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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hands Free Music

Well, it seems that this week I am sharing all kinds of technology that facilitates adaptive music performance (technology for performing music). For those who know me, I love playing musical instruments and have a hard time imagining life without any opportunity to experiment and/or master some sort of musical instrument. This group has found ways for those with mobility impairments to make music.

Here's a video:

Here's a link at

On January 1, 2007 DLI received received funding in the amount of $20,000 from the Malcolm S. Morse Foundation for a new project: Adaptive Use Musical Instruments for the Physically Challenged (AUMIPC). The Academy for Electronic Media (AEM) Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Don Millard, director is contributing design and programming, the Arts Dept. of RPI, Kathy High, head is providing a student designer/programmer compensated by the Undergraduate Research Program as support to the project.

Some objectives of the AUMIPC project are to create new flexible interfaces, digital controls, computer programs, inputs and outputs to musical instruments for use by children with very little mobility or other varieties of impairments. The intended result is to enable the physically challenged to create and perform electronic sounds in ensembles and to improvise and compose their own music.

The initial work of the Adaptive Use Musical Instruments for the Physically Challenged (AUMIPC) is hosted at Rehab Programs Inc. School (RPIS) in Poughkeepsie NY (Robert Kelleher, director.)

The AUMIPC team includes:

Composer/performer/educator and President of DLI Pauline Oliveros director and coordinator of the project.

Musican/educator/occupational therapist at RPIS Leaf Miller, liaison with the RPIS, coordinator of site visits and conferences with the other therapists and three severely physically challenged children. Miller is a principle contributor of ideas for the designers and programmers.

Electrical Engineer and director of the AEM at RPI – Don Millard is directing design, construction of devices and programming

Music educator, improviser and trombonist David Dove, director of Nameless Sound, Houston TX consultant to the project, teaches physically challenged and autistic children in his educational program and provides musical scores and suggestions for improvisation involving the children.

DLI Intern, composer and programmer Zevin Polzin researches, designs and implements controllers and programs for the children.

RPI Arts Department graduating senior, musician and programmer Zane Van Duzen is designing and implementing programs for controlling electronic musical instruments.

As director of AUMIPC Oliveros asked to work with three of the children with the least physical motion. The intent and objectives are to maximize the feedback, possible expression and learning for the children, open up more creative inputs for them and to minimize programming time for the therapists. If a switch can be activated by a child then the therapist should be able to easily program a customized session for any child that is mutually satisfying in terms of expressive output and intelligent learning situations.

During the initial session at RPIS, organized with therapists and children by Miller, the AUMIPC team quickly understood that hardware and programming could be quickly and greatly improved affording therapists a more efficient and friendly interface for programming more and better choices, creative activities and feed back to the child in order to broaden the children's expressive options and to accelerate their learning.

The team noted that different modes of input from the child might be utilized and trained such as voice using visual feedback with spectrograms, microphone input and temperature, magnetic field, and other forms of motion capture with camera input and using a variety of sensors.

The AEM under the direction of Don Millard will program a laptop purchased for the project to supplement or replace the Dynavox currently used at RPIS. Therapists will be able to program for the children with ease and flexibility so that valuable therapy time is available for the child rather than struggling with awkward computer interfaces. Audio and visual output will be available and perhaps haptic feedback to the child as well.

How do you make music?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Braille music instruction

While in Washington DC for the National Center for Technology Innovation conference, I met Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots, who designed software that assists visually impaired individuals learn piano and transcribe music into Braille.

Dancing Dots serves blind musicians and their educators through technology and training.

"Where Music Meets Technology for the Blind"

Any sighted musician can scan and edit print notation and convert it to the equivalent braille notation with our GOODFEEL Braille Music Translator. These sighted copyists need not necessarily know braille.

Blind musicians can independently create sound recordings and printed scores with CakeTalking for SONAR and Sibelius Speaking for Sibelius. You can now order our Dancing Dots Accessible Audio and Notation Workstation. We can train you to use any of our technology, more mainstream applications or to learn to read braille music. Here's our reference guide that describes a situation and suggests specific products and resources.

We offer a variety of products including braille music courses, and assistive technology such as JAWS and Duxbury Braille Translator. Dancing Dots can consult with you and supply your needs. We represent the leading manufacturers of assistive technology and music supplies. Find a sound card, MIDI controller or a MIDI interface for your PC. If you can't find what you're looking for just ask and we'll help. If the information above makes little sense to you or you'd just like to see a brief list of our products listed by need, they will assist you with the entire process.

