Accessible Times: The UATP Podcast

AT for special education at home in the age of COVID

October 12, 2020 UATP Season 1 Episode 4
Accessible Times: The UATP Podcast
AT for special education at home in the age of COVID
Show Notes Transcript

This month's interview is with Kent Remund of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology and Austin Oseguera of Utah Assistive Technology Teams. They are both experts on assistive technology for education--and how it can help parents who are teaching their children at home.

1:50 - Kent and Austin are both still going into homes to help with assistive technology, depending on the comfort level of the individual, using protective gear. They are also doing evaluations remotely when it's practical.

3:00 - Austin offers strategies to help parents teach their children at home, including creating a consistent routine and using technology.

5:50 - Austin and Kent offer a brief overview of free assistive technology, built into phones and computer software.

11:40 - Austin explains the difference between Dragon and free dictation programs.

12:35 - Kent encourages people to check with their schools to see what technology they are using. He describes some built-in tools being used in Utah.

14:00 - Kent describes "universal design for learning," a concept to make the classroom to be accessible to all students, whether they have been diagnosed with a disability or not.

15:45 - Barriers to education and learning are being revealed by remote learning.

16:25 - Kent describes ways that different learning styles can be accommodated by parents/teachers.

18:30 - Is it cheating to listen to a book rather than read it? Austin responds. "We need to be able to test for comprehension."

19:50 - Anxiety is an issue for students learning from home. Austin suggests some ways to address it, especially in helping students to connect with their peers even from home or take a break.

22:40 - Kent discusses AT solutions, encouraging people to work with the schools to keep up with their plans to make sure they get the support they need.

25:10 - Austin discusses the bright side of distance learning, which has forced schools and businesses to take virtual learning and jobs seriously. The pandemic has meant people have more opportunities, more creativity, more services to rural areas through remote delivery.

For more information, visit the Utah Center for Assistive Technology and the Utah Assistive Technology Teams.


AT for schools transcript

Tue, 10/13 2:19PM • 29:22


people, students, learning, individual, school, assistive technology, technology, disabilities, home, utah, speech, read, dictation, built, parents, virtual, pandemic, helped, barriers, evaluations


JoLynne Lyon, Kent Remund, Austin Oseguera


JoLynne Lyon  00:05

Welcome to Accessible Times: The UTP Podcast. We talk about the technology that helps people be independent, and how it changes lives. I'm JoLynne Lyon. So, the pandemic. It's disrupted a lot, including special education. And that means some parents are stepping into the teacher role. In this episode, we've talked to 2  experts about solutions for people who are learning at home.


Kent Remund  00:34

Yes, my name is Kent Remund, and I am the current director for the Utah Center for Assistive Technologies. We are an agency that provides evaluations for individuals in the state of Utah, and try to match any limitations or barriers that somebody is facing with the technology that may be able to help them overcome any of those limitations or barriers and allow them to be independent, and no matter what it is that they'd like to do in their life.


Austin Oseguera  01:02

Yes, my name is Austin Oseguera. And I'm the Utah Assistive Technology Team trainer. The Utah assistive technology teams are 30 teams that are throughout the state of Utah embedded in the school districts. And what we do is help with the assistive technology at schools, so individuals can hopefully do their work and participate the same as an individual without a disability. We also operate a loan library, and we're a program that's an interagency agreement in between the Board of Education, and working with vocational rehabilitation to do that. We also help the schools in getting some technology so they can provide that for the students. 


JoLynne Lyon  01:46

Awesome. And you did mention that you can go into people's homes, is that still happening now with the pandemic?


Kent Remund  01:54

 Um, yes, of course, we're a little bit more selective. Typically, for myself, and I believe many other employees here at UCAT. We're doing things based on the comfort level of the individual, we have increased the evaluations that we've done through virtual meetings through zoom and FaceTime, and those, and sometimes those work well, but a lot of times we need to kind of see the environment that they're working in. But we are meeting with people occasionally, within their homes. As I said, kind of based on their comfort level, of course, we go in without protective gear that we need to. And then some people just feel more comfortable coming in. But


Austin Oseguera  02:38

Similar with UCAT, we are doing some virtual things with zoom or FaceTime. We've attended some IEPs in that manner, but we still are making it out to the schools, obviously, with students attending the schools. And if they're practicing the proper guidelines, then we're doing the same and going into the school to help people as needed.


