ATU154 – Autism Expressed (Michele McKeone), GW Micro Merges with AI Squared (makers of Zoomtext), How to Block Calls on your iPhone,

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Your weekly dose  of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:

Michele McKeone www. AutismExpressed.com

RESNA 2014 conference: www.RESNA.org/conference

How to Block Contacts From Calling Your iPhone http://buff.ly/1kTi4pI

Ai Squared Merges with GW Micro – http://buff.ly/1qaVgqU

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——-transcript follows ——

MICHELE McKEONE:  Hi, this is Michele McKeone, and I’m the founder of Autism Expressed, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology, designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.  Welcome to episode number 154 of Assistive Technology Update.  This one is scheduled to be released on May 9 of 2014.

I have an interesting episode today.  We’re going to spend a few minutes talking about how to block contacts from calling your iPhone.  We spend some time with Jeremy Curry from GW Micro, talking about the buzz in the industry over the last week or so about the fact that GW Micro from Fort Wayne, Indiana, has merged with AI Squared, the makers of Zoom Text.  And then we spend some time with a new friend of mine, Michele McKeone from autismexpressed.com.

We hope you will check out our website at www.eastersealstech.com.  Give us a call on our listener line, ask your questions, give us your feedback.  That number is 317-721-7124.  Or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject.

For the first time ever, the annual RESNA conference will be in Indianapolis, Indiana, right here in our backyard.  It’s going to be June 11 through the 15th of 2014 in downtown Indianapolis, and we’ve asked some of the folks at RESNA to call and let us know what they’re excited about.  Here’s one of those calls.

ALICIA BROWNLEE:  Hi, this is Alicia Brownlee.  I am the 2014 conference chair for this year’s Indianapolis RESNA conference.  I’d like to encourage you to join us for the RESNA conference in June.  I’m so excited about 40 workshops and posters and exhibit halls and all the social events that we had planned.  I hope you’ll join me there.  For more information, visit www.RESNA.org and click on the conference tab.  Thank you.  We look forward to seeing you in Indianapolis.

WADE WINGLER:  Our friend, Andrew Liebs, is the guide for assistive technology over at about.com.  In a recent article, he interviews Terry Mason, who teaches teachers of the visually impaired at Texas Tech University.  He asks questions about why is the iPad such an ideal device for folks who are blind or visually impaired, and busy iPad mini offer any advantages to visually impaired students.  I’ll stick a link in the show notes.  Check out Andrew’s article.

Let’s face it, sometimes somebody is calling you on your iPhone and you just wish they wouldn’t.  In a new story here from OS 10 Daily, there’s an article about how to block particular contacts from calling your iPhone.  It’s actually pretty simple.  All you have to do is open the phone app on your iPhone and click on recents or touch the recents tab.  Then you locate the caller, the person that contacted you, and you want to block them, and you tap the info button next to it.  Once you click on that, you scroll down to block this caller, and then you click on block contacts.  What it will do is make sure that that person can’t call you or message you in the future.  What will happen is it won’t let them know that you blocked them.  It’ll redirect them to kind of a dead end voicemail or dead end phone number so that they won’t know what happened.  They just won’t be able to reach you again.  I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to this OS 10 Daily article, and you can learn more about how to block folks on your iPhone when you don’t want to hear from them.

The industry is all abuzz with a merger.  AI Squared, the makers of Zoom Text, and GW Micro, the makers of Window Eyes, have merged.  I have Jeremy Curry who is with GW Micro, now part of AI squared, to answer a few questions. Jeremy?

JEREMY CURRY:  Thanks for having me, Wade.  This is Jeremy Curry with GW Micro, now part of AI Squared family.  Obviously there have been some interesting changes that took place here recently.

WADE WINGLER:  So tell me a little bit about that.

JEREMY CURRY:  So the merger, obviously, was announced last week.  We always had a really good relationship with AI Squared.  The company cultures are very similar.  We’ve worked together, partnered together before.  I remember when we put out joint news releases on technology that we have presented before.  Even way back when Vista came out, I remember we were working together on it.  And we worked on things for a long time.  So it was just the right timing and presented an opportunity for us both to get together and really leverage the technology that we have.  So we think it’s going to be a fantastic thing.  We are all very excited about it.  We’re just really ecstatic to see how things go from here.

WADE WINGLER:  And this isn’t the first merger we’ve seen in the field of assistive technology.  Tell me, what does this mean for the industry as a whole?

JEREMY CURRY:  What does this mean for the industry?  You know, obviously there’s a lot of buzz.  I don’t think anybody was super surprised and caught way off guard thinking this would never be possible.  I think people had always looked at us and thoughts that the two would work together well.  It will be interesting to see what happens as we move forward.

