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Lesson 1: Introduction to Adaptive, compensatory computing and Trainee Evaluation

This lesson is divided into the following parts:

Part 1: Creating a level learning space!

Part 2: Which disability groups concerns us

Part 3: What is compensatory computing?

Part 4: Tips on working with people with disabilities

Part 5: Operating system accessibility

Part 6: Networking at home and abroad

Part 7: Student evaluation

Part 8: Lesson take-aways

This material is copyrighted by Norman Coombs in 2017. We encourage your sharing useful individual pieces of information to help people. However, we request that you do not share the entire workshop without specific written permission.

Part 1: Creating a level learning space!

The printing press created a revolution that infiltrated all of society and also most nations. One of its limitations was that when a book was written, if the print was too small for many potential readers or if the color of the print was too similar to the color of the paper for easy reading, it was fixed. I guess that’s why we call it ‘hard copy’. When a book was written in a computer, all that was saved was a series of digits. When this was displayed, it could be presented in different colors or larger print or with a greater difference between the color of the print and the background. In ‘hard copy’, the content and display were tied together. Digital content potentially can be displayed with many different appearances.

Different people had different preferences, and some also had different abilities. In theory, everyone can have content customized for her or his likes or needs. Digitized content and digitized display systems are at the base of our ability to design a learning space that is equal for everyone.

The operative word here is ‘potentially’. Commands for displaying content can be embedded into the content limiting how it might be displayed. Even more important the application being used to let a user read the content can be flexible and customizable, or it can make the user adjust to its design. The common term is to make applications user-friendly. Applications are frequently created by young males, and they may fail to consider how different people would use it. What if the user is left-handed? What if the user is very short-sighted? Besides considering how to make content provide an level playing field, it is crucial that the tool being used is similarly designed for different people.

As a trainer, your job is to understand the learner’s weaknesses and strengths. Then you need to be aware of the ways in which some application on which you are providing training matches or conflicts with that learner. Each learner is different. Each piece of software and hardware has differences. If you have a trainee who likes learning and likes new experiences, you have a fun job. If your client is fearful and resistant to new situations, you need patience and wisdom to bridge that gap.

Why should you work to provide a level learning space?

Here are 2 experiences where computer technology leveled my situation. The first book I wrote was done by dictating into a tape recorder and recording it again to edit it. I then typed it making typos. My wife retyped it for the editor. The editor wanted changes, and my wife and I worked together. When it went to print, it was very different from my recorded version. This was in the 1970s, and the PC did not exist. I could not read my own book. My latest book was written on the computer by myself without any retyping it. I read the editor comments and made corrections again by me.

The second event was when I first was using an old Apple II computer and began using email. I got 4 students to experiment mailing me their paper which I read myself and returned it graded. A woman in the class who was deaf participated. She returned mail after my grading with questions. We exchanged a couple mails in the following 2 days. Then I began to wonder whether she was ‘brown-nosing’ me or what. Her third mail said, “This is the first time in my life that I talked to a teacher without having to go through an interpreter!” Technology overcame 2 different sensory impairments! Showing it is the right thing to do!

How can using adaptive technology and carefully designed content make economic sense?

on the macro level, providing support for a student to complete college and find a career, moves that person from a lifetime of receiving disability support payments to being a tax payer. On the level of a student, before adaptive technology, students had subsidies to pay for human readers. Over the space of obtaining a college degree, the cost of adaptive technologies is much less than paying a reader.

While I prefer inspiring someone to provide a level learning space because it is right, there are several federal and state laws mandating enabling students with disabilities. Most students do not sue, and you can slip by ignoring the law, it only takes one successful suite to push you to complying with legal mandates. I don’t want to go into the several laws, but want to remind you of it. Your institution should have someone whose job is to guarantee the school does not violate disability-related laws as well as other mandates besides those for disabilities.

