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

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.

Voice Recognition for a more productive day

Today, I read John Hill's blog about voice recognition technology that does not mention, even once, disabilities. It is viewed as mainstream technology by individuals and by business, so it should be an available tool for anyone, of any age, to utilize.

Voice Recognition - Is it ready for you?

Typing on a keyboard is OK, writing with a Tablet PC is better, wouldn’t voice recognition be best? Well…

First some background. All Windows PCs come with voice recognition software built in – it is part of the Microsoft operating system. If you want to use it on a desktop or laptop computer, you will need an external microphone to get your voice into the computer. Most Tablet PCs have built-in array microphones that allow you to use the computer without having to plug in an external mic although you can do this. While the voice recognition that is built into the Windows operating system has the same level of recognition as Dragon Naturally Speaking, you will find that the Windows version does not have very robust tools for correcting errors, navigating around documents or for teaching and improving the ability of the software to recognize your voice. This is the biggest disadvantage of the Microsoft voice recognition and why I don’t recommend it unless you just want to dabble for free.

A better solution is to get Dragon Naturally Speaking. They are the 800-pound gorilla and just dominate the market. The training tools are very good in Dragon, but please recognize that you still have to spend several hours doing the initial training to have success. After that, the more you use the software, the better it recognizes your voice. I can’t stress enough that you can have excellent results if you use it at least several times a week. Think about it – it is like any other skill. The more you use it, the more proficient you will become.

To read more, please go to

Do you need to find a way to be more productive in your writing? Do you need a coach to help you master voice recognition technology? Learn strategies to increase your productivity in your everyday life, regardless of your age.
Find out more information about technology tools at

Monday, January 14, 2008

Score: Bullies 1, Amputee Sprinter 0

Alt: photo of Oscar Pistorius and his prostheses

Well, there's no end to the barriers created by bullies who claim that a person's assistive technology is an unfair advantage. For those of you who have been following double-leg amputee Oscar Pistorius' quest to compete in the Bejiing Olympics, here's an article about the ruling:

Monday January 14, 2008
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- The IAAF ruled Monday that double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius is ineligible to compete in the Beijing Olympics because his prosthetic racing legs give him a clear competitive advantage.

The International Association of Athletics Federations had twice postponed the ruling, but the executive Council said the South African runner's curved, prosthetic "Cheetah" blades were considered a technical aid in violation of the rules.

"As a result, Oscar Pistorius is ineligible to compete in competitions organized under IAAF rules," the IAAF said in a statement from Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Pistorius, known as the "blade runner," announced last week that he planned to appeal any adverse decision, including taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Athletics South Africa said it would immediately apply the decision, further complicating Pistorius' future since he will not be able to set legal Olympic qualifying times in his own country.

"That's a huge blow," said Pistorius' manager, Peet Van Zyl. "He has been competing in South African abled-bodied competition for the past three years. At this stage it looks like he is out of any able-bodied event."

The decision was reached in an e-mail vote by the 27-member IAAF Council. The vote count was not disclosed but was believed to be unanimous.

The IAAF endorsed studies by German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann, who conducted tests on the prosthetic limbs and said they give Pistorius a clear competitive advantage over able-bodied runners.

"An athlete using this prosthetic blade has a demonstrable mechanical advantage (more than 30 percent) when compared to someone not using the blade," the IAAF said.

The federation said Pistorius had been allowed to compete in some able-bodied events until now because his case was so unique that such artificial protheses had not been properly studied.

"We did not have the science," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "Now we have the science. We are only interested in competitions that we govern."

Davies stressed the findings only covered Pistorius' specific blades and did not necessarily mean that all lesser-abled athletes would automatically be excluded.

The ruling does not affect Pistorius' eligibility for Paralympic events, in which he was a gold medalist in Athens in 2004.

"It's unfortunate because he could have boosted team athletics at the Olympics at Beijing, because he had the potential to qualify," said Leonard Chuene, president of Athletics South Africa.

