Category Archives: Access all Areas

eggs on legs

The Easter Hat Parade takes on a different form at our school.  For K-2 they work on your stereotypical “Easter bonnets” for the Hat Parade.   The big kids (Grades 5-6) do Egg Diorama’s called “Egg-o-ramas” (usually with a specific theme) and are, literally, something to behold.

When you are in Grades 3 & 4 you produce “Eggs on Legs”.  Generally, poster sized egg characters in many different guises that you get to carry around the parade circuit.  This year there was a huge variety including Darth ‘Vad-egg’, Spongebob Square Egg, Princess Eggs, Bunny Eggs, Dinosaurs breaking out of their Eggs,  the Jimi Hendrix “Eggs-perience”, Storm Troop-eggs, Harry Pott-eggs and so many more.

So, what to do when you’re a ‘wheelie’ who can’t carry their own ‘egg on legs’?

Isn’t it obvious…

You turn your entire wheelchair into an “Egg on Legs”!

The kids were very excited to see those legs walking on his wheels.  His classmate “J” took on the role of ‘egg pusher’ in an instant.

As I packed the eggs away in the wardrobe I thought “at least we’re done for next year ;-) “… although we may just get the kids to help us ‘tart up’ the old eggy so he at least seems ‘current’ in 2013.

And while is certainly good fun making stuff like this (and not terribly difficult) it does allow for some incidental learning for the kids.  Today they got a little insight into animation, how to ‘pimp a wheelchair’, and how to easily create funny characters with carboard, bit of timber, a glue stick, paper and thick black texta.  The whole activity gives them a great chance to explore character modifications/tweaks and start to really take in the whole idea of a ‘play on words’.  It really is a fun activity.


Filed under Access all Areas, Inclusion... straight up!, The 'mod' squad

school photos

image found on


Tough times for a child who can sometimes take on the form of a pretzel.

Depending on the time/place/moment/noise/temperature/season… Mac can be tough to get a decent shot of.

After an epic fail in Year 1, where I was meant to be helping, and subsequently Mac’s individual photo was atrocious, I have been banned from assisting by Mac’s dad.

So Shawn has had the task, and has done a great job, for years Kindy and Grade 2.  As a hardened journo from way back, he isn’t shy asking for a ‘re-take or do-over’.

This year he wasn’t available so Mac’s aide, Tim, took charge and assured me he was up to the job and was going to make sure it’s a good one ( although I don’t think he realised how much easier said than done this actually is ;-) )

I do think it will work out ok – Tim’s nothing if not determined.  On collecting Mac at the end of the day Tim advised, “we didn’t get him smiling, but he did look ‘a bit posh’ ”… hmm, intriguing… can’t wait to see it now.

Tim took the initiative for Mac to have ‘two sittings’ for individual photo at different times of the day and said the photographers “were extremely accommodating”.  I love that Tim took the job so seriously – he and Mac appeared to have a good time, even if Mac wasn’t prepared to smile whenever a camera was anywhere near him.   But Tim being a bit pushy  helps the photographers know they can ask for a redo themselves and not feel like they are embarrassing anyone, in fact it would be welcomed.  It also sends a message that it’s ok to set a higher standard for all kids photos, particularly those who aren’t always as easy to photograph.

In this era of digital photography there’s no real extra cost to taking those few extra shots here and there.

I actually think there’s almost a social role for photographers to ‘step up’ and ensure they are presenting those most at risk of being devalued, in valued roles through respectful and thoughful use of their art.

Still, glad they are done for another year but only ‘half glad’ that kid in the pic at the top of the post isn’t mine…

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the ‘season proper’

Football season is here.  In Australia you are spoilt for choice with the amount of sport and number of ‘footy codes’ to choose from.

In our family it’s Australian rules football and the AFL (Australian Football League).

Mac has consistently maintained he is a Sydney Swans supporter (which is my team :-) ) yet his dad is a very loyal Carlton Blues supporter.  I have let Mac know he doesn’t have to ‘truly’ commit to a team until he turns 10 ;-) but he has been solid on the Swans for a good few years now.

Mac: championing the red & white
SWANS v GWC with 38,230 of our closest friends

We were reasonably organised this year, even made it to the opening game of the season in Sydney last Saturday.  An historic moment being the first game ever for the new Great Western Sydney Giants (GWS).  I’m not sure he doesn’t love the pre-game frivolity and post-game celebrations a little more than the actual game… that’s probably not that unusual for an 8yo – particularly one who can’t really see what’s happening on the field courtesy of his cortical vision impairment.

While Mac has had a lovely time over the years snuggling with his Dad, usually in front of the fire, for the couple of hours it takes for an AFL  game to take place he hasn’t really been that engaged.   He’s been to a couple of live games in the early days but they seemed to ‘freak him out’ a little with the crowd roar and the whole ‘lack of vision’ thing.

This year Mac has joined his ‘first ever’ footy tipping competition with his Dad and some other Dads’n lads.  Great practice for AAC (either with auditory or visual scanning) and we have found some time for him to select his tips at school.  This has a couple of benefits… it helps the other kids see him doing the same stuff (or cooler stuff) than them and it saves me one job at home.  It does help that his Learning Support person this year is an AFL supporter (although there’s no explaining him being a Richmond supporter).

At the moment we have each of the rounds set up on the computer for visual scanning, but might (time permitting), load them into a Dynavox share page for easy updating each year.

I am looking forward to seeing how Mac fares in his first ever tipping comp… ‘carn the Swannies!