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Part 2: Which disability groups concerns us

There are a number of disabilities, but some such as impairments of the lower body like 1 or more legs. Someone who uses a wheelchair because of lower body impairments, will not have problems using a computer, a tablet or smart phone. Here is a partial list of the disability groups we need to include here:

blindness and visual impairments

Like most disabilities, the category covers a spectrum of situations from slight to severe or totally blind. For those normally considered, these people cannot see the computer screen or can only get an inadequate access to the information. One of several screen reader applications can translate the text on the screen into synthetic speech enabling them to use the computer. For those with visual impairments, they can probably see the content on the screen but not clear enough to make sense of what they see. Usually they rely on screen magnification software which can enlarge the text and make other modifications to the content to enable those with impaired vision to become a competent computer user. We’ come back to this disability group later and have you experiment with the adaptive applications they require.

hearing impairments

Of course having a hearing impairment does not impact the person’s ability to see the computer monitor and read what is there. Many with severe hearing impairments rely on using sign language to communicate with people. Theoretically, the monitor’s content could be rendered in sign language but there are many reasons why this is not done. People with hearing impairments can interact with written content in many different situations besides reading a computer monitor. The problem is that, for those who grew up using sign language as their main communication mode, English is really a second language for them. The hearing deficit puts them in a similar situation to someone who uses a foreign language. The disability requires schools to assist them in learning English, their second language. Also when the learning space is also using multimedia either in the class room or online, providing synchronized captions are required.

Upper body motor impairments

This covers a broad list of specific conditions. A paraplegic may have no hands or arms. She or he might be missing one or both hands or several fingers. These disabilities are primarily concerned with inputting information into the computer or even using the keyboard or mouse to navigate documents.

AN onscreen keyboard where the cursor is moving past the keys. If the user can manipulate only a single muscle, there are a variety of track balls and other joy sticks which lets them select the key to input. Coupled with word prediction, users can achieve input speeds that amaze us. Voice recognition is an application which can be used to control the computer and to input content into a document The price for voice recognition software was several thousands and now is often under $100 or sometime can be free. Quality voice recognition is no longer a rich person’s tool. This is helped because voice recognition is popular with computer users who have no disability. Being a mainstream application increases its popularity and decreases its price.

visual and cognitive processing impairments

This encompasses a very wide set of different disabilities. At one time they were lumped together as being dyslexic. Some people visually scramble letters in a word making it nonsense. Others, when they have a large number of visual items that they are looking at have trouble separating them and focusing on any one item. Soldiers returning from wars suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and now we recognize it happening from sever shock k apart from warfare. Traumatic brain injury, (TBI), refers to situations where there is an actual physical damage to the brain. Now we are becoming aware of the injuries suffered by football players who receive multiple concussions.

Sometimes these groups benefit from a screen reader providing aural input and even simultaneously show text while simultaneously speaking it. Screen magnification by enlarging text, altering foreground and background or merely by the fact that enlargement reduces the number of items on the monitor at once. There are special software that facilitates getting dictionary definitions and synonyms. Many of these tools could assist people without a disability but they are crucial for many in this group.

The software and even hardware applications we skimmed over here is what is normally called either adaptive or assistive technology. You will be required to try some of these applications in future lessons.

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Part 3: What is compensatory computing?

What was covered in the previous module on different disability and the tools they use to help level their learning space. At the end of that section, we briefly touched on another set of useful applications. Many computer applications made for the general computer user, can become much more significant used by someone with a disability. Lots of people use calendars to help them make and keep a schedule. For some people with disabilities their trouble remembering and organizing are so severe as to be considered part of a disability. Calendars can help lots of people, but for others they are absolutely necessary to let them function normally. Most of us use spelling programs to catch our mistakes and, especially, our typos. For someone who habituality inverts letters both in reading and in writing depends on spell checking like most of us cannot imagine. These applications are not adaptive as they are not adapting the software or helping someone be able to use the computer. They do, however, actually compensate for a disability again making a more level learning environment.