Blind 9-year old musician performs for Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder at international conference

There's no denying music is a large part of Rachel Flowers' life. The 9-year-old from San Bernardino, California is a rhythmic and melodic magnet. Every catchy tune or harmonic sound she encounters gets absorbed through her ears, processed in her mind and translated through her fingertips.

Music might even be in her DNA given that her parents, Jeanie and Daniel, and both sets of grandparents are musically inclined. From the time when she was 2, Rachel has been playing the piano and keyboards.

What separates Rachel from other young inspiring musicians is not that she prefers classical and jazz versus bubblegum bands and American Idols, but the method in which she reads, writes and produces music. Blinded by retinopathy of prematurity as a result of being born 15 weeks early, Rachel relies on assistive technology called CakeTalking for SONAR.

CakeTalking for SONAR contains scripts for JAWS® for Windows and is available solely through Freedom Scientific dealer Dancing Dots. Those who are familiar with JAWS can learn music through customized scripts that allow musicians to perform in conjunction with many mainstream music applications. They can navigate graphical views of musical information and turn their PCs into music studios.

Rachel has been using the program for three years.

"She hears a piece, and her mind is already going," her mother said proudly. "Once she was introduced to computer sequencing, music was a real explosion. She jumped in with both feet. It was amazing to see."

While Rachel has performed in many venues including school talent shows, perhaps her biggest concert came at the 18th Annual CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities this spring in Los Angeles. She demonstrated SONAR to more than 300 people, sequencing Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful" because the famous singer was in attendance along with Stevie Wonder.

Rachel also sang as she played and Jeanie joined in on the microphone for a verse.

"I saw Stevie and thought, 'oh my gosh, I'm singing in front of Stevie Wonder,' " Jeanie said. "But it was Rachel's night."

Rachel was familiar with Ray Charles not only because of "America the Beautiful," but also because of the children's book called "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," an alphabet book he read on audio cassette. Rachel talked briefly with Ray at CSUN. She also got a chance to tell Stevie Wonder she had a version of his song "As" sequenced, so he sang a verse of it in to her tape recorder.

Rachel's recent brush with greatness was nothing new. When she was 4, Jeanie and Daniel performed at coffee houses and she was usually in the audience. One night, Rachel sat at the piano and started playing Beethoven's "Fur Elise." The store owner was so amazed, he contacted one of his television friends and soon after, Rachel was on the local news - a celebrity in her own right.

Music always has been a part of Rachel's life, whether it was listening to her parents play guitar or hearing a rock 'n' roll song on the radio. She even has an ear for gamelan music, which is a traditional Indonesian instrumental ensemble comprising mainly percussion instruments.

Music also figures to be a part of Rachel's future. Listening to it. Loving it. And thanks to CakeTalking for SONAR and JAWS, learning it and playing it.

"I think that's her life," Jeanie said. "It's what she lives for."

Read her story and more at
or go to the dancingdots website at

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading

Without strong essential reading comprehension skills, our children will have great difficulty participating in civic, political, and work activities. Here's an article about a new study to help us understand what is going on...

New York Times: Arts
Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading
Published: November 19, 2007

Americans appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining, according to a new report by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Harry Potter, James Patterson and Oprah Winfrey's book club aside, Americans — particularly young Americans — appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining. At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited, and employers are rating workers deficient in basic writing skills.
Skip to next paragraph
Publications From the National Endowment for the Arts

That is the message of a new report being released today by the National Endowment for the Arts, based on an analysis of data from about two dozen studies from the federal Education and Labor Departments and the Census Bureau as well as other academic, foundation and business surveys. After its 2004 report, "Reading at Risk," which found that fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or poetry, the endowment sought to collect more comprehensive data to build a picture of the role of all reading, including nonfiction.


Monday, November 19, 2007

National Center for Technology Innovation Conference

Wow! Last week, I was at the National Center for Technology Innovation Conference ( I learned so much and met so many people, that I don't know where to begin in sharing the collective brain of it. So, while I synthesize my thoughts, I'm passing on the YouTube video I learned about called "Shift Happens."

Please leave a comment here to let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Voice Recognition for GPS: Now that's Universal Design that's finally listening to me!

Consumer Report's blog reviews a portable GPS unit that can listen to users with voice recognition.