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classroom friendly wireless keyboard/mouse


The Lenovo Mini Wireless Keyboard has a built in trackball mouse.   It comes with a USB dongle and works wirelessly from a distance of up to ten meters, it is compatible with Windows 7, XP and Vista (does anyone still use Vista?)

Mac’s aide this year is a Gen “Y”er and awesome when it comes to thumb typing.  This little keyboard/mouse is fantastic for maneuvering around the screen without having to be in touching distance of the computer or communication device.  We primarily use this with Mac’s Dynavox V (open device) and do have lots of macros set up in toolbars so much of the everyday stuff is just a click of an icon..

These little keyboards would also work really well for group time when you have the entire class sitting around the whiteboard.  Just because most kids can clamber up and use the interactive whiteboard doesn’t always mean the need to.

I am sure you can waste a lot of time waiting for kids to stand up, step over other kids, do their stuff and sit back down again.  Some days it might be easier and novel to hand the wireless keyboard around the group.  It’s a new level of dexterity required, it’s less disruptive on those days where you just need to keep things calm and it’s great for kids in class who may not have the physical ability to get up and access the whiteboard – or might just find standing up in front of everyone a bit too much pressure.

We got ours off eBay and so far it has got a five star rating from both Mac’s aide and myself.

(We did try a bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo but found it wasn’t reliable enough with its pairing on the Dynavox.  Not sure if that was a Dynavox issue or that Keyboard’s issue.)


March 12, 2012 · 1:18 pm

“Disabled pupils” unable to get to school…

In the news…


The fact this occurred is a disgrace… but I can’t help wondering if the real problem truly is the ‘bungling by the Govt’ or our society’s insistence on bussing kids with disabilities en masse out of their “natural habitat” in a segregated fashion and in most instances to a segregated setting.

Imagine if kids just went to school with their siblings, with their neighbours… if they caught the same (accessible) bus as all the other kids without disabilities. This has affected those kids with disabilities because they have been allowed to be separated away from the rest of us. *sigh*

Oh… for the record… I have yet to read or see a news broadcast item on this topic where ‘people first’ language has been used *blech*.   I wonder if they want me to send them Shawn’s 65,000 words on how they could represent people with disabilities better?


Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, Inclusion... straight up!

kobo, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

I have been going back and forth on what eReader and/or software to consider for Mac or whether to bother.

Since we have been experimenting with the magnifying screen reader at school it appears that Mac may actually be reading more than we thought.  And, considering we are always going to be lugging around technology, it seems silly to carry books around too.  Mac will never be able to hold a book and, despite decades of people trying, it seems no one has ever perfected a portable, affordable, mechanical book holder and page turner.

I stumbled upon Kobo which I guess started as an alternative to Kindle.  Like most things we aren’t anyone’s “target market” – I have learnt to accept Mac’s needs/requirements are far more “bespoke”… but I have to admit to being really happy with what Kobo is offering us so far.


Image courtesy of:


We HAVE NOT worried about buying an eReader.  We use the school iPad, our Mac mini (plugged into the large loungeroom TV) and Mac’s Dynavox vMax as his locations to store his “library”.

So how do I love thee?

I love that Mac can auditory scan into the Kobo Desktop App from his Dynavox and then his two switches are allocated to automatically take over the task of turning the pages forward and back.  In time, who knows, he may be responsible for reading his own ‘full book’.

I love that I can also sync his personal Kobo library to his iPad at school which will allow his peers to choose from his bookshelf, not just the class books, if they want to read to him.

I love that it puts a bookmark on the page you are up to and then syncs this with your other locations when you open them.

I love that it has a dictionary option so if you press/click on a word while reading you can look it up in the dictionary right there on the screen.  We’ve only used this feature on the iPad – not sure if it is available on desktop versions.

I love that you can add notes in the same way which will be particularly useful in years to come I imagine.

I love that you can change the screen colour and font size to suit the user.

I love that the graphics look like real bookshelves – attractive, colourful, fun and motivating.  I love too that you can build your own shelf groupings for better management of your books.

This is Mac’s bookshelf so far…

So… any negatives?

Sure – nothing is perfect.

I would love to be able to buy a number of books at once – this may happen as they keep improving their site, currently there is no ‘shopping cart’ option but they do now have Paypal.

I don’t believe you can access the bookstore via your iDevices and the Kobo app – I thought you used to be able to so this may be a recent change (I’m thinking someone may have upset the “Apple” cart).

I would love to be able to have some sort of screen reader access for those with a vision impairment like Mac.  I haven’t tested this fully yet, but don’t believe it can happen – for now we use Audible for our audio books and Kobo for our eBooks.  Audio books are far nicer to listen to than a screen reader but every now and then a screen reader might be useful if Mac got too fatigued to read and it would be good practice to get used to screen reader technology and voices.

I would love to have the Kobo desktop version (PC & Mac) bookshelf switch accessible so Mac could scan through his bookshelf, select a book and then read and turn pages with the same switches he currently uses for auditory scanning on the Dynavox.  Of course, it would be great to have the iDevices switch accessible with R J Coopers switch plug - this would require a little bit of ‘app updating’ from Kobo, but hey, you never know…

But for now, we are pretty happy with our Kobo experience.

What eBook and eReader sites are you using?

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Filed under Access all Areas, Technology - things that help, things that make me go "glll"


At the Independent Living equipment expo Mac and I attended we were very keen to catch up with the latest developments from the