Obviously it means, in regards to the number of companies, a little contracting of the industry.  That definitely is not a bad thing because we can pool our resources and help a lot more customers.  We’ll have to see what it means moving forward, but I think it’s definitely going to be very good for our customers.

GW Micro and AI Squared — I guess I should say AI squared, Indiana, former GW Micro.  What does it mean?  I’ve been given lots of questions.  Am I going to be able to call the same support people, the same staff, in regards to placing orders?  All of that’s the same.  So the Fort Wayne office is staying in the same location —

WADE WINGLER:  And we had just a little burp on Skype there.

JEREMY CURRY:  — AI squared, Vermont, is going to stay in the same place, so if you have been calling for Zoom Text support, Zoom Text sales questions, that team is going to remain intact.  So it’s just a way that our teams can come together and we can use each other’s technology to really benefit our customers as we move forward.  Obviously they’ve got a fantastic screen magnification program.  We’ve got a really strong screen reader.  AI squared also has some innovative technologies like Site Cues, which is essentially an assistive technology tool that can plug in to any website, so it’s a very interesting thing that we now have this family of products to choose from.

WADE WINGLER: So does this mean we’re going to see new products?  What are we going to see?

JEREMY CURRY:  It’s pretty early to tell exactly what’s going to happen.  Obviously we know we’re going to leverage each other’s technologies.  That’s about the information that we want to put out there at the moment.  I’m sure that we’ll definitely be using the expertise of both companies in a way that will benefit everyone.

WADE WINGLER:  So it sounds like there’s a lot of unanswered questions, yet if folks want to keep up with the changes and learn more, what do you recommend?

JEREMY CURRY:  If you want to learn more information, you can always go to gwmicro.com.  Just be advised that that website will be phased out at some time.  So I recommend that you actually go over to aisquared.com.  Or find us on Twitter.  Make sure that you go over and like AI squared on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, because eventually our social media will be phased out as well as the AI Squared name kind of start to proliferate.  Just want to make sure that you’re able to keep that information.  Of course you can call the same numbers as you are used to calling in regards to technical support for either Window Eyes or for AI Squared.  Of course that telephone number for GW Micro is 260-489-3671, and that number for AI Squared, Vermont, is 802-362-3612.  Thanks for having me on, Wade.  It’s always a pleasure.  I look forward to the future.

WADE WINGLER:  And we had a little more Skype trouble there at the end, but Jeremy, thank you so much.  We look for to learning what happens in the future with this new merger of AI Squared and GW Micro.

In the world of assistive technology, more and more we are finding out about all kinds of learning opportunities.  Many of them are online.  Today I’m going to talk with Michele McKeone, who is the founder of Autism Expressed, which is a fascinating website intended to help folks who have autism or are on the autism spectrum to learn more about technology.  Joining me via Skype and phone is Michele McKeone.  Michele, are you there?

MICHELE McKEONE:  I am.

WADE WINGLER:  Thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy day today.  I know it’s getting towards the end of the day for you.  I’m excited to learn about this project which I can tell already is your passion.  It’s called Autism Expressed.  Can you tell me a little bit about what it is and where the idea came from?

MICHELE McKEONE:  Absolutely.  Autism Expressed is the first and only online program that makes digital literacy accessible.  It all started, I guess, even as far back as my time spent studying digital media, my undergrad.  I was studying things like streaming media before YouTube existed or was a household name.  Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I felt very strongly that literacy should be something that is integrated into education.  So I joined in Philadelphia teaching Fellowship program in hopes that I would develop literacy programs and school districts.  The Fellowship I happen to land in an autism support setting.

What was very apparent to me was the lack of technological literacy and the life skills curriculum.  Having such a background in technology and understanding how we were on the precipice of these mediums really becoming a core component to our daily lives, I thought that if I was going to prepare [Inaudible] transition independence, and at the very least we should understand how to navigate the Internet with safety, also how to email, and how to understand the nuances of social networks.

I also saw that it was a great opportunity to allow [Inaudible] new modes of expression.  So I actually got to the point where my students were strong enough in their capabilities to compete regionally in a computer fair.  I was like to say [Inaudible] of leveling the playing field or how technology can level the playing field.  Once the [Inaudible] in this competition, school districts noticed what I was doing, and I started training other teachers on technology best practices.

The more I did this, the more I realize there was a widespread need for this type of education.  So I applied for a business plan competition.  I want a $10,000 grant, and I’ve built my first data of a platform.  My students iterated on the design and then in 2013, we set up pilot programs throughout the Northeast region of the United States in the school districts in the DC public library.  And we just had great success in terms of [Inaudible] very positive feedback.