Chuene said the federation would respect the ruling.

"There's not much we can do," he said. "It rules him out with immediate effect. We use the IAAF rule book. If we had our rules and our own competition, it would be easier. It is a huge problem."

Pistorius finished second in the 400 meters at the South African National Championships last year against able-bodied runners.

The runner worked with Brueggemann in Cologne for two days of testing in November to learn to what extent the j-shaped carbon-fiber extensions to his amputated legs differed from the legs of fully abled runners.

Brueggemann found that Pistorius was able to run at the same speed as able bodied runners on about a quarter less energy. He found that once the runners hit a certain stride, athletes with artificial limbs needed less additional energy than other athletes.

The professor found that the returned energy "from the prosthetic blade is close to three times higher than with the human ankle joint in maximum sprinting."

Based on these findings, the Council ruled against Pistorius.

The findings are contested by the Pistorius camp.

"Based on the feedback that we got, the general feeling was that there were a lot of variables that weren't taken into consideration and that all avenues hadn't been explored in terms of coming to a final conclusion on whether Oscar was getting some advantage or not," Van Zyl said. "We were hoping that they would reconsider and hopefully do some more tests."

The IAAF adopted a rule last summer prohibiting the use of any "technical aids" deemed to give an athlete an advantage over another.

Ossur, the Icelandic company which is a leader in the production of prosthetics, braces and supports and also made Pistorius' blades, has said the blades do not provide an edge over able-bodied athletes.

Pistorius has set world records in the 100, 200 and 400 in Paralympic events.

Pistorius was born without fibulas -- the long, thin outer bone between the knee and ankle -- and was 11 months old when his legs were amputated below the knee.

He began running competitively four years ago to treat a rugby injury, and nine months later won the 200 meters at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.

Pistorius competed in the 400 at two international-level able-bodied meets in 2007. He finished second in a B race in 46.90 seconds at the Golden League meet in Rome on July 13 and, two days later, was disqualified for running out of his lane in Sheffield, England.

This article found at


I think that, since I am only 5 feet tall, those female sprinters who are 5'11" have an unfair mechanical advantage over me. After all, I probably have to take 2 or 3 strides to every one of theirs. I think perhaps I should protest.... If taller skiers have longer skis, don't they cross the finish line sooner than those with shorter ones? If there is a maximum length of ski, wouldn't taller skiers have an unfair mechanical advantage over those who are shorter? Are Olympic sharpshooters allowed to wear glasses or contact lenses? Aren't glasses and contact lenses mechanical aides? Do some Olympic athletes wear a hearing aide to hear the start gun or even hear the competition coming up behind them?

Here's a statement by the prosthesis maker Ossur:

...Importantly, the technology used in Mr. Pistorius' Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetic feet has existed since 1997, and has not experienced any significant updates since that time. Scores of amputee athletes have used the very same product to compete at an international level of sport over the years. Some have come close to able-bodied world record times, but what we have in Mr. Pistorius is an extraordinary athlete: one that has taken technology that has existed for over a decade and pushed it to its very limit.

In light of this, we feel strongly that any judgment against Mr. Pistorius at this stage and based on insufficient information, would be irresponsible and unfair, and that he should be allowed to participate at IAAF-sanctioned events -- as long as his times qualify him to do so.

The past few years have been enlightened and remarkable times for active amputees who have worked so hard and overcome so many challenges to at last experience the opportunity to compete alongside able-bodied athletes. It would be unfortunate and regrettable to take such a giant step backwards when we are presented with this occasion to partner with the IAAF and show the world how equal we all truly are.

To read the full statement, please go to

According to Ossur, this prosthesis has been used internationally on a competitive basis for 10 years. It seems no one cared about this technology until a great athlete actually started beating those who do not need prosthetics. Perhaps those individuals should focus on developing better strategies to run instead of finding loopholes and legal maneuvers for cutting their competition.

