ATU379 – “The New Assistive Tech: Make Learning Awesome for All” with Chris Bugaj


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CHRIS BUGAJ: Hi, this is Chris Bugaj, and I’m a specialized instructional facilitator for assistive technology in Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
JOSH ANDERSON: Hello and welcome to 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 individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 379 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to for release on August 31, 2017.

For our listeners who missed last week’s show, you may notice that divorce you here is not that of Wade Wingler. Wade was nice enough to come on the show last week to be interviewed by me, your new host, Josh Anderson. Wade has been doing this show for seven plus years, bringing you great guest in the world of assistive technology. From now on though, you will be hearing my voice. Wade is stepping away from the booth and handing those reins over to me.
So as a listener, what can you expect? I’m sure some things may be slightly different, but we will still have great guest in the world of assistive technology, good stories about the new and upcoming things. But besides the difference invoice, you will not notice a lot of difference in your podcast. I will do my best to maintain the same integrity and great fun that way put into this podcast for so many years.
On today show, we are very excited to have Chris Bugaj on, AT specialist, podcaster, and author of a new book on assistive technology. Chris is going to come and tell us all about his life in AT, his experiences, and to talk about the new book. We are very excited for this interview, so let’s go ahead and get on with it.

[1:53] Interview with Chris Bugaj

JOSH ANDERSON: Folks, there aren’t a whole lot of books out there, of these physical books, on assistive technology, so when a new one comes out, we are interested. Chris Bugaj specializes in instructional facilitator of assistive technology, is not unfamiliar to AT podcast listeners. He has a new book out called “The New Assistive Tech: Make Learning Awesome for All.” We are very excited to have them on the show today. Chris, welcome.
CHRIS BUGAJ: Thanks for having me here. I’m really excited to be here. I am a longtime listener. I think for the longest time, there was this podcast and the podcast that I did, the AT Tips Cast. So it’s like we were the only two swimming in the pool for a a while. I’m so excited to finally be on the podcast. It’s awesome.
JOSH ANDERSON: Isn’t that nice? And you also get to come in during a transition period just because Wade had to step away from the show a little bit, so I’ve been taking over. I’m very excited to talk to a fellow podcaster too. That’s very cool. I’m really looking forward to it today.
Before we start talking about the new book, can you tell us about your journey as a professional working in the area of assistive technology, your background, current work, and your history with podcasting?
CHRIS BUGAJ: Absolutely. My background is as a speech language pathologist. I still keep up with my C’s, and everything like that. Shut out to all of the other speech therapist. I had been a speech therapist in Loudoun County Public Schools for maybe four years when I was approached to be part of the assistive technology team. That was 16 years ago. 20 years ago was when I first started as a speech therapist, and then 16 years ago was when we started the assistive technology team.
That was still the best professional experience of my life, was that the special ed director of Loudoun County Public Schools said, you know, there’s a thing, assistive technology, we have to start embracing it. We don’t really know a whole about it, so I’m going to put a team together to figure it all out. I was lucky enough to be the speech therapist on that team. There were two occupational therapist and then to teachers on it. That assistive technology team has grown over the years. I think we’ve got maybe 11 or 12 people on it. I kind of lose track. All those years ago, there weren’t many assistive technology teams. There were certainly hot pockets around the country, but a lot of it was forging our own way. We leaned heavily on the [Inaudible] framework and did a lot of investigation about what were people who were actually working in the field doing. But there was no one in our school district that was tackling it.
