Tag Archives: Sean Sweeney

The Dudes Do ATIA Orlando 2012: Day 4. Of Accessibility and Amicability

The last day of any conference is always something of a crap shoot from a presenter’s point of view. If the conference finishes at noon, you can be sure than a chunk of folks are not going to attend sessions because they want to be getting home the same day, so early flights out are popular. There’s also the chance – and I have no stats to support this – that if the previous night was the “last night” for people, some of them may well be trading in a late night for a sleepy morning, and so an 8:00 a.m. session is not on the cards for those folks.

Which is why it’s always heartening to see folks turn up for your presentation on the last day. [1] And why Cathy Hoesterey was gracious enough to thank all of us who attended her session on AIM Beyond the Classroom: Options for Accessible Books. Cathy is an OT and assistive technology specialist at Bellevue Schools in Washington. She taught UDL for AP Institute and guest lectures at University of Washington in Rehab Medicine. In short, she knows her stuff.


Books, books, books

The growth in digital media distribution has made it potentially much easier for students to have access to books in a variety of formats over and above the traditional paper. But there are now so many different formats and standards available that this in itself presents challenges. According to Cathy, the challenge for educators is to be aware of and comfortable with this range of choices for digital access. So she uses the acronym TIME to help outline the key aims of what we should be looking for:

Technology: What are the best tools and technology for providing accessible materials?
Instruction: How do you provide instruction and support implementation?
Materials: How do you acquire and distribute accessible materials?
Engagement: How do you engage reluctant students or teachers?

Belleville School District provides access to Freedom Scientific’s WYNN and Test Talker software via a central server. By working with the company to establish a licensing agreement on use, they can provide 50 access points simultaneously across the district, making it easier to administer and simpler for local schools to have access. They even provide students with the opportunity to use the software on their home computers by using a “Security Key” version; the software resides on a USB drive and can run from it on a home computer.

Cathy also makes use of online facilities to provide instruction for people who will be supporting students with access needs. Educators can sign up at a special website to attend live online trainings on different topics. She also recommends the use of LiveBinders, another online resource, which allows someone to post and share training materials.

This overlaps with materials as a topic in itself. With many publishers now offering books in a variety of formats, students can have access to complete libraries of reading material. Citing Bookshare as one example, she said that many thousands of books are free for use within software such as Don Johnston’s [2] READ: Outloud, Humanware’s Victor Reader, and the versatile WYNN from Freedom Scientific. [3]

New technologies, such as tablets, can offer engagement through new features. On tablets and eReaders, the simple ability to “flip” a page by flicking the screen can be more interesting than clicking a button. Being able to embed moving images, sounds, and hyperlinks, can result in eBooks that go beyond the print alone.

Portable word processors such as the Fusion and the Forte can be useful for clients for whom engagement becomes distraction – where it becomes too easy to drift off task and end up focusing on the wrong things. These can be used to encourage attention to text. And for non-readers, we shouldn’t forget audio books, which can be accessed by any type of MP3 player (provided you have the audio file in MP3 format and not some proprietary one, such as Apple’s AAC format). A source she cites for obtaining thousands of audio books is Books Should Be Free [4].

We’ve added her two-page summary handout to the Dudes’ Box account, and this contains some great links to other sources. You can also follow Cathy on Twitter as @ATtips and one her blog, Accessible Technology Tips.

I missed the presentation by fellow #slpeeps member, Sean Sweeney, entitled Links To Content! Mining the Interactive Web for Content Access. [5] Rather than post his notes, we encourage you to take a trip to his excellent blog and read his own account, along with his link to the handouts.

Mining the Interactive Web for Content Access: The Sean Sweeney

With the conference officially over, I’m staying over until Wednesday for a research meeting and Dude 2 (Dude 3 was not, alas, able to come) is spending a few days with family.

And a shout out to Stacy, or @sugarytweet, who is now a follower of the Dudes and an AT specialist in Houston, a newbie to ATIA, and Brooke, or @itaalk, a mom with a mission “giving kids with autism a voice – one iPad at a time.” You can check out her site at www.itaalk.org. It’s always great to get the chance to meet fun, new people at conferences!