WADE WINGLER:  that kind of sounds like a student project dream come true and a small business dream come true.  I know that it’s up and running now, and I want to talk more about it.  But tell me a little bit about who would be somebody who uses autism express.  Is a specifically for folks on the autism spectrum?  Is it for folks who might not be?  Tell me a little bit about folks who use this service.

MICHELE McKEONE:  That’s a great question.  So when I designed Autism Expressed, I designed it to reach even the most nuanced learning profile.  For example, some of my students had issues with extended auditory processing, or processing delays.  So when we designed the voice over, we were sure to extend the amount of time that the individual would have to process what the voiceover was saying.  So a very paced voice over.  And then having very strong graphics to accommodate what was being said.  So there was a strong visual verbal association.

So with that said, our product is not limited to individuals with autism.  Right now, we have it in public and private schools being used for students with autism as well as a wide range of individuals with other special education categories, classifications.  We even have adults who have experienced traumatic brain injuries using this course to develop some life skills and start to develop areas of cognition that were impaired.

WADE WINGLER:  So that a little bit of a surprise to me, because when I originally looked at your website, I thought it was mostly targeted towards adolescence, but it’s on like there’s some exceptions to that.  Again, tell me the ages and the academic levels that you are targeting.

MICHELE McKEONE:  So we are transition program because that’s where there is an immediate need.  We have this large and growing population that we need to mobilize and integrates into the work force in the social fabric of society.  However, because our economy is really driven by technology in this level of literacy, it is important to introduce individuals to the vocabulary, the conceptual knowledge, and develop the skills much older than high school, especially our students who have diversified needs.

WADE WINGLER:  That make a lot of sense.  I think that that is a kind of literacy that maybe we take for granted.  And for folks with autism and other disabilities, that might be particularly important.  Michele, tell me, what kind of courses are available on Autism Expressed?  When somebody is involved, what are they learning?

MICHELE McKEONE:  So our curriculum is comprised of four stages.  The first stage is the Internet navigator stage.  This is where we develop the vocabulary and conceptual knowledge.  So taking the very abstract concepts like what is the Internet and making a very solid, concrete, and something that can be internalized visually, just so that when we need to refer to the Internet, and we start talking about cloud technologies or something like dropbox or Google drive, we have a baseline to reference why the incident is what it is.  So what is a hyperlink, what happens when you click on it, and that sort of thing.

That first stage also covers appropriate online behavior.  So what is public information versus private information.  What is an appropriate comment on a post.  For our students, appropriate doesn’t stop at just being respectful.  We also have to practice being on task or on topic.  So making a relevant comment to what they are seeing online.

As we move into the second stage, that’s the digital citizen stage.  We focus largely on Google products as we know that these are the skills in the applications that are being used today in work environments.  So for example, Gmail is often the interface that companies will use internally, and the also access Google drive.  They’ll have their storage there.  There is an immense amount of collaboration tools.

So for the skills that we’re teaching with the intent that we’re making individuals with disabilities marketable in today’s economy.  A report just came out that more than 50 percent of jobs today require some level of technological literacy.  In 10 years, it’ll be 77 percent.  So originally, I wanted to see better outcomes for my own students.  I felt like they could do more than work at the cafeterias or the hospitals taking out the trash.  I thought that we could develop more advanced skills and they could be employed in other types of environments.

WADE WINGLER:  Again, I think a lot of us, especially listeners and my audience, those are things that they take for granted.  Understanding what a cloud-based storage system is something that is everyday language for us.  But you’re right, learning what that is and how to interact appropriately I think is currently important, especially at the workforce moves and develops and becomes ever more digital.  So there are some more components to the system?

MICHELE McKEONE:  Yes.  We have a number of features.  Often in education, we know that there are specific needs that needs to be met when planning an IEP, but you need to establish baseline so we can sort of identify where the student is before they use our program and then track their progress and tie collate a percentage of how well they are mastering skills.

So for the students, it’s designed to feel like a videogame.  They’re going to log in.  They’re going to start their first lesson which looks like a badge.  A fun, visual animation module will appear.  At the end of that video, they will have an activity that they did to complete to really prove that they’ve understood the material.  If they complete the activity successfully, they unlock this virtual badge.  Each lesson makes up a unit.  The unit of content will have a very clear objectives.