The five of us that started it, I think we have this affinity or affection for each other, just thought it was like a startup company. No one in our district had known about it. Where we are in Loudoun County Public Schools, we are a countywide system, so the entire county has grown to 90 schools. I think back then it was in the sixties, the number of schools that we had. We were this brand-new entity that nobody really knew about, and we got to — like I said, a start up. We spent a lot of time coming up with how to promote ourselves, what we were actually going to do, come up with policies and procedures. After that was grown and built for a few years, I felt like — I didn’t realize it as a speech therapist, but when I was part of that team, building it, I realized that that’s what I really love to do, is build stuff and create stuff. Something that didn’t exist before, I had a hand in making it exist now. That brings me around to the AT tips cast that you mentioned. I was doing a lot of commuting and driving from school to school and podcasting was just coming back out. It was just originating back then. I was listening to a bunch of different podcast and exploring those. You know, there is not a heck of a lot on assistive technology. Maybe I can do this. We did a bunch of trainings with teachers, so I thought I could try to make it fun and exciting for teachers who may come to the trainings all those years ago. Maybe the podcast could be like that too. I could be goofy and fun. That’s how the AT tips cast was born.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very nice. Especially when talking to teachers, it’s nice when you can keep them interested. They get so many boring presentations and things like that so it’s really nice you can still them not just something neat, something that can help, but something that can keep them entertained as well.
CHRIS BUGAJ: I think your podcast is that quite a bit. I know you’ve had some podcast episodes in the past where you keep it light and fresh, and it makes it fun for those who listen to it, I hope.
JOSH ANDERSON: I hope so too. We don’t want it sounds like work. We don’t want it to be like work to try to listen to it. Before we get into talking about your new book, you had a previous book. Is that correct?
CHRIS BUGAJ: Yeah. Back in 2008, Sally [Inaudible] and I — she’s on other speech therapist that came on in the second year of the team. She and I had worked together for a few years. A bunch of us had talked about presenting at what was called the Florida Educational Technology Conference. Now it’s the Future Educator Technology Conference. Back then it was in Orlando. We put together a presentation on our policies and procedures. The whole concept was we would go to ATIA or go around and talk to our local tech act groups or talk to different people around the country about assistive technology, specifically our policies and procedures. We kept having the same reaction. Here’s how we do it, and this is how we do it. People were like, that makes a lot of sense. Maybe we should consider what you are saying. I think one of the big takeaways is back then, we did a lot of assistive technology evaluations. In the first two or three years, we realized that was not sustainable. We needed to move to a more consultative model where we could just brainstorm with teachers more than writing reports all the time. That’s still a shift a lot of people are expressing today.
So we went to this FETC, Sally and I went to present on these boring policies and procedures. About an hour before the presentation, I said Sally, policies and procedures? An hour of this? Who’s going to want to sit through this. It’s in Orlando, let’s spice it up and throw some Disney quotes in there and asked people what quote do we have up on the screen? Just make this a fun and engaging experience for people. People walked away with good information and have fun while they were at the session. And then this guy came up to us at the back of the room he said, have you guys ever thought about writing a book? Now this was the first professional presentation we had done outside of our school district. We just looked at each other and said, of course we thought about writing a book. Like I was the editor for International Society for Technology in Education, which is like a large educational Institute. We look at their library, and they did not have much in the way of special education, helping people with disabilities or inclusive practices. We said yeah, we are totally doing this. We wrote the book with the same idea in mind, is that say what you said about the podcast. We don’t want people to feel like work. We want to make it feel like a fun read. Back in those days, American Idol was the number one thing on TV. We felt like we wanted to compete with American Idol. Should I turn on American idol, or could I read the next chapter in this book? So we put all sorts of fun stuff in there to make the point about assistive ecology. We had robots and monkeys and pirates. We use those things as analogies to draw these points about how to have more inclusive practices, how to do your policies and procedures, how to conduct an evaluation when you do need to do one, what a consultation looks like, all that kind of stuff.
JOSH ANDERSON: I can definitely tell the new book should be fun just because you works the word awesome in there, which I try to work into my daily vocabulary as much as humanly possible. In fact, the last time they asked what I wanted on my name Tag, I had it as Captain awesome for a while until someone stole it off my door. I still don’t know where that is.
CHRIS BUGAJ: I still it. They sent it to me.