JoLynne Lyon  02:59

I just see what my friends say, on social media. And it really sounds like it's challenging, especially for the parents, and for the children who are doing school at home. A lot of times they might have a child with a medical condition that they just don't feel comfortable sending them to the school. And yet they feel so overwhelmed when it comes to being in charge of their child's education, are there, again, speaking in really broad general terms, are there technologies that can help?


Austin Oseguera  03:32

I think that there, there definitely are technologies that can help. I think more than anything, though, it's having good communication with their teachers, as you said, and especially if we're talking younger individuals with or without disabilities, if you have a five year old, who is now expected to go to a virtual learning environment, who can't necessarily read can't type doesn't know the technology, but now they're supposed to do all this from a virtual standpoint, that's gonna be difficult, again, with an individual with or without a disability. But now when we're adding a disability on top of that, that adds an extra layer that we need to really work with. So again, that communication with the teacher I think is the most important because they can really help in laying that out but also creating some kind of consistency. That what really works well with school and especially with a lot of individuals with disabilities is knowing what to expect not having those, I guess little surprises. If there is some kind of a routine, a set schedule, being able to do that. And that's that's nice and easy to say for someone who can create that routine, but if they're trying to balance on top of it, either work or what they may be doing in the home, that can create some difficulties. As far as technology, there there are some some things that they can can do, and there are things that can help. One of the things that Kent and I had talked about is more of that universal design for learning. In other words, providing technologies that are useful for everyone. So a speech to text, which would allow you to speak to your computer and then it to record what you're saying in a in letters. And that is something that anyone can use and could be useful to anyone. So being able to have that available, is something that can create someone who does have issues in either typing or doesn't have the ability really to be able to do that independently. Now they can just talk to the computer and it can it can record that for them. So a really useful technology.


JoLynne Lyon  05:45

Yes, and let's talk a little bit about that, because there are so many different programs out there that offer that and some of them are just, you know, basic and built right into your phone or whatever. So can you speak to that a little bit? Is this something that you're going to need to go out and buy?


Austin Oseguera  06:04

Right? No, we can, we can definitely talk about that, we've been doing a lot with built in technologies. It used to be back in the day that Dragon Naturally Speaking was a very large speech to text program that was expensive and people would go out, it still exists, it still works really well. But the the built in accessibility is really catching up. For instance, on Windows 10, there's the ability to do dictation built in. So if you push the window icon, and H, it'll bring up the option to do dictation. And you can just speak right to your computer, it will do that speech to text. On an apple platform, they have the same thing. But even as you're talking about with smartphones, now they have a lot of built in technology and accessibility. And it goes back to that universal design for learning. They're trying to think of, hey, these are things that would be useful for everyone. But they also have a special implication for individuals with disabilities, such as the ability to zoom. So someone who has a visual impairment, the ability to zoom in is really helpful. But also as we age, naturally, our vision deteriorates. And so that's a really useful thing. Also the ability to make the cursor larger on the computer, something that again, for a visual impairment, very useful, but part of our natural aging, very useful thing to maybe have a little bit bigger of a cursor or bigger text, Chrome, as in the internet browser, they're also developing a lot of what they call extensions, one of the ones that we use a lot is Google Read & Write. And that has a whole bunch of functionalities from speech to text, but it also has text to speech, meaning that it can read what's on your your screen back to you and give audio output. So again, in some of the visual impairment, but if someone can't read like a five year old, that can be a really useful thing. Because they can follow along as it's highlighting the words and learn to read from that technology.


JoLynne Lyon  08:07

Interrupting a little bit, I have heard of Google read and write I don't remember if it's free.


Austin Oseguera  08:13

It does have components that are free, there is a premium part that cost more but as far as the the speech to text and the text to speech options, those are free. A lot of the Google programs as well like the Google documents or the the sheet, those have dictation built into them, as well as with Microsoft 365 that has dictation software built into it as well. The Microsoft would you would have to purchase but the Google sheets or the Google, just docs, those are free programs. So lots of free options as well.


