Assistive Technology Summit Opens Pathways to Success



November 06, 2017

Nearly 100 educators from across the region gathered at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES recently for a summit on assistive technology – devices and software that can enhance learning for students with disabilities.
 
The tools and strategies presented ranged from software like Microsoft Learning Tools, an app that helps students with dyslexia read and write using dictation and read-aloud functions; and Co:Writer Universal, another app that makes it possible for students who struggle with reading and writing to access content and express themselves.
 
Jennifer Cronk, of the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center, led a session on using extensions to the Google Chrome web browser that help students with learning disabilities, attention deficits and visual problems succeed. “I have an IEP and I work for the LHRIC,” said Cronk, who now helps others learn regardless of disabilities. “My dyslexia and executive dysfunction are real issues.”
 
“The idea for an Assistive Technology Summit came from a forum on the topic that I facilitate,” said BOCES’ Education Technology Coordinator Dr. Jennifer Harriton-Wilson. “We wanted to provide a venue for educators from our region to learn more about what was available as well as shape and sharpen their current practices.”
 
In another session of the summit, held on Oct. 23rd, a team discussed ways that improving student mobility, seating and posture can improve their cognitive function as well. For example, they said, with a motorized wheelchair, a child will not only gain mobility but increased cognitive function and improved social and emotional wellness. Being mobile, they said, will inhibit feelings of helplessness and allow students to learn new things and test limits.
 
Other workshops highlighted tools like Bookshare, which provides digital books to students who qualify with a learning, visual or physical disability that impacts their reading, and Apple’s built in tools for students with disabilities.
 
Reactions to the summit, organized by Dr. Wilson, ranged from one participant’s pledge to “pass on skills learned today to my co-workers,” to praise for the wide variety of workshops that “allowed me to choose sessions most valuable to me.”
 
Kathleen Molchan-Hefner, a special education teacher in the Pines Bridge School, praised BOCES for being proactive by providing the conference and monthly forums on assistive technology.
 
After attending the conference, Molchan-Hefner said, she immediately downloaded some of the apps presented at the ARC of Westchester workshop and explored links on the ARC website. “I also updated software on my iPhone after watching Anthony Stripe take advantage of, and use, the new IOS control center and the accessibility features.”
 
Overall, she said, the conference was “inspiring and gave me a shot of motivation.”