I hope Oscar wins his appeal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Is Technology Just a Crutch?

Is technology just a crutch?

A justification I frequently hear from educators about why a student should be denied a technology accommodation such as text to speech (to help a student read) is that "it is just a crutch" or, "they should learn to read the regular way." If technology is just a crutch, for those who have never worn glasses and are approaching or are beyond their 40th birthday, I have a challenge for you: stop using your reading glasses, because they are just a crutch!

Reading glasses are such a commonplace technology that business has removed almost every barrier to accessing them. No longer does a person have to go to an optometrist or ophthalmologist to get a prescription for an optician to fill. Drug stores, book stores, and even Costco not only sells these "assistive technologies" for less than twenty dollars, but they also provide reading charts to help you self-diagnose your necessary prescription.

Every time an educator claims that assistive technology is just a crutch, he or she is making a pejorative comment that is a form of disability harassment and discrimination. If a person does not wish to educate a community of diverse learners, it is time for that person to find a different line of work.

I am currently scheduling speaking engagements on how to facilitate changes in schools. Please contact me for more information or to schedule a presentation at 847-446-1251 or email me at

To read more information on this topic, see my new family-friendly book, Tech Psychologist's Guide, ISBN 978-1-60264-089-4.

You can find my book at my publisher:

Saturday, January 5, 2008

My newest friend, author Elizabeth Berg

Often, when I read, I make a new friend with an author, even though he or she may not know it. Today, as I read an article about new resolutions in the Chicago Tribune (non-computer, paper copy), I met Elizabeth Berg, my newest best friend. I found the digital version to share with you:

A new resolution
Author Elizabeth Berg vows to set aside more time for reading in the coming year

By Elizabeth Berg

January 5, 2008
Click here to find out more!

Every year, for the last several years, I have made the same New Year's resolutions: Don't criticize. Don't control. Don't complain. By five minutes after midnight, I usually have broken every one. Imagine the scenario: The ball drops, I give my honey a little smooch, take a little sip of champagne and remind myself of my worthy resolutions. Then I say:

"Jeez, I'm tired. I'm so tired, I get tired so easily now. I'm so tired of how tired I get. Let's go to sleep. Turn off that television; you don't need to watch anymore. You watch too much television. You should go to sleep too. You must be tired. Come on, you're going to bed."

It occurred to me that it might work better if I have only one resolution this year, one that might be easier to keep. And here it is: read one hour a day.
Some of my favorite quotes include:
  • It may be true that music hath charms to soothe the savage soul -- I think it is true, actually. But books soothe our souls too. They're like comfort food without the calories or the dishes to clean up afterward.

    Books inspire us, because they suggest things we might never have thought about before, and they give us ideas for things we might never have conceived of otherwise, and they make us want to try things, or be things, or make things, from creme brulee to sensible foreign policy.

    Books educate us about art and politics and people and ideas. This happens in non-fiction and fiction. And in poetry, of course. So many of us have been moved to a deeper understanding of things -- or many things -- by taking in a few dark lines on a cream-colored page.

    Books exercise our creativity, because they are a uniquely interactive art form. The author may write, "She was a freckle-faced redhead," but it's the reader who sees those freckles forming a tiny constellation at the angle of the jaw. It's the reader whose imagination provides extra details for a kiss, a punch, a description of open land, or a dimly lit bedroom where a character kneels to pray.
  • For this is what we have wrought: Many of us have no idea how to keep still. We have forgotten that in stillness is a great richness, as well as opportunity for reflection and repair. Stillness offers a way to learn perspective and therefore kindness, for in such purposeful quiet we are often reminded of our connection with others, and of the need for that connection. We need to relearn the art of conversation, we need to take a moment to really look into each others' eyes when we shake hands, we need to see and appreciate and be empathic with each other. All of this takes time that we cannot afford not to have.
  • So what's the link here, you might be thinking? I think there is a link. Because I believe that no matter what the genre, books help move us in the direction we need to go, because they require a kind of contemplation. And contemplation will suggest that we need to save ourselves from drowning in a sea of dullness, of virtual rather than actual reality, of communication that fails to really communicate, all of which leads to a deadness of spirit, which leads to a lack of respect for life, which leads to violence and destruction. In many wonderful ways, books make the dominoes fall the other way.

