Follow UD in ME to new location

Dear Reader,
I have created a new home for this blog at

Please note the name change to “UD in Education.” While I’ll continue to post news and tools specific to the MLTI, my new digs will be broader in scope.

Thanks for reading! I look forward to your visits to UD in Education.


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Accessible Twitter

My most frequent answer when asked how I learned something new is “Twitter.” Let me rephrase that. I should say that I follow on Twitter many smart people and I benefit from their willingness to share what they know…24/7. For example, most recently I’ve been scouring my Tweet Roll for updates on the accessibility of the new iPhone 3G S for users who are blind. It’s not difficult because I follow people who are dedicated to the topic, many of whom are blind and iPhone users, such as Shelly Brisbin and Josh de Lioncourt . How else would I know that there are 84 (and counting) accessible apps for the iPhone? Another case-in-point: I just now checked my Tweet Roll and was alerted to soundAMP, the “first assistive application that turns your iPhone and iPod touch into an interactive hearing device.”

But that’s just me. I’m confident that you too would find individuals and organizations that will keep you up to date on what interests you. Of course, family and friends can be followed on Twitter so you can always know what they had for breakfast or what they’re doing this weekend. But all of us in education would do well to learn about the relevant and engaging uses of Twitter for teaching and learning. We can simultaneously leverage the social network that our students are already participating in AND model how to use this and related tools (and the next hot technology) for academic and career advancement.

And we don’t have to make modifications or even accommodations for students with disabilities because of Accessible Twitter. I signed on some months ago and my favorite feature is the audio cue when I’m about to exceed the 140 character limit for my Tweet. Twitter provides this information in text-only format and I sometimes inadvertently ignore it, meaning that only part of my update gets posted. I also like the larger default text size and the color contrast. And all links can be accessed through the keyboard, so a user doesn’t have to be able to use a mouse.

So go ahead, Twitter is for everyone. To learn more about how to use Twitter for teaching and learning, visit the following:

Twitter for Academia
Nine Great Reasons why Teachers Should Use Twitter

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Accessible Video at NFB.CA

So I followed a Tweet from Ruben Puentedura today. Ruben suggested visiting the National Film Board of Canada for a break from work. I’m always game for a distraction when working from home, so I clicked on that tinyurl.

NFB hosts intriguing short films from a wide range of genres, languages, titles, and decades. But what caught my eye immediately was the Accessibility link front and center at the top of every page. What’s more, the NFB Web site is fully accessible, to the extent of explaining how to access the site using a number of alternative methods, such as keyboard only and other “mouse-less” moves.

I grinned from ear to ear as I browsed the selection of videos that are closed captioned and/or video described. Of course, I would have been jumping for joy had the entire collection been accessible, but it’s always encouraging to discover even semi repositories of multimedia that meet the needs and preferences of diverse learners.

Although a collection of Canadian productions, and therefore most typically relevant to the history and events of our northern neighbors, the films are multiple and varied and have application across the content areas. According to the site, the films are free of charge only for individual home use. A one-year subscription for a teacher is $19.95 (~$17.72 USD if my converter is right).

Here’s a sample from It’s a clever animated short film titled, “The Girl Who Hated Books,” and might serve as a lure for reluctant readers. To turn on closed captions, choose the CC icon in the control bar (it looks like an ear).

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Let Your Laptop Do the Talking

I delivered my presentation for the 2009 Spring Teacher Institute last Wednesday evening – from my kitchen table. The technology for delivering sessions across the Internet was Adobe Connect, and although initially a bit intimidating for the novice online deliverer, all of the presentations I’ve had a chance to view were interactive and engaging. Most of all, it was an inspirational experience to be involved in such an endeavor with educators from all over Maine.

My session was titled, Let Your Laptop Do the Talking. This is a spin-off of my MLTI Accessible Instructional Materials content meeting (AIM for All Kids), with the focus on text to speech and conversion of text files to audio, such as mp3.