Part 4: Tips on working with people with disabilities

Let's begin by saying that training students with disabilities is no different than training any other person. The only difference is that you may have to provide reasonable accommodation for the student in the form of sensitivity, and a willingness to walk a mile in the shoes of another person. With all that said, let's cut right to the chase. You're probably wondering about language, and how you should behave around a person with a disability. At present the politically correct language to use is not "disabled people" but rather "people with disabilities". While we are not all that uptight about being politically correct, you may run into someone who is concerned with this, and you need to know how to avoid that trap. Similarly, not "blind person", but "person who is blind", or not "motor impaired person" but "person who is motor impaired". We do think, however, that this distinction conveys an important message. While we ourselves are members of the disability community, we may lapse into terms that some may consider politically incorrect. For that, we apologize. Our best advice as members of the disability community ourselves is to encourage folks not to be easily offended, or search for insults with each and every comment. We have often found that many so called slights are unintentional, and are the result of inexperience. We have found that the best way to cope with this is by getting to know people as people! It is important that you see your students first as persons, and not focus solely on the disability. Your first tip in training someone with a disability is to see them as a person, and to let them feel that you are connecting with them as Human, something that is important to all of us. Frequently, people are so nervous about saying or doing something wrong in relating to someone with a disability that they avoid the person altogether. If the person senses that you are treating them as persons, they usually respond similarly and are forgiving about any goofs. Don't ever forget that a good sense of humor is one of the best things you can bring into this or any other profession. With all that said, it is not wrong for you to say "Do you see that?" to a blind person. It should be understood that you are not discussing his or her eyesight. Along the same lines, it is not improper to use the phrase "Listen to me!" to a person who is deaf. He or she will also recognize you are not discussing their hearing or lack thereof. At the same time, let us be honest. You can run into a buzz saw sometimes. Some person with a disability could give a nasty, hostile reply and really embarrass you. People with disabilities are people. Some people are nice; some are weird; some are angry; and some have a chip on their shoulder, just waiting for you to knock it off. The same goes for people with disabilities. We hope you don't get hit with very many buzz saws! Computers are really a hands-on device. Even for someone without hands, they can be taught best by providing the person direct contact and control of the computer rather than having them just watch you. Let us end this section by recommending that early on, you introduce your students to the basic parts of the computer. Allow and encourage your student to explore the computer and its peripherals first hand in order to be able to identify: 1.the keyboard 2.the monitor 3.All switches and buttons 4.various ports on the rear and/or front panel Be sure that your student is comfortable with the keyboard and mouse if they will be using them for your lessons. Many students fail with computers from a simple lack of typing ability. While your students will not have to be lightning fast on the keyboard to succeed, a basic competence with keyboarding skills is a necessary foundation! Give your student a basic overview of what is inside the computer. Explain that the computer uses the keyboard and mouse for input, and the monitor for output. Describe that memory is a temporary work space like a blackboard, and is erased when the computer is switched off. Tell your students that if they want to preserve their work, they must save it to the hard drive. Before we close this section, let's return to what it means to train students with disabilities. Your attitude can make a big difference. One of the most difficult barriers people with disabilities face is negative attitudes and perceptions of other people. Sometimes those attitudes are deep-rooted prejudices, based in ignorance and fear. Sometimes they are just unconscious misconceptions that result in impolite or thoughtless acts by otherwise well-meaning people. In either case, they form an obstacle to acceptance and full participation in society for people with disabilities. The information presented below is not a list of strict rules and regulations. It's an attempt to foster understanding, clear up misconceptions and help you relate as a service provider, and as a person, to people with disabilities. Disability is often perceived as a yes-or-no proposition. You either are disabled or you're not. The truth is that disability is a continuum. At one end are perfect people -- not many of those around-- and at the other end are people with severe impairments. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. But, we're all people and we all want to be treated with respect. With that in mind, here are some general tips that will help you relate to your students: DON'T ASSUME a person with a disability automatically needs your help. Always ask first before offering any assistance. MAKE EYE contact and talk directly to the person, not through the person's companion or interpreter. AVOID ACTIONS and words that suggest the person should be treated differently. It's OK to invite a person in a wheelchair to go for a walk or to ask a blind person if she wants to see a movie. In general, always treat PEOPLE with disabilities with the same respect and consideration that you have for everyone else. Some Helpful Hints Visual Impairments BE DESCRIPTIVE. You may have to help orient people with visual impairments, and let the person know what's coming up. If they are walking tell the person if they have to step up or step down, let them know if the door is to their right or left, and warn of possible hazards. YOU DON'T have to talk loudly to people with visual impairments. As most hear just fine. OFFER TO READ written information for a person with a visual impairment when appropriate. When guiding a person with a visual impairment, offer him or her your arm, instead of grabbing his.

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Part 5: Operating System Accessibility

The operating system on a computer has a lot of power and detail. Most of us do not explore it for fear of doing some damage to the operating system. Applications that supported accessibility had to be developed because the basic system had not taken people with disability into its design. In the last several years, this has changed. It includes special features to support the needs of people with disabilities. Learning the features of your system is where we need to start. Frequently, those features work in some places and not so well elsewhere. So special applications are very important especially in sophisticated, specialized software. We dream of the day that the operating accessibility features are rich enought to provide an equal access to the computer for everyone. This would save people with disabilities buying and learning extra tools. These built-in features often are inadequate for a lot of business software and for programs in fields like science and math. Primarily this currently mainly includes programs that rely on the Windows operating system. We will look briefly at both PC computers but also include the Mac.

