Closing the Gap Roundup

Last week, I had the privilege of once again attending the Closing the Gap Conference in Minnesota. This conference has a long tradition of bringing together thought leaders in the field of assistive technology from all sectors: education, rehabilitation, vocation and independent living. It is always great to see many of the people I follow  and learn from online at this conference. This year, I had the pleasure of doing a two-block session with the amazing Diana Petschauer of Assistive Technology for Education, as well as several sessions with my friend and fellow Apple Distinguished Educator Mark Coppin of the Anne Carlsen Center.  Diana and I did a two-block session, Apps Across the Curriculum, which was divided into two mini-sessions: one focusing on Chrome apps and extensions for supporting diverse learners, the other on the built-in accessibility features of iOS and iPad apps for providing access to the curriculum. The sessions with Mark ranged from one on the Apple Watch as a assistive technology, to one on the many third-party keyboards available for iOS. At that session we were joined by reps from AssistiveWare, TextHelp and Crick (a big thank you to all of them!)  who demoed each of their respective keyboards. I really had a nice time and learned a lot during these sessions. That is the biggest benefit from doing a collaborative session rather than one where you are the only presenter. You get to learn from some of the best in the industry.

I had limited time on the exhibit floor this year, but what follows is a quick rundown of what I found to be the most interesting products.

Hardware

The Hook+ from AbleNet is quickly becoming a favorite switch interface of mine. Not only is it small and lightweight, but setting it up couldn’t be easier. You just plug it in and using Apple’s auto switch configurator feature it can automatically configure the iOS device to use single switch auto scanning or dual switch step scanning based on how many switches are connected. Since it is MFi (Made for iPhone) compliant, there is no error message on the screen when you first plug it into the iOS device. A nice touch is that there is a battery pass through so that you can charge the iOS device while using the Hook+, so that you don’t run out of juice at a critical time. Up to four switches can be connected to the Hook+.

Closing the Gap was my first chance to see the new Kinetic for iPad product from Pretorian Technologies. According to Pretorian, the idea for this product is to “put the fun back in learning” using the principles of kinesthetic learning. All of the work in the Kinetic is done by a gyroscope that detects changing in orientation, taps and movement. I saw two different demos of Kinetic: in one, the Kinetic was inserted into a big cube which could play a different message on the iPad depending on the cube face that was facing up; in the other, the Kinetic was placed into a smaller soft toy which could act as a switch when tapped, dropped or kicked. I would encourage you to check out the videos on the Pretorian site to get a better idea of how the Kinetic works.

Apps

Crick demoed its latest app, Clicker Communicator. This AAC app seeks, according to John Crick, to make communication “personal, meaningful and accessible.” Personal refers to how the symbols can be customized, which can include using a new painting tool to change their appearance. The app ships with 24,000 SymbolStix symbols and 2,500 Crick symbols, with PCS and Widgit symbol sets available as in-app purchases. Meaningful refers to the availability of a number of free Learning Grids vocabulary sets designed to be used in specific classroom lessons. Finally, accessible refers to the inclusion of the SuperKeys access method with the app. This causes the symbols to act in much the same way the keys do in the SuperKeys third party keyboard for iOS. Symbols are grouped into clusters on the screen. When a cluster is selected, the symbols in that cluster come to foreground and are presented much larger. The larger hit area is meant to make the symbols easier to select for those who have motor difficulties. Clicker Communicator is available for $159.99 (with in-app purchases of $49.99 for each additional symbol package). It is part of the Volume Purchasing Program which allows for a 50% discount with purchases of 20 or more copies of the app.

AssistiveWare’s Pictello now supports importing from Tar Heel Reader books, which is welcome news to those (like me) who are big fans of both tools. There is no need to update the Pictello app. Instead, a Tar Heel Reader Story Converter tool is available on the AssistiveWare website with the steps needed to convert a Tar Heel book so that it can be opened in Pictello. Basically all you need is the Tar Heel Reader book’s URL, which you then enter into the converter tool to get a Pictello file emailed to you. Once you receive this file, you can open it in Pictello and do anything you can do with the app: add video, use any of the high quality voices for text to speech, continue the story by adding pages and more.

Speaking of AssistiveWare: the company did a number of sessions focused on the 4.1 version of the Proloquo2Go app, which now supports usuarios bilingues como yo (bilingual users like me). You can read all about it on the AssistiveWare site.

There were a couple of other interesting AAC apps I saw on the exhibit floor for the first time this year.  I would summarize Coughdrop as “Google apps for AAC.” The idea is that communication boards  can be synced across multiple devices so that if one device  breaks or runs out of battery, communication can be continued on a different device. The boards are actually stored offline on the device so that they can be used without a Wifi connection. Everything syncs up when a connection is available. Coughdrop is currently in beta and available as a free 2-month trial. After that it is available as a subscription of $3-10 per communicator (parents and therapists remain free).

Lectio is a new reading support app.  Using the camera on an iOS device, the app recognizes individual words on the scanned page and turns them into yellow highlights that can be tapped to hear each word read aloud. Lectio is available for $4.99 on the App Store.

Did you attend this year’s Closing the Gap Conference? Are there any products you were able to check out that I have left off this roundup? I look forward to seeing you at CTG next year.

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