[1] Some years ago at a conference for the Rehabilitation and Engineering Society of North America (RESNA), I clearly drew the short straw by having the 8:00 a.m. slot on the last Saturday, which was not made any more palatable by the fact that I was presenting on the subject of iconic algebra and logical operations as design criteria in designing AAC interfaces. Normally for these sessions you have to at least include the words “free’ and “beer” to get people to even consider stumbling in. Luckily, a handful of die-hards (engineers, I think, rather than speechies) did turn up, making me feel much better, and giving me an appreciation for the challenges those “last day presenters” have to deal with.

[2] I continue to make the mistake of saying “Don Johnson” instead of “Don Johnston,” which is odd because the genial and bespectacled Don Johnston looks nothing like the 80’s Miami Vice T-shirted Don Johnson.

Don Johnstone and Don Johnson

Don and Don

[3] Here’s a link to Bookshare’s list of compatible readers, some of which are free. http://www.bookshare.org/_/help/readingTools

[4] This is not the typical view of writers who would actually like to make some money from their books. For every John Grisham who gets thousands of dollars in advance for his books, there are many more writers who would just like enough to pay the rent, and $9.99 on Amazon doesn’t seem too outrageous to me. However, we live in a world of rampant consumerism where we all want stuff for free and don’t care about the folks who actually created that stuff. As I’ve said before, a “free app” is not a “free app,” and every time you get a “freebie,” the author gets nothing. Soapbox over.

[5] I suggested that we refer to Sean as “The Sean Sweeney” in order to distinguish him from his doppelganger, the “other” Sean Sweeney who, to add to complexity, also presented at ATIA.

The Visual Thesaurus: A Tool for Exploring Semantic Relationships

In a recent post on the SpeechTechie website, run by SLP Sean Sweeney, he talks about vocabulary development and online web resources. As a result of reading the article, I decided to share another resources that folks may not be aware of: The Visual Thesaurus.

The thesaurus [1] was developed by a New York-based company called Thinkmap, Inc. which “develops and markets software that uses visualization to facilitate communication, learning, and discovery.” It’s basically a huge semantic network where you type in a word and it generates a web of associated items. Here’s an example using the word frolic, as suggested by Sean in his article:

Visual Thesaurus data entry

Type in a word


"Frolic" generates a web


...click "play" then,,,


...click "flirt" then...


...then "butterfly"

You can keep on clicking until you reach a dead-end, but then you can start clicking backwards and find new semantic avenues to explore. It’s a fun way to learn about the interrelated nature of words, and a great way to simply take a walk through words.

The software also provides different settings so you can customise your exploration experience. And if you want to print out your current set of associations, you can do, making for fascinating visual records.[2]

Relationshio setting

Play with the setting

The thesaurus offers definitions and pronunciations, and you can also switch or add languages for a more international flavor! Here’s an example of having the French search option included; I typed in marcher (to walk) and the screen filled up with associations!


Adding French for "marcher"

As with all things that are fundamentally visual in nature, the only way to really get a feel for the Visual Thesaurus is to experience it for yourself. The free version lets you have five “tries” before stopping. There is a 14-day free trial if you’re happy to hand over an email address and some details, but for only $20 you can have a one-year subscription to the full version, which I consider great value for money. You also have access to the online articles, blogs, and departments, such as the “Wordshop – Online Activities for your Classroom.” All in all, a marvellous resource.

For more details, go to The Visual Thesaurus and try it out.

[1] I continue to have a hard time with the pronunciation of “thesaurus,” despite regularly revisiting it. Both the Oxford English and Merriam-Webster dictionaries say it’s /θɪ’sɔrəs / but I keep wanting to shift the stress to the front and have /’θɛsəˌrəs/. Note that I not only change the primary stress but also the vowel. I’m happy to take any suggestions as to why I do this, either from a phonetician or a psychoanalyst!

[2] The print-outs include a picture of the web for a specific word and, if you want, a list of definitions and parts-of-speech. The print-out opens in a separate page of your browser so you can then either print it straight to a printer, save as a web page, or print as a PDF – if you have a PDF printing option available.