These tools, which are available for both Mac and Windows users, enable access to all content areas for all students. Printed text alone can be a barrier for many learners, including those who have specific learning disabilities, physical disabilities that impact ability to turn pages, and blindness or low vision. Audio alone presents barriers to learners who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as students who are not strong audio processors. Either format in isolation is also problematic for English Language Learners.

Ideally, content is delivered in multiple formats, such as both text and audio. When curriculum and instructional materials are provided in accessible digital text format (e.g., text editor docs, Web pages in HTML), the content can be rendered in any format, including audio and Braille.

A very simple tool that’s available on every Mac laptop with OS X is Speech. With Speech, you can have any digital text that appears on your screen read aloud by your computer’s built-in speech synthesizer. All you need to do is select the text and then press a self-assigned sequence of keys. Here’s how you activate Speech on your computer:

1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences > Speech

2. In the Speech panel, choose the Text to Speech tab

3. Choose a System Voice and a Speaking Rate. The Play button allows you to test your settings.

4. Select the box next to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”

5. To set the command key sequence to activate speech, type one or more modifier keys (Command, Shift, Option, or Control) plus at least one other key. Note that the command key sequence that you choose will no longer be available for other computing purposes. That is, if you choose Option-Command-Esc as your command key sequence, it will no longer be available for Force Quitting out of an app! My sequence of choice is Option-~ (Option + the “tilde” key, which appears in the upper left corner of your keyboard, below the esc key).

6. Click OK when the key combination you selected appears in the field.

When you want to have text on your screen read aloud, highlight the selection, and then press your key sequence set in step 5. To stop the speech, press the sequence again.

A few tips regarding the System Voices: First, when introducing kids to the available built-in choices, choose text that is interesting and engaging to them. Suggest that they go to their favorite Web sites and select text to have read aloud (Facebook updates are nifty snippets to start with!). Second, encourage them to use the voice for at least a couple of days before abandoning it. Third, if the built-in options aren’t working for the student, consider downloading a voice for 30-or-so bucks. Cepstral and Assistiveware both have voices that you can demo before downloading.

Here’s a short video from my desktop of how to activate Speech on your Mac

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2009 MLTI Spring Institute: Pictures Sounds Numbers Words…Teaching and Learning with Technology

Logo for Spring InstituteThis year’s MLTI Spring Teacher Institute will be completely online! The dates are May 4 – 7, with interactive sessions delivered in the mid- to late-afternoon, as well as between 7:15 and 8:15 pm. The kickoff is a keynote by former Maine governor and MLTI visionary Angus King on Monday at 3 pm. Each session will be archived, so if you miss any of the live events, they will be available for later viewing.

The institute is free and registration is open to anyone. Not a Maineah? Even bettah! Come learn from the pioneers of statewide 1:1.

Learn more at

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UDL Policy Challenges and Recommendations

Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) has published a new report, UDL: Policy Challenges and Recommendations.

This report was generated from a collaborative forum and panel that took place last summer, fall, and winter. A live webinar on UDL, specifically the challenges of implementation, was followed by a virtual forum facilitated by Project Forum and CAST. In December, a face-to-face panel was assembled in Alexendria, VA.

As a participant of the virtual forum, I was impressed with the comprehensiveness of the discussions and the diversity of perspectives represented. Members were from K-12, higher education, state- and national-level government, and wide-ranging organizations. Project Forum and CAST established multiple forums, related to topics such as professional development and training, technology, awareness and outreach, data collection, and assessment.

The report summarizes the challenges that were identified in the virtual forum. The top 10 challenges to UDL implementation can be read on page 8, and include “engage and excite educators at all levels…,” “integrate UDL and technology within school cultures…,” “identify and provide supports…,” “ensure multiple methods of assessments are developed using UDL principles…,” and “provide incentives for commercial enterprises…”

Policy recommendations were sorted into four categories:

  • Easier to Implement/High Level of Impact
  • Challenging to Implement/High Level of Impact
  • Easier to Implement/Lower Level of Impact
  • Challenging to Implement/Lower Level of Impact

An example of “Easier/High Level” is to build a national consortium to develop content, PD, and accreditation standards.