As Berg so eloquently reminded me, reading also takes me to a special place that is free of isolation and "shoulds," to shared communities where each person has the opportunity to seek out new information, new connections, and new ways of looking at the world.

To read her full article, please go to,0,5489972.story

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.

If you have difficulties in reading and are curious about the multiple ways to read, please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman via email:, via phone at 847-446-1251, or visit her website at

Friday, January 4, 2008

Inclusion spurring innovation

In a thoughtful article, Jutta Treviranus spoke of the compelling need to nurture inclusion in order to let society reach its full potential.

Inclusion promotes innovation
September 12, 2007

During his recent installation, Lieutenant Governor David Onley committed to work toward an accessible Ontario. He defined accessibility or inclusion as "nothing more, but absolutely nothing less, than enabling people with disabilities to reach their full potential."

I would add that inclusion is needed to let a society reach its full potential. Enlightened self-interest should compel us toward greater inclusion. Even if we ourselves never have a disability, we can be selfishly motivated to make society more accessible.

With the shift to a knowledge economy, we now realize that the commodities of value are innovation and creative new ideas. But we forget that true innovation occurs at the margins of any domain. Startling new inventions have never come about by designing for the norm. The majority initially experiences innovation as uncomfortable, foreign and even strange. A field is prodded to leap forward by the introduction of disruptive notions, by perspectives that do not fit in, by unpredictable inspirations that burst our neat categories.

And yet we have succumbed to the tyranny of the popular, the typical, the average, or the norm.

Product design is guided by perceptions of "the typical housewife," "the average genXer" or "the average busy executive." We train educators to teach to the norm. Researchers use simulations of the normative patient. Even the burgeoning Web 2.0 propagates the value of popularity above all else (topics or items with the most hits rise to the top, the less popular topics disappear).

None of this means that what is popular is stagnant, but even dramatic shifts in opinion and political leanings follow a typical pendular pattern, reactively swinging back and forth. Skewing the pendulum in a completely new direction can be an antidote to the "same old same old."

Inclusive design enables, invites and supports the participation of individuals and groups representing the full range of human diversity with respect to culture, language, gender, age, class, ability and other forms of human difference. It questions and stretches our restrictive conceptions of the user, the worker, the learner, the educator, the professional. No one pictured a lieutenant governor with a disability when Queen's Park was built.

Inclusive design has contributed to such innovations as the typewriter, the telephone, email, the PDA, speech synthesis and recognition. All these innovations were motivated by a need to address the needs of people with disabilities.

While exclusion leads to a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement, lack of self-esteem, under-education, unemployment, poverty and social instability, inclusion leads to a virtuous cycle of new ideas, flexibility and adaptability. Inclusive design makes room for contributions from people who live a different and more challenging experience and must hone incredible resourcefulness as a daily necessity.

Is it any wonder that over the centuries people with disabilities are over-represented among the annals of true innovators. Consider how impoverished we would be without the contributions of Einstein, Beethoven, Edison, Roosevelt, da Vinci or Stephen Hawking.

This week, more than 22 nations will gather here in Toronto, one of the world's most diverse cities, in a country that prides itself on its inclusive practices, to develop an international agenda for the inclusive design of e-learning and to create an inclusive design curriculum.

We should feel proud and fortunate that David Onley will open the forum this evening at Toronto City Hall.

Jutta Treviranus is director and founder of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information Studies.

Have you or your family members had difficulty in obtaining appropriate inclusion at school and at work? Please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman and tell her your story: email her at or visit her website at

Menus that Talk: Restaurant style inclusion

For those who cannot read menus due to visual impairments, here's an article about a talking menu machine (called Menus That Talk) that will read your dining choices aloud to you.

