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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Artist with no eyes astounds those who believe he cannot paint

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Brothers using "talking machines" win writing contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GhostReader text to speech for Mac

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

GhostReader 1.6 delivers new voices and Safari 4 compatibility

GhostReader box

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

GhostReader 1.6 includes the following enhances:

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

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

For more information, please go to

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is discouragement inherited?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fighting for your child

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

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

Walk On

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

Monday, February 2, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Inauguration: Oh Yes I Can

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

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

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

Oh Yes I Can

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

©Jeanne D. Beckman

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sayings to help us all through the long, dark winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pay Your Technology Forward

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

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

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

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

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