For example, one of our objectives is the student will be able to identify basic Internet terminology.  So we go through every track their progress in each of these activities and come up with their percentage score.  This is very useful in education because now we can really understand the potential of students.  We can include it in their IEP, in their transition planning.  At the same time, teachers are developing the same type of literacy, so they have a new set of tools to reach more of their schools and objectives with their students in the classroom environment or the therapeutic environment.  When the student complete the unit of content, there is a master badge come in they get a sticker for their chart.  Again, it’s very gamey for everybody.

We have tons of supplemental material.  So we want to find a balance between computer time and socialization and face time.  So what we did is for every unit, we design supplemental material to come to make that learning and reinforces concepts.  So these can be games like bingo, activities.  We have one really fun activity for the social media unit where we hang different types of Facebook posts around the classroom, and we give the students post it in the post appropriate comments and then they have to respond to other customer’s comments.  We do another game on public and private information.  These are all resources that can be shared with family and can be played a homework can be sent to speech therapy.  Sort of just shared among the students’ care team.

WADE WINGLER: Well it sound like there’s a whole lot of practical knowledge being gained as folks are participating in this.  In the time that we have left, how much does a program cost and who pays for it and how long does it take for a student to get through it?

MICHELE McKEONE:  great question.  It’s designed for the student to work at their own pace.  We spaced the program at one unit per week so that we can ensure that real learning is happening.  We don’t want to create a situation where students are in front of the computer remotely running through lessons and they are not engaging in supplemental material, the things that are designed to reinforce their learning.  That’s the pace.

We have hundreds of lessons because we synthesize all that content down to very small, manageable parts.  So depending on the student’s progress, it may take them a year to get all the way to the advanced stages of LinkedIn profiles and having a resume and portfolio [Inaudible] right now, as far as cost, we are running an autism month special.  For families to sign up, it’s about $15 a month with the coupon.  There’s a coupon code right on our website on the sign-up page.  For organizations, they would pay a licensing fee per student for the year.

WADE WINGLER:  So it’s a sufficient model and people have as much access as they need during that time to go through the material and repeat it if necessary?

MICHELE McKEONE:  That’s correct.  All the content can be repeated.  Students have a badge library where they can go back and practice.  Both the parents and students have an account for the substitution, so parents can login and see their progress and generate reports and manage their account, and the student would log in and go through the contents, earn their badges come and then of course the parent would facilitate the settlement material.  Although that is emailed directly to the parent and teacher.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s good.  So everyone involved is very involved in can keep track of what’s going on.  So Michele, I understand that there’s some stages of foot in terms of the name and kind of how to program is identified.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

MICHELE McKEONE:  So we are just in the process of launching a brand extension.  The program will be called digit-ability.  So dropping the word autism and instead promoting the ability to be digital.  Also to sort of rethink what disability means in developing new skills.

WADE WINGLER:  Michele, how many students do you have enrolled?

MICHELE McKEONE:  A lot.  I wouldn’t know the exact number, but we are in school districts, private schools.  We have users at home.  We get a tremendous amount of positive feedback.  I love hearing stories of parents when they reach out.  This one sticks out recently.  One of our parents emailed me and let me know that her student was practicing some basic HTML coding.  He was doing the dishes one day.  I don’t know if anyone who is listening today is familiar with coding, but there is a bit of code called an FL statement.  So the example I was given, if you’re going to the ATM, the statement would be if there’s money in your account, then dispense cash.  L displays the message, you have no money in the bank or your balance is zero.  So she listened to her son doing the dishes, and he was saying, “If the coffee mug is mom’s, then it goes on the shelf;  L, it goes next to the coffee.”  He was just working that process in his daily life.  I love that story.  It’s a really cute one.

That’s an example of an advanced skill set, but those are without a doubt the types of skills, even if you’re not going to be a developer, to understand increasingly the things that we use and understand their basic framework.  That’s the type of literacy ultimately we need to develop.

WADE WINGLER:  Again, there’s a lot of rubber hitting the road there.  There’s a lot of practical information that really is useful.  Michelle, we are about out of time for today, but if people want to learn more about Autism Expressed in how to be connected and learn more about what’s going on there, what kind of contact information would you like to share?

MICHELE McKEONE:  They can visit our website which is autismexpressed.com.  They can sign up on that website if it like to learn more information if they are large organization, or they can shoot an email to info@autismexpressed.com

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent.  I’ll pop those legs into the show notes that folks can get direct access to them.  Michele McKeone is the founder of Autism Expressed from a pretty innovative way for folks to learn about technology skills online.  Think it’s a much for being with us today.

MICHELE McKEONE:  Thank you very much.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Looking for show notes from today’s show? Head on over to EasterSealstech.com. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.