SEMA - TomTom 920 portable GPS
As competition in the GPS market continues to heat up, TomTom showed its first voice-command activated navigation system at SEMA. (We recently tested the Magellan Maestro 4050, considered the first portable unit with voice recognition.) The 920 allows users to enter a street address by speaking it to the unit rather than using a keyboard, which the manufacturer says makes it the first portable unit with this capability. Other recently introduced voice-command units can only take voice commands for pre-programmed addresses or items from their point-of-interest menu. The 920 also can continue to provide guidance when it temporarily loses its signal, such as when going through a tunnel. Another new feature enables users to press one button for their current location in an emergency, or to note where they’ve parked their car to help find it later. Called “Help Me,” this also enables users with a Bluetooth-enabled phone to summon police or a wrecker with one button, akin to a core feature of OnStar. Priced at $599.95, the 920 is in stores now. The 920 adds a traffic receiver for $100 if purchased with the unit including a one year subscription, or $129.95 if purchased later. Annual renewals cost $60 for the service.
Voice-recognition programming is a big safety benefit for any GPS system. Without a helpful passenger, a driver trying to program a system by hand while driving is a big no-no because of the distraction from driving. While the best factory voice-recognition systems work well and are comprehensive in capability, we found the Maestro’s abilities were limited. Hopefully, the TomTom works better.
No word on whether the 920 could talk to itself with a downloaded celebrity voice...
—Jim Travers
Read this and other Consumer Report reviews at

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Text Aloud: Text to Speech for everyone, including multitaskers

One inexpensive text-to-speech software that I use regularly for proofreading is TextAloud. Here's a press release from, regarding their product:

Denver Professional Hears Books, Recipes and More with TextAloud and

CLEMMONS, NC and Denver, CO - Julie M. of Denver, Colorado is an accomplished musician, performer and social worker who loves to read, cook, podcast and surf the Internet - and whose blindness doesn't slow her down for even a moment. Thanks to tools like NextUp's Text to Speech software program TextAloud, and in conjunction with resources like, Julie can quickly and easily listen to everything from the latest bestsellers to online recipes.

TextAloud is an easy and affordable software program from NextUp Technologies ( that converts text into spoken audio files for listening on a PC or portable device. The program has become increasingly popular with users like Julie M., as well as blind and visually disabled users worldwide, thanks to its natural and human-sounding voices, a welcome alternative to the more traditional or robotic-sounding readers.

For individuals like Julie, is the perfect complement to TextAloud. Bookshare is an online community that dramatically increases access to books for individuals who are visually impaired and otherwise print-disabled, enabling the legitimate and legal sharing of book scans contributed by Bookshare members as well as directly from publishers. TextAloud Text to Speech software works seamlessly with this resource, as it enables Bookshare members to then export those books to audio files that can be played on anything from computers to iPods® and other portables. The text read aloud via TextAloud offers high-quality, realistic and human-sounding voices which are a far cry from the less naturalistic, more 'robotic-sounding' voices of decades past.

"I love to read, and with, for only $50 a year, I can download all the books I want," Julie comments. "And by using TextAloud to read them aloud to me, I get voices that are better and much more interesting than those for other screen readers." Julie's favorite voices with TextAloud include such premium voice choices as 'Heather' from Acapela®, 'Ray' from AT&T Natural Voices™, and 'Paul' from NeoSpeech®.

"TextAloud also captures the Clipboard," says Julie, "which is handy when doing internet research." TextAloud also easily saves files to MP3 and WMA formats, which is especially useful for Julie's busy schedule not only as a social worker, but as a musician and performer as well. "It's perfect for commuters and others on the go," she adds. Julie is also an avid podcaster, so when she does research for her show, she listens to web and e-mail content via TextAloud, and also uses the program to save the content for later use and review as well.

But TextAloud isn't just for books. As an avid cook, Julie also cleverly uses TextAloud to read her recipes aloud from the Internet or her other favorite resources. She then easily plays back the files while cooking in the kitchen on her MP3 player or via a dub she has made to cassette tape, to remind herself of the ingredients and directions.

Lisa Friendly, Manager of for Benetech, is delighted to see that Bookshare subscribers like Julie are pioneering the ways in which TextAloud can be used to optimize their reading experience by tailoring it to their individual preferences. "What a great idea to have the recipe read to you while you're cooking, or to be able to continue reading your book while you're folding the laundry. With a naturalistic sounding voice, the experience doesn't diminish from one reading method to the next." ...Highly useful for students wanting to maximize study time or listen on the go -- and perfect for Back to School season -- TextAloud has been featured in The New York Times, PC Magazine, Writer's Digest, on CNN, and more. Hailed by critics and users alike, TextAloud is priced at just $29.95, and is compatible with systems using Windows (R) 98, NT, 2000, XP and VISTA. The program is available for fast, safe and secure purchase via

Read more:

In addition to those with visual disabilities, those with learning disabilities, cognitive challenges, and anyone who struggles to read unaccommodated text, can benefit from using TextAloud.

