On Friday, February 13, 1998, I had the chance to visit the Integrated Technology Services (ITS) Office in Dunn Loring, VA. ITS uses computers, augmentative communication devices, and adaptive peripherals to maximize the potential of students with disabilities, from the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). The office was created as a Special Education technology initiative in September, 1987.
Currently, ITS provides direct and assistive technology services to over 800 highly impacted students with disabilities and provides technology support to the special education staff. Many students of military and civilian parents transfer to DoDDS from this school system and often return to that county when their overseas assignments are completed. The purpose of my visit was to view a variety of assistive technology devices in one location.
Some of the simple communication devices on display were the BIGmack single message communication aid and the Say It , a 5"x"8 talking switch plate, that gives students an opportunity to make choices (shown on the left with the Big Red switch). They can be programmed to say a one word response or short phrase to enable nonverbal students a way to indicate basic needs, desires, and/or participate in a group communication activity. The Talking Switch Plate and SpeakEasyVoice Output Communication Aid, holds 12 messages for a total of four minutes, 20 seconds of recording time, and weighs only 1 pound. 15 Talker , 5 Talker (portable model), the Hawk, andCheap Talk , are all examples of low cost communication devices that can hold 4-8 simple phrases and use picture symbols on the buttons for easy recognition. More expensive systems like the Dynavox and Dynavox (portable model), are quite advanced and can be programmed to speak multiple sentences with high quality voice output.
The Alpha Smart , a portable word processor, is used quite extensively through out the system. This is a cost effective alternative to expensive laptops and desk top PC's. It can hold up to 64 pages of text and then plug into a PC or Mac to down load and print out files. Also on display was the IntelliKeys , a membrane sensitive keyboard, that provides physical, visual, and cognitive access for individuals with a wide range of disabilities, who have difficulty using a traditional keyboard. 8 overlays come with the device but additional overlays can be made with Overlay Maker, the companion software. An alternative mouse, the EasyBall , (for use by young children ages 2-6), and a touch screen, for placement directly over the monitor, illustrated different ways to access information without using a regular mouse or track pad. In addition, low tech options such as large stick on keyboard labels , special grip pens, page turners/page fluffers, and document holders were shown.
The visit provided valuable hands-on experience with a variety of low-high tech devices. The staff members were friendly and eager to share their expertise. The knowledge obtained will be shared with my colleagues in DoDDS.