JOSH ANDERSON: It was great. I started the whole thing. The guy next to me in the office was general something. Everyone started changing her name tag. Maybe went too far. Talk to me about the new book, “The New Assistive Tech: Make Learning Awesome for All.”
CHRIS BUGAJ: It starts with the old book, in that the old book did exceptionally well for ISTE, way better than the expected. For a while, of their titles, they had their book on how to teach with Google and that our book. It was the number two seller for a while. You may think of assistive technology as this niche thing. Maybe listeners do. What we do is a niche thing. But in contemporary society — I don’t know if you feel this way, but inclusive is the hot topic right now. Different companies are starting to jump on the bandwagon and understand if you designed with people of all varying abilities in mind, you have a wider market base, we touched new people, it’s more inclusive for everybody, you are providing a service to the world.
JOSH ANDERSON: For sure. Just think about dictation. You only needed it for people who couldn’t access the keyboard. Now everyone talks to their text messages, dictate emails, and everything else.
CHRIS BUGAJ: Exactly. I tell the story all the time. Word prediction is like that, touchscreens are like that. How many times have we known people that use their voice to control their environment? Now it’s just something we do. It’s becoming more mainstream, and I think these things are becoming more built into just mainstream tools.
Anyway, with that in mind, ISTE said it’s time to update this. The old book, the practical and fun guide had been out for a number of years. They approached me to write a new one. I wrote it with this mindset of how do we get general education teachers more interested in becoming — having inclusive practices. What the book posits is that, one, we should rebrand the word teacher. I only challenge people to go out and do a Google image search for teacher. What do you find? You find people standing in front of a chalkboard lecturing to kids. That’s just not how contemporary education looks. In some places, it does, but I think that is changing largely, and every day we are finding more teachers that are building looks ability into their sitting. Thanks to universal design for learning, building it into their lesson design. I said we have to rebrand teaching and call it educational experience designers. Just remove the idea that a teacher is someone who teaches content to students. Instead, students are in an environment and participating in experience. You, educator, are the designer of that experience.
With that in mind, as the general education teachers are designing educational experiences, who is it that helps them design it in a more inclusive way? I would make the argument that the special ed teachers to that. In those cases, so many times, special and teachers have had in the front of their mind how do I adapt this, not how do I design it differently. What I posit then is that there should be — the assistive technology people, for a long time, the ones that have been saying okay, I can teach her how to adapt this to simpler technology, but I can also teach you to use tools to design the experience differently so you don’t even have to adapted in the first place. I advocate for the job title of accessible design facilitator or inclusive design facilitator, somebody that helps everyone in the educational school district to design things from a more inclusive standpoint. That’s really the crux of “The New Assistive Tech: Make Learning Awesome for All” is that it’s kind of a spin on UDL and taking that classic assistive technology and pushing it towards the general education teacher.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very nice. Who all is this book for? Does anybody involved in education from students, parents, teachers, everybody?
CHRIS BUGAJ: Absolutely. That’s exactly who it is for. To tell you the truth, part of the hard part I had about it was trying to come up with a title. I felt like a lot of people who it was designed for, general education teachers, administrators would see assistive tech and say, oh, that’s for special ed, that’s not me. But it is really written for anyone working in education that wants to design more inclusively or build a practice, build a system for how to look more inclusively. One of the things I talk about in the book is many teachers, many school districts around the country are familiar with RTI and MTSS, multi tiered system of support.