With its great price and multitude of uses, this product certainly points to universal design, a concept that serves a broad spectrum of society, not just those with disabilities (curb cuts are a great example of universal design, as they not only accommodate wheelchairs, but they also help those with strollers and rolling luggage. Here are some ways I've used TextAloud:
1. Reviewing text notes (converted to mp3) before a big presentation while taking a shower or cooking
2. Proofing a letter, book, or essay (hearing the words while seeing them helps me to catch errors)
3. Listening to a digital book while running on my treadmill, either while viewing the book on my laptop, or by listening to the TextAloud's mp3 conversion of the book.

How many ways can you think of to use this software?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Does AAC inhibit language acquisition?

Does it make sense?

There are still teachers and other professionals who tell parents that children with delayed or absent speech should learn to speak "the regular way" instead of using AAC (Alternate and Augmentive Communication)devices. Years ago, they pushed this same theory for the deaf, not allowing them to use sign language in school. In reality, by not allowing individuals to have an effective method to communicate with others, they are destined to experience long-lasting social isolation, decreased skills and knowledge acquisition, and mental health symptoms.

Others who can benefit from AAC include adults who have suffered a stroke, ALS, surgery affecting vocal output, EVERY individual, even those with developmental delays (slow learning) and autism spectrum disorders, have a right to be able to express their needs, thoughts, and desires. If institutional decision-makers claim that disabled individuals "don't need" an AAC device that includes voice output, they are in essence forcing these individuals to a segregated, isolated life where they cannot communicate with "regular" individuals.
Here is an article that debunks the myths associated with AAC:

Does AAC impede natural speech?—and other fears
Even when a child's communication impairments are interfering with his or her cognitive, social and emotional development, some parents and practitioners are reluctant to introduce AAC. This is very understandable since AAC-based communication is frequently viewed as the solution of last resort, condemning a child to a lifetime of abnormal and limited communication. It is considered the end of all hope of natural speech, to be used only after years of failed speech therapy. (Berry, 1987; Mirenda & Schuler, 1988).

Nor does it mean the end of any hope of speech development. Children are frequently provided with communication programs in which speech is a major component. (See Multimodal communication.) In fact, since natural speech is the ideal mode of communication in many circumstances, it behooves a young child to continue with speech therapy along with AAC in order to develop his or her speaking ability to its fullest potential. In fact, numerous studies have found that the introduction of AAC frequently has a positive affect on speech; children who are given AAC often develop speech faster than they would have otherwise (Bodine & Beukelman, 1991; Van Tatenhove, 1987).

On the other hand, while it may be appropriate to continue to focus on speech, it is unfair to leave a child with little or no means of communicating effectively while undergoing years of speech therapy. A child who is unable to communicate effectively is unable to participate meaningfully in many activities, and is at great risk for delays in cognitive, social and emotional development. (See When does a child need AAC?) Thus, it is crucial that he or she be provided with at least some ability to communicate that offers some immediate control over people and the environment, and can be expanded or modified as necessary to meet the needs of the future.
The following table shows the most common fears and myths regarding the use of AAC, as well as research that refutes such concerns, and practical solutions that directly address these issues. Read more at:

If you have questions about how whether someone you know needs or might benefit from technology, please visit Dr. Beckman's website at, call her at 847-446-1251 (USA, or email her at

Thursday, November 1, 2007

School Bullies? What about when the teacher does the bullying?

A new website is packed full of information about bullying, including children being bullied by their teachers. A stop bullying website states,

It is important to remember that not only do children bully each other, but adults can bully children, too. For example, a study of urban elementary school teachers in the U.S. (Twemlow et al., 2006) found that 40% admitted that they had bullied a student, and 3% said they did so "frequently." A Norwegian study of 2,400 students in grades 6-9 found that 2% of students had been victims of teacher bullying (Olweus, 2005). Adults must not only be watchful for signs of bullying among the children and youth that they work with, but they should also be sensitive to possible bullying of children by adults, as well.

Find out more about this and other bullying topics at