An example of “Challenging/High Level” is to ensure continuity between assessment and instruction.

One recommendation was made for “Easier/Lower Level” and is to provide targeted grants that support community and technical colleges.

No recommendations were sorted into the “Challenging/Lower Level” category.

Finally, proposed strategies to begin implementation of six “easier to implement/high level of impact” are reported. The strategies are accompanied by “Target Audience,” “Who Should Be Involved?,” “Suggested Timeframe,” and “What Resources are Needed?” Outcome Measures are also stated.

Although generated for use on a national scale, the challenges, recommendations, and strategies for implementation reported in this publication can be useful to any school that is striving to improve the academic achievement of all learners.

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Bookshare Update: Every Educator Still Needs to Know

It’s been several months since I posted about Bookshare and some developments have been made. First, recall that Bookshare is a free service for all U.S. students (across the lifespan) with qualifying print disabilities. The collection currently has 45,000 books and periodicals in digital text format, which can be downloaded by a school sponsor (e.g., a special education teacher). Students can also have an individual membership for home use. Bookshare has become the premier repository of copyrighted materials in specialized formats for students with qualifying print disabilities.

The digital text file formats available at Bookshare include TEXT, HTML, BRF, and DAISY. By default, the TEXT files will open in TextEdit on your MLTI device and those in HTML will open in Safari. The BRF files are Braille format and are compatible with Braille readers, such as refreshable Braille displays.

DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem. It is a standard for digital books because it provides structure that TEXT and HTML files cannot. “Tags” provide structure for digital books. Examples include sidebars, subsections, headers, highlighting, boldness, etc. All are structural elements. A word in bold could even be tagged for “go to glossary,” indicating a vocabulary word that is defined in the book’s glossary section. Marking up the text with tags allows for the content to be separated from how it is presented, making the reading experience much more enjoyable for individuals with print disabilities.

Because it is a specialized standard, DAISY files can only be read by a DAISY reader. The good news is that Bookshare provides its members with a choice of free DAISY readers for Bookshare files. The bad news is that neither choice is currently Mac-compatible. Bookshare has anticipated that the maker of the to-be Mac version, Don Johnston Inc, will be rolling it out at anytime. In the meantime, we continue to wait.

And it’s not just Bookshare that we’re waiting for. Currently, we are without a stable DAISY reader for the Mac.

My sincere recommendation at this time is to accommodate a student by making available a Windows-based computer with one of the two freely downloadable DAISY readers from the Bookshare site. One of the two is the Don Johnston Read:OutLoud for Bookshare. I recommend this reader in anticipation of the Mac version of the same product. Please note that only “Read:OutLoud for Bookshare” will read DAISY files downloaded from Bookshare. The standard version of Read:OutLoud, which I know many schools are using, will not.

If you have students enrolled in Bookshare, I’d love to hear from you and to learn how you are providing access to its DAISY files. Alternatively, if you need more information about Bookshare, please contact me.

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Update and Summer Course

A plan is in the works for this blog to move. With support from the MLTI, this should happen in the coming months. In the meantime, I think I’ll endure the invasion of advertisements in my content and continue on here at edublogs. Knowing a better home is ahead, I’ve psyched myself into it. I hope you, too, can put up with those vexing hyperlinks that contaminate my blog!

Another reason that I wanted to hop back on my blog is to shamelessly promote my annual summer course at USM. Formerly known as “Teaching and Learning through Universal Design,” the title is now “Putting It All Together: Your Curriculum, Your Learners, and Technology.” The ultimate course goal remains the same: To support teachers in meeting the needs and preferences of the widest possible number of learners without need for accommodation or modification. With some free advice and marketing consultation, I decided to drop the reference to UD because the term – although I believe it has broken ground in Maine – tends to conjure up references to disability, which is certainly the origin of UD but not it’s purpose. Most importantly, I am a general education teacher myself, and the course approaches teaching and learning within the context of content area curriculum.