Menus that speak out aid sight-impaired diners

Scott Joseph

Sentinel Restaurant Critic

January 4, 2008

Orlando native Jessica MacWithey was having lunch with her aunt Susan Perry in a South Florida Olive Garden last year when they realized that neither of them could read the menu.

MacWithey, 24, has a condition that leaves her unable to see fine details, recognize faces or read print, and Perry had forgotten her glasses. They asked the server for a run-down, but she was too busy to give a complete reading.

"I said, 'You know, we should put the menu on a tape recorder,' " Perry recalls.

The luncheon became a brainstorming session between the two women, with Perry drawing a prototype. A mere nine months later the two had the prototype in hand and had developed Menus That Talk, an electronic device about the size of a hardcover book with the details of a restaurant's bill of fare recorded on a chip.

Mike Carcaise, former vice president of Dan Marino's Fine Food & Spirts, saw Menus That Talk at a restaurant-trade show and proposed them for the South Florida restaurants. Carcaise may have a better understanding of the unit's potential because his father was an optometrist.

"As kids growing up, we spent a lot of time with people who have disabilities," he says.

Menus That Talk is designed to speak briefly and on request.

"It's very difficult for someone to have to listen to the whole menu without sectioning it out," says Perry.

There are 15 buttons that can be designated to various subsets of the menu -- pasta, chicken, beef, etc. Each button is labeled with print and in Braille, but for those who don't know Braille -- which includes 90 percent of people with severe vision impairment, MacWithey says -- pressing a button will first announce the category.

Press the button marked "chicken" and it will speak the word chicken. If a chicken dish interests you, press the same button again and it will describe all the chicken dishes on the menu, with prices. Once you hear something you like, press the button again and it will stop reading.

The talking menu has a detachable earphone that slides out of the side of the device, allowing the user to listen in private. There is also a jack so diners can use their own headphones, and the menu is compatible with most hearing aids.

When the guest is ready to order, another button causes lights on the sides of the unit to flash as a signal to the waiter.

MacWithey and Perry say customized voices is one of the selling points. They have recommended an Elvis impersonator to read the menu for a music-themed restaurant and a breathy-voiced woman for some South Florida Hooters.

There is also a button to switch the unit to a second language so that it becomes a talking translator.

MacWithey says a single unit costs as little as $300, and restaurateurs might be eligible for a tax deduction through the Americans with Disabilities Act. When a restaurant implements major changes to its menu, such as a change in prices, the chip can be updated in about 48 hours. (One of the tricks is to have the original reader record a variety of prices, says MacWithey.)

Carcaise sees potential in Menus That Talk. "If it's as truly useful, and people will use them, I can see their need everywhere," he says.

Scott Joseph can be reached at or 407-420-5514.

Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel,0,6886121.story

Hats off to Menus That Talk ( for this innovative product and to the Orlando Sentinal for helping to get out the word.

Inspired innovation for full access and independent living is something we should all encourage and expect. If you have had difficulties with obtaining accommodations in various settings, including restaurants, schools, and work settings, please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at or visit her website at

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Autism Prevention Study

Article about Prevention Study of Autism in Infants with Siblings who have autism


UW autism study to treat infants without symptoms

Last updated January 2, 2008 10:10 p.m. PT


The University of Washington launched one of the nation's first studies on preventing autism in infants Wednesday and will spend the next four years exploring the benefit of intensive and early therapy on the mysterious disorder.

The university's Autism Center is looking for 200 local families to join the study of autism, which is diagnosed in 1 out of 150 children, according to the latest study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study is unusual because autism research and treatment has typically focused on treating or reversing but not preventing the neurological disorder. Autism often emerges when a child is around 2 years old.

"Other research has shown that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome in treating children with autism. One of our goals is to be able to identify autism as early as possible before obvious symptoms show up so we can intervene while the connections in a child's brain are still plastic," Annette Estes, associate director of the Autism Center, said in a statement.

