit of wine in some of us, one of the partners said, in essence, that I was a token promotion.

I’m Jewish and there weren’t a lot of Jewish partners at the time.

My wife and I walked out of the dinner, and one other couple got up and walked out with us.

That comment was a huge eye-opener. The fact of the matter is, you begin to feel a bit uncomfortable. But I had to focus on who I was and what I had to do.

I was thrilled to be a partner and I wasn’t going to let that affect my excitement or my wife’s excitement, so we simply left. I attributed that night to the wine. I never held it against the guy, and I refused to allow it to take away from what I had accomplished. I didn’t think that was where my firm was, and I was right.

That’s one of the main reasons I’ve worked pretty hard to champion diversity and champion an inclusive culture since I became a partner.

How do you keep your focus? Is there a champion in your life who helps you to get and keep your focus?
Visit to find out about Dr. Jeanne Beckman, a tech expert who can coach you to achieve your focused goals.