Here are some excerpts from just some of the USM course evaluation comment forms from Fall 2007 and Summer 2008 (the shameless promotion goes on):

“…I came away from this course (as I did every time after each class) with an overwhelming desire and inspiration to become a better teacher by incorporating the ideals of UD. I feel I have gained a better perspective and more resources to help me achieve my goal of teaching more, if not all, of my students.”

“…I will be forever grateful to Cynthia for her teachings and guidance throughout this session and beyond. Her understanding, nurturing personality as an instructor, motivated all of us and inspired us to go beyond our ‘comfort zones’ while using technology.”

“…The impact of the methods and means by which I now design, format, and present my lessons is making a significant positive difference in the enthusiasm and motivation of my students.”

“…(Cynthia) helped us all think about our curriculum in new ways, and she included opportunities for reflection, collaboration, and peer feedback to assist each of us in thinking about how to implement change in our curriculum. She also modeled for us the ways in which we could utilize technology in our own courses through her own instruction.”

“This is an excellent course that should be part of the required courses to be certified in Maine…”

“…I am very happy that I took this course. I would recommend this to my colleagues.”

So, that’s my call out! Please join me and/or refer colleagues. For more information and to register, visit the Web site of USM’s Professional Development Center

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At a standstill

To anyone who follows this blog, I apologize for my lack of activity. Perhaps you’ve noticed that Edublogs is now embedding advertisement links inside of the content of blog posts. Because I believe that this practice is a nuisance, I’ve been considering my options for continuing this blog. It greatly disappoints me to have to take this break as I take a great deal of pleasure in sharing updates on universal design and supporting technologies, as well as learning from others who graciously comment with their own insights and resources. I’m optimistic, however, that I’ll find a new home! I’ll keep you updated, and I’m sure that the MLTI will also be in communication.

If you have suggestions for alternatives, I greatly welcome those.

More later…

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Concept Maps: Powerful & Accessible (and free!)

Many teachers and learners have discovered the benefits of creating and sharing concept maps, which are also referred to as visual maps, mind maps, and graphic organizers. While the name given to any of these may imply a specific purpose, they are characterized by nodes (concepts) and links (identifying the relationships between and among the concepts).

According to Joseph Novak, a pioneer and developer of concept mapping, purposes include to:

  • generate ideas (e.g., brainstorming)
  • design complex structures (e.g., Web sites, reports)
  • communicate complex ideas
  • integrate new and existing knowledge, thereby aiding learning
  • assess understanding/diagnose misunderstanding

Although concept maps have great value as “organizers,” I think one of their most powerful (and perhaps least utilized) contributions to teaching and learning lies in how they convey connections that exist within and among our content areas. And not facts, necessarily. Concept maps can serve as effective frameworks for supporting kids’ (and our own) construction of how the pieces of the world fit together, whether it be history or science, or math or music (or how history has impacted science or music impacts math). And concept maps aren’t static; they grow and evolve over time, a reflection of how dynamic learning is.

As an early adopter of Inspiration software, the value of simple and intuitive concept mapping isn’t lost on me. And, as technology costs go, Inspiration isn’t overly expensive. But we have to face the fact that any cost is prohibitive in the current climate of shrinking school budgets. So, if you and your students haven’t been mapping your minds freely online (literally and figuratively), it’s a good time to start! is a free Web-based concept mapping program. If you’re familiar with Inspiration, you may be disappointed in the lack of some features, such as a symbol library and a RapidFire tool, but it’s got function and ease of use, and did I mention that it’s free? Some innovative features include the ability to export your concept map as an outline in HTML, which can be opened and edited in a program such as TextEdit, which is in the Applications folder of your MLTI device. You can share your maps with other users, and even collaborate on a project online. I highly recommend that you learn more at the Web site of Tech-Bites, which hosts a tutorial page with both video and text.

Another option to consider is IHMC CmapTools. It’s a bit more sophisticated, but also research-based and documented. It was one of the first online tools that supported remote collaboration by users.

Here’s some more information and reasons to use concept maps for teaching and learning:

Introduction to Concept Mapping by Joseph Novak

Using Concept Mapping as an Assessment Method

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them

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