Kent Remund  08:50

This can be really life changing for students. Of course, schools aren't gonna  allow students to use those, say, for like a spelling test, right? But, for example, Austin, I went to a charter school last year, and they had an individual, I believe she was in maybe ninth grade and had some learning disabilities, and was very, very bright, but just had problems with typing out the words that she needed to get it to turn in an assignment. Her handwriting was slow. The spelling was not very good. The goal was for the things that she had learned in class to then get into the computer so she could turn in her assignments. We showed them within Google Docs, which many schools across Utah now are using is Google Classroom, Google Docs. Everything's for the most part online now. We showed them just built into a Google Doc, under the Tools is voice typing. A little microphone comes up on the side. We showed the student how to just click on that. And just on her Chromebook, she was able to start Speaking and it was typing the words that she was saying. So she tested that out, just with some random little things that she was saying. And then we asked her what she was working on at school, she said that she was working on the Trail of Tears. And she clicked the button, and just started speaking, and went into this long dictation, about the Trail of Tears, and just went on and on, she hit stop. Before she knew it, she had two paragraphs in a matter of 20 seconds or so which normally would have taken her probably, I'd say half an hour to do two sentences. And we're just blown away with it. The school was just overjoyed, of course, there was this free tool that she could use to complete her work.


JoLynne Lyon  10:51

And now here's a word from UATP. Utahns, if you are one of your clients needs a device but can't afford it, we can help. The Utah Assistive Technology Program offers small grants of up to $400 to people who cannot afford AT any other way. Some income guidelines apply. We've helped people install grab bars and porch railings, helped provide specially adapted iPads so children can communicate, and so much more. Visit the Utah Assistive Technology Program website to apply. Thanks for listening, let's get back to our program.


Austin Oseguera  11:35

What would really be needed to take into consideration is how good a voice control an individual has when they're using those options, especially we're talking speech to text. Because if they cannot articulate well, then it can be tough. And looking at more of maybe more of a premium program like dragon that will learn from someone's speech patterns. So with Dragon, if you don't have as clean and clear of speech, it will learn to differentiate in between the verbiage as long as it's consistent. If there is a lot of change, so in other words, maybe if the individual has a spasticity or something like that, where they wouldn't consistently create the same verbalization, then that may be more difficult in implementing a good speech to text or a captioning device for them.


JoLynne Lyon  12:27

Great. And Kent, just to go back to your example, then you were talking about someone who is writing a school paper. Can you give us some examples then of speech to text, I believe you said Google was one that you were using. Are there others?


Kent Remund  12:45

Yes. And this is where students and family members would probably need to check with their school to see what's being used on in within their district. As I said, the majority from what I know of schools across Utah, are using the Google programs, Google Docs specifically, which was built in the that I'd mentioned earlier, there are a couple school districts across the state that are using Microsoft products and Microsoft Office. And they've gotten many fabulous built in tools within that also from the speech to text. And I forget specifically exactly what they call theirs. But then they also have readers that anything that's on the screen, the student can click on it, and it will read back to them what's on the page, which is really, really helpful for students that have learning disabilities. And that's probably the highest disability category that we see across students is learning disabilities. And those are just the ones that we're catching and that are actually being tested, and formally being diagnosed with a learning disability. There's hundreds and hundreds of students that still struggle with reading and writing, but they just haven't been diagnosed. And so and the initiative that's been in the school systems that they're trying to push, probably for the last five to 10 years is called Universal Design for Learning. And is what this is doing. It's it's a push to make the classroom more accessible to all students, and to level that playing field. And is where we've seen this really be helpful with, with the new technology that's coming out right, from speech to text just on our phones to computers. So all this free technology, the idea is that let's make all the classrooms as accessible as possible. Instead of giving speech to text or text to speech options to the students that have learning disabilities, let's offer this to all students. And then we're going to make the whole classroom more accessible. And then the students that are still struggling after that, we can start identifying just one or two, instead of identifying maybe 10 out of 30 in a classroom that have a learning disability. Anyway, it's it's similar to, when you go out and walk through any town, there's accessibility built within your town, your cities, to make it more, it's easier for people to navigate through the city, we're doing that in the classroom as well, just making everything more accessible, and and leveling that playing field for all students.


JoLynne Lyon  15:39

You know, I am also wondering, as more and more of this education is happening online, if people are discovering barriers that they hadn't known existed before, that something isn't working, that maybe works better face to face.


Austin Oseguera  15:56

I would definitely agree that that's true. I mean, some people may say, I love to do these, these virtual meetings, they work really well. And then someone might say, Oh, these just don't work well for me, I can't concentrate at home, or I need to be able to hold a physical document or something. And that could either be just a preference, or maybe it is something that's undiagnosed, or something that they just weren't aware of, because they were accommodating it in a different way when they were doing it in person. So I think it's a really good point.