What I posit in the book is that one way to move the practice more to make it more inclusive in general is to ask this question: how do you come up with your tier 1 supports? Just in case someone is listening and doesn’t know what that means, a tier 1 support is a support that is provided to everybody. A tier 2 support may be provided to a small group of people, and a tier 1 support would be an individual student. How do you design support for your tier 1? How do you know that this should be a tier 1 support? I make the argument that you could look at all of the accommodations. Just go look at all the accommodations in the IEP’s that are written and find what’s the most common accommodation that you see. That could be your very first tier 1 support. Let’s just make that available to everybody. It still needs to be an accommodation in those kids’ IEP. They still need it. But if it were just available to everybody, that gets to the heart of what you and I were talking about earlier. How did touchscreens — we’ve been using touchscreens in special education for years. How did word prediction just become something that Google uses all the time? There is a method of how you could march towards more inclusive practices by looking at those accommodations and say I’m going to start with the most frequent ones. And next year I’ll do that again with my next most frequent. By that way, you can build an inclusive model. That’s the idea, that that is not necessarily the assistive technology person — the title of the book says that — it’s really and everybody.
JOSH ANDERSON: For sure. Very good. Like you said, I like that spin on the universal design for learning. That’s really cool. What’s something that should’ve made it into the book but didn’t?
CHRIS BUGAJ: That’s a good question, a really good question. I toyed with the idea, and then we ended up cutting it way back, about the idea that maybe the term assistive technology is a little bit discriminatory. I know I’m on a podcast called AT Update. I do a podcast called the AT tips cast.
JOSH ANDERSON: I’m going to cut that out anyway so it’s fine.
CHRIS BUGAJ: When you look at the definition, here’s what gets me sometimes. The definition of assistive technology device has the word “use” in it, not the word “need” in it. What I wrestled with — Joy Zabala wrote the forward for the book. She and I were reading it, and she helped me say, Chris, maybe you shouldn’t include this in the book because if you do include it, people might misinterpret it and then put it big frowny face on the entire book, as opposed to hearing the good messages that are in the book. But the idea, why I was thinking about it in the first place is that my son is in sixth grade. We happen to have access to text to speech through Read and Write for Google Chrome. We have that schoolwide. We looked at that as a tier 1 support. What accommodation are we using most? Text-to-speech? Let’s provide that for everyone. So my son is in the sixth grade. As far as I know, he does not have a disability. But he uses text-to-speech all the time to check his work. He uses it when he doesn’t know what that word is, maybe because he has a dad that showed him how to use it. By extension, he has taught some of his friends. If you take it to one student who absolutely needs it, it’s called assistive technology. Yet my son who also uses it, it’s just called technology. The definition says “use,” which is what my son is doing, not “need,” which is what the other kids need it for. Do you see what I’m saying?
JOSH ANDERSON: Oh yeah. It makes sense.
CHRIS BUGAJ: In that regard, we feel like just the term — it’s the same term but it’s being used by two different populations in different ways. Ultimately, I pulled it out of the book, didn’t need to say it as strongly as I was saying it. But I still have this feeling like maybe we should be looking at that definition of assistive technology and teaching that verb from use to need.
JOSH ANDERSON: I agree. I totally agree. I know when people ask me what is assistive technology, I dropped into about a 30 minute long tirade of all different kinds of things. I don’t know if I ever answer their question.
CHRIS BUGAJ: I think of it like — this was the example I used one Joy and I were talking about it. If you and I were to go out and share a drink at a bar, and the captions are on, is it assistive technology? No. It’s just technology. As far as we know, we don’t have disabilities. But another person who needs that, and they were to use it, it’s called assistive technology. It’s just the same technology. That’s why I think we really need to advocate or look at changing that definition.
JOSH ANDERSON: As you said, as that technology becomes more mainstream, that’s something we definitely need to do. Talking about podcasts, I suspect you probably listen to quite a few. What is on your regular playlist?
CHRIS BUGAJ: Can be just have some fun outside of what we do?