The hope is based on the fact that UW clinicians have generally been more successful the earlier they have treated children.

"This is the question we are trying to answer: 'Can we do this?' " Estes said in an interview. "It is a bold question to try to ask."

There is wide support for treating, reversing or potentially preventing a disorder with such a variety of symptoms that people are diagnosed on a spectrum. Children with autism typically struggle with social, emotional and communication skills.

The study will focus on newborns who have older siblings on the autism spectrum, since those babies are far more likely to develop the disorder. One out of 20 infants with an older brother or sister with autism will also fall on the spectrum, according to the university.
To read more, go to
Many of those with autism or other ASD (autism spectrum disorder) have not been provided with technology even though they may have difficulties with reading, writing, or speech. If you or a family member have learning differences that may benefit from technology, please contact me at
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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gesturing helps students with their math

Finally, vindication for those who move around or fidget when they are in school!

APA Press Release
November 04, 2007
Contact: Public Affairs Office
(202) 336-5700


Using the hands to explain things may tap into knowledge kids can't otherwise articulate

WASHINGTON, DC—Are math problems bugging your kids? Tell them to talk back - using their hands. Psychologists at the University of Chicago report that gesturing can help kids add new and correct problem-solving strategies to their mathematical repertoires. What's more, when given later instruction, kids who are told to gesture are more likely to succeed on math problems. A report on these findings appears in the November issue of JEP: General, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted two studies with a total of 176 children in late third and early fourth grade. Broaders and her colleagues randomly assigned the students to different manipulations – told to gesture, told not to gesture, and not told anything either way (control). All participants had been found to make mistakes in solving math problems.

In the studies' baseline phase, students had to solve six math problems (such as 6+3+7=_ + 7) on a chalkboard and explain to an experimenter how they solved each problem. The researchers coded the children's videotaped efforts, analyzing gestures and utterances that conveyed problem-solving strategies.

Children told to move their hands when explaining how they'd solve a problem were four times as likely (as kids given no instructions) to manually express correct new ways to solve problems. Even though they didn't, in the end, give the right answer, their gestures revealed an implicit knowledge of mathematical ideas. For example, to indicate the need for the sides to be equal, children might sweep the palm first under a problem's left side and then under its right side. Although those children weren't ready to turn that implicit knowledge into action (at that point they solved problems incorrectly), a second study showed that gesturing set them up to benefit from subsequent instruction.

In that study, the researchers assessed how gesture vs. no-gesture students performed after subsequent instruction in how to solve the math problems. At post-test, children who'd been told to gesture about math problems and then had a lesson solved 1.5 times more problems correctly as did the children who'd been told not to gesture – a significant advantage.

The authors conclude, "Telling children to gesture encourages them to convey previously unexpressed, implicit ideas, which in turn makes them receptive to instruction that leads to learning." Gesturing appears to help children to produce new problem-solving strategies, which in turn gets them ready to learn. The authors speculate that gesturing may help kids notice aspects of the math problems that may be more easily grasped through gestural representation

The findings extend previous research that body movement not only helps people to express things they may not be able to verbally articulate, but actually to think better. At the same time, gesturing offers a potentially powerful new way to augment the teaching of math. Strategies for math problems have focused on externalizing working memory, such as writing things down in certain ways. However, children often find it hard to recall and use those strategies. Gesturing may be more accessible, and help break through the roadblock.

Article: "Making Children Gesture Brings Out Implicit Knowledge and Leads to Learning," Sara C. Broaders, PhD, Susan Wagner Cook, PhD, Zachary Mitchell, BA, and Susan Goldin-Meadow, PhD; University of Chicago; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 136, No. 4.

(Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at ppdf

Susan Goldin-Meadow can be reached at or by phone at (773) 702-2585 (office) or (773) 859-0249 (mobile). Co-author Emails are or

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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