Kent Remund  16:26

Each individual has different learning styles, right? We're all individual, we all have our specific way that we like to learn that we do better learning. You know, when I, when I was in school, way back in the day, I guess, a book report was, you know, hey, here's your book. They'd hand out the physical book, read this book, give me a three page report written by such and such a date, right? These days where we've, we've incorporated this universal design for learning. Some of the really great teachers are saying, Hey, listen, here's the book. For those of you that like the paper, physical copy, here's a digital copy of it, here's an audio copy of it. And then, of course, this is just for a class that maybe they just want to get the information to you. And have you report back of what you've learned from this, we're not putting somebody in this category of read this, and then write this, that's not everybody's learning style, if somebody has that issue with reading, and they just can't read it as quick as others, or maybe they have ADHD, and, you know, they'll read a page, turn the page, and they may not remember what they had just read, but give it to them in a different format. And then also to say, hey, when you give me your book report, you can give me a written report, you could give me a oral report, someone will say, you know, create a PowerPoint, do some sort of way that you can let me know that what you've learned from this. And let's, let's use people's strengths, instead of just kind of given pigeonhole into to read and write. Because a lot of people just can't do that. It's really exciting to see this happen. And the teachers and the schools that are really kind of branching out, and using this universal design for learning, to allow the students to use their best learning, it's fun to see that for sure.


JoLynne Lyon  18:26

You know, and it's really interesting to me to hear you talk about that, I'm thinking back on my old school teachers and, and how they would have reacted to what you just said, I think some of them would have felt like it was cheating, you know, maybe listen to a book instead of read it. On the other hand, I for one would probably be a lot more comfortable writing a book report than standing in front of people and giving it so you know, I think we do all have these different strengths.


Austin Oseguera  18:55

Well, it's funny that you bring up the cheating thing, because we had people who were very focused on they wanted someone to learn to write physically to be able to write. And obviously, if they have fine motor skills, or issues, or maybe some just dexterity issues, that's going to be really hard, and they may never be able to write, but if they can speak and type it, what's the problem with that? And it's challenging those social norms that we have right now. And being able to say, Hey, this is the same thing. This is just how this individual can do it, where we needed to learn to test for comprehension and not just someone's ability to repeat it in the format that we wanted him.


JoLynne Lyon  19:42

Very interesting. And as we've kind of discussed what this experience has been like, you know, and again, I only just have my personal circle of friends. I'm reading their Facebook posts. One thing that comes up a lot is anxiety. Of these students that have been asked to learn at home, they've gone through a lot of changes, those changes that we'd all hoped would go away, in a few weeks have not gone away. And so if there's anything that you could suggest, as far as reducing that anxiety, either AT related or even just, you know, in setting up the environment, or whatever people can do to help with that.


Austin Oseguera  20:26

I think maybe that I can talk a little bit about the the non-AT part, I think a huge part of that people are maybe neglecting through this whole pandemic, and it does have a lot to maybe do even with verbiage is we talk about social distancing. But as humans, we are very social people. And so part of the school aspect that is really important is having that socialization, people are nervous about doing tests or learning new things, but if they have colleagues that they can talk with, and be able to engage with, to help them through that process, people who are friendly to them that really can help with alleviating some of that anxiety. When a student is learning from home, they don't have those colleagues to kind of lean on. So I think it's important to make sure that there is still that social aspect tied with the education that can be done virtually. Or if there is people who you know, maybe are, you're comfortable and interacting with, making sure that you're continuing to do that, because that social learning environment is very important.


JoLynne Lyon  21:32

That is so interesting. I just want to talk about that a little bit more. Because I think so often when, when parents are doing the school at home, they are so focused on delivering that material or making sure that it gets done. I had actually not sat down and thought about how big a part of the school experience that is where you're like, Oh, you know, did you get your assignment done? Or, I'm really struggling with this? Well, yeah, this helped me.


Austin Oseguera  22:01

Well, and even recess, I mean, play is so helpful for, especially if we're talking with the younger individuals, but even you know, individuals in high school, you know, just having a break and being able to kind of de-stress about school, it's absolutely imperative to the experience, and parents that are overwhelmed as well. So as you're saying, sometimes it's just about drilling through the work and getting it done in between the housework and work and, you know, grocery shopping and just life themselves, parents are also extremely stressed.