CHRIS BUGAJ: You can see behind me I have Dungeons & Dragons books. I’m a huge Dungeons & Dragons fan. There is a huge surge in Dungeons & Dragons. Occasionally I turn on people who play Dungeons & Dragons and then record it. Just to let you know, I know a speech therapist and some special ed teachers that run an afterschool Dungeons & Dragons program for their kids. They stay after school to do it, and they run campaigns to help kids learn social skills. I think there is a huge opportunity to make learning fun but to hide it with role-play and sword and sorcery. On the professional realm, besides the Dungeons & Dragons stuff, I love the Dyslexia Quest. I really love the podcast because it’s all about focusing on dyslexia, and I love how she frames things in this what are you questing about? What do you want to learn more about? That’s one podcast that I really love. I love The Inclusive Cast. I think he’s got less than 10 episodes so it was really quick to catch up on those. Maybe he’ll have more by the time this airs. Mike Morata is one of those guys in the field that has had inclusive practices on the mind for a long time and brings a wealth of knowledge, makes it fun to listen to. Those are two in that sphere that I like to listen to.
On Fridays, we record what’s called Talking with Tech. The AT Tips Cast, my podcast, has been on hiatus for a while as I only have so many hours in the day and can write a book and have a family and have a job. You know how that goes. Being able to do the one-man show of the AT Tips Cast has been difficult, but I was approached by Lucas Stubar and Rachel Nadal who are speech therapists. My practice has been on an augmentative communication, so we have been recording a podcast called Talking with Tech. We record every Friday and try to put out a podcast once a week. It’s all about augmentative communication, which has just exploded over the last 5 to 10 years. With the price of augmentative communication apps, robust communication apps coming way down. When I say apps, I mean Proloquo really led the way in that, and now there’s been many more. Once it used to be thousands of dollars to get robust language systems. And how you can have that at a fraction of the price. So you have many more speech therapist and classroom teachers and everyone else trying to figure out how to integrate these devices. We thought we could help tackle that with a podcast. That has been really well received. We try to keep it research-based. What is the research telling us. We try to get interviews with people that are actually working in the fields and during the research and having practical experience as we try to bring in parent perspective and get parents on to tell us what it’s like to have an AAC user in the house. We try to get AAC users on the podcast. We try to get everybody we can to just talk about these issues. I think it’s a big concern for a lot of people and I think it’s going to continue to grow. How many people have to educate, have to understand augmentative communication and educate the students using those devices. Once upon a time, and full of special ed teachers need to know what word prediction was, and now everyone needs to know what word prediction is. Once upon a time, only if you people need to know what text to speech and touch windows were. Not everybody uses them. Now I see augmentative communication following enough a step. I could totally see a general Ed teacher saying — and I think this happens in some places — hey, I’m going to use these augmentative communication devices to teach language and teach reading, not just to the kids who need them but to all my kids. I think that’s a new trend you’re going to see. We are going to have more people need to understand how to use those devices.
JOSH ANDERSON: Very cool. Do you have any new books in the works or anything on the agenda down the road?
CHRIS BUGAJ: “The New Assistive Tech” just came out in May. It’s not even a year old yet. I think it’s a new concept for a lot of people working in assistive technology and those even if not, how to push this idea that we embraced the coaching model in assistive technology, how building capacity. My projects are continuing to let people know about this book and give feedback on it. I do a lot of consultation work after school with people in that regard, books studies, webinars, and all that kind of stuff. I’m continuing to work on the talking with Tech podcast and enjoying my time working with those people and working on that subject area.
JOSH ANDERSON: Where would folks pick up the book?
CHRIS BUGAJ: You can find a book at I wrote it both ways, the numeral 4 — you can’t mess it up. That will take you right to the ISTE site where you can download the book or get paper based version.
JOSH ANDERSON: Sounds great. Chris Bugaj, the author of “The New Assistive Tech: Make Learning Awesome for All,” was our guest today. Thank you again.
CHRIS BUGAJ: Thank you Josh. Keep up the good work. I really love what you guys do. I shared all the time with people.
JOSH ANDERSON: I can’t wait to listen to your new podcast.
JOSH ANDERSON: 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, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
***Transcript provided by TJ Cortopassi. For requests and inquiries, contact***

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