The WindowsOperating System

Find the EASE OF ACCESS CENTER and explore its features, and we will focus on Narrator and Magnifier.

Note that many of the videos I found online have a commercial first. Please ignore. just get a feel for them for now.

Narrator is essentially what is called a screen reader. Using a synthetic voice, it will 'verbalize'any words appearing on the monitor and enable the user to navigate the computer. (We'll in another lesson, demonstrate 2 other specialized screen readers). The quickest way to let you understand what Narrator is and how it works is to have you look at avideo. (We are not teaching Narrator or magnifier functions. You can do that yourself. So look at as little or much of the video as you like.)

Watch Narrator demo

watch magnifier

Magnifier is a tool that will enlarge the size of anything on the monitor which enables users with limited vision use the computer like others. This video clip will permit you to watch it at work.


The Mac

Generalizations are dangerous, but the PC is strongest for business uses and the Mac is superior using graphics favoing the arts and activities that stress high quality visuals even including games. The Mac built-in features provide better screen reader type features and also better magnification tools. Mac users with disabilities frequently have their needs fully met by its built-in features.

The link below provides a demo of the Mac screen reader and the magnifier.

watch the Mac demo

Other operating access features

Both the Mac and pc accessibility include other tools. People with hearing impairments can have the computer flash when there is some system warning announcement. People with motor disabilities have different problems. If, when the press a key, they do not lift the finger fast enough, the key is repeated. The time interval can be altered. Also someone with very limited hand dexterity, may attach a single switch device to the computer which can work in junction with a keyboard shown on the screen. When the cursor reaches an item the user wants, any muscle that can trigger the switch can enable their essentially making keyboard inputs.



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Part 6: Networking at home and abroad

p>A decade ago, I thought I had a decent grasp of adaptive technology. Now, like all of information technology it is exploding and changing that I can’t keep up anymore. To know how to meet the needs of students with disabilities, you need to understand the hurdles students face at your institution. Then you should be aware of the needs that students with 1 or more of several disabilities. Now you need to be up-to-date with computer hardware and software! When I put it that way, you may think about taking a holiday about now! So what can you do? Throw up arms and surrender?

Many disciplines that are part of computer science and information technology means you can’t be a ‘know-it-all’. So, on your campus, develop connections with people from the disciplines that touch on your area of knowledge. Not only to learn some of its information, but, more importantly develop personal relationships across department lines. When you need some information, look for a friendly human who may take time to help you. Similarly, look for knowledgeable and helpful people in your geographic area, around the country, and I even have a buddy half way around the world who comes to my aid.

Hopefully your department has some travel funds. When you can apply for it and attend at least 1 or 2 conferences where you can learn from presentations and also develop a network of people who know more than you do at least on some topics. Networking is a buzz word in business and when someone is looking to relocate. Networking will help you work, and it may also help you in pursuing your career goals.

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Part 6:Student evaluation

If you are like me, you enjoy the teaching but procrastinate on the related paper work! There are many reasons to keep good records of your student evaluations and of their progress. It helps keep you honest. If someone questions your value, you have records to support you. Also the records can be used when you try for a raise or promotion. Then, if the unpleasant happens and the student or parents challenge your treatment of the student, you have records to support your case.

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Part 8: Lesson take-aways

Probably you have an interest in supporting students with disabilities already. You probably also are aware of a few of the computer applications needed by students with disabilities. At least this should have been a refresher and maybe reinspired you for the work. Because there are so many disability groups and so many computer applications to help them, you can’t possibily master them all. The law does require institutions to provide training on such programs, but I do not believe it mandates you be a master teacher on each. If you can know and teach enough that the student can begin to do her or his course work. I believe it is reasonable to expect students to put forth an effort to become more proficient when it is needed. If you can give them ‘a leg up’, I think you have done your job. You can further connect students with other students, and they will also benefit from networking. Beyond that they may find a friend. Many of us found a special life-long friend.


Your assignment in this lesson has 2 parts:

The web site:


Is a Canadian web site where you can search for adaptive software organized in categories. It has some description on the product and where and how to get them. I say explore both your computer’s resources and this online Web site so that when you need to find an application for a future lesson assignment, you can more readily locate it.

Send the assignment to Norm Coombs

End of Trainer lesson 1