JoLynne Lyon  22:36

Yeah, Kent, if you've got any at solutions, let's hear them.


Kent Remund  22:41

So there's many solutions out there, I think, for anyone listening, and maybe any advice that I could give is reach out to your schools. If you have a student that has an IEP or a 504. It's imperative to work closely with a school during these times. And there many times they're not getting the support that they might need just based on virtual learning or limited contact with school professionals. But if we can have parents and students really keep up with their IEP and 504 plans, to make sure that they're getting the support that they need. As we've mentioned, there's assistive technology teams across the state of Utah, we cover every district, there's a team for every district out there. And there's qualified and highly trained individuals that can help coordinate what needs to be done any limitations or barriers that the student might be having, and then try to implement any technology that might be needed. There's just so much out there from, we've talked a lot about the speech to text and having things read back from, you know, text to speech, that there's so many more things out there from Word Prediction to programs that will help record as a student writes on maybe a piece of paper there. There's just, you have individuals that have communication barriers. There's, there's so many barriers out there. And it's important to work with the schools and the individual assistive technology teams so they can bridge that gap. There's new barriers that have come up because of all this, that we didn't see, as Austin was mentioning, when you're at class, you know, you have your peers, kind of helping you and prodding you and asking you if you've gotten things done. It's a different dynamic with parents, right. Child and, and the parent. I know that my son that's in high school now, I see him doing things outside of the house, whether it's at work or school, and I kind of go wow, is that the same kid? Right? I mean, I could never get him to do that. But he's in a different situation. And he's doing different things. There's such a different dynamic right now. And, and it's very difficult for families.


JoLynne Lyon  25:11

If you can think of any silver linings to this, it'd be great to toss those out to people, because I, yeah, it's been kind of a rough time for people.


Austin Oseguera  25:22

Yeah, and I can definitely go on with that. So we've all been forced to have to connect in different ways from a distance. And so that really has pushed a revolution in virtual learning, virtual communication, virtual business. So we're really finding that a lot of these jobs can be done from home or from a different environment in which they were done. I have a background in vocational rehabilitation. And so this, I think, will really help people with disabilities and being able to have more vocational opportunities, because there is now proven concept and be able to do jobs from home. The same will be true in virtual learning, people who may have a difficult time and getting to school, they would still be encouraged to get to school as much as possible. But if they're having days where they're maybe having more difficulties with illness or a disability, they could participate from home. So kind of having to test these things out due to the pandemic, is causing more opportunities for the future and more creative thinking.


Kent Remund  26:31

I think it's kind of helping our rural areas with allowing them to maybe get some more services that in the past... We used to offer virtual evaluations with people and and I don't know if we ever had anyone accept our offer to meet with a student virtually until this last year. And now we've done many, many virtual evaluations. And for the most part, they're very, very successful. I think things have improved that way. And I think moving forward we'll improve services to rural areas a little bit better than what we have done.


Austin Oseguera  27:09

One thing also I'd like to add to that is also the advances in telehealth in both physical and mental health being able to treat that from a distance now. And again, especially in a rural community where they may not have as many options and a specialist to deal with that. Being able to work with someone in a different state or even a different country and get, you know, top notch treatment. But there's also been just the physical health things as well and being able to see someone have a camera being able to view the individual and say, Oh, yeah, that's a textbook case of this, let me get you a prescription get that sent over. And they can they can get the medication that they need, not having to leave the house especially everyone knows how bad you feel trying to go to a doctor, if you can now do that, you know, over your phone and still get the same kind of treatment that can really make a big difference.


JoLynne Lyon  28:06

Awesome. Well, I've asked you guys everything I wanted to Is there anything else you want me to know?


Austin Oseguera  28:11

So with with UCAT, the center of assistive technology again, we do provide services throughout the state and helping people with assistive technology to live as independent lives as possible. So we are a free service that is a state run program and can come out and do those evaluations with individuals in their home or they can come to our office and we can do those or third option we can do those remotely through virtual options. So just making sure that people are using the service because I think it's a very underutilized service. And we want to make sure that that people are aware of it and and are utilizing that service.


JoLynne Lyon  28:56

Thank you for listening to Accessible Times: The UATP podcast. It's brought to you by the Utah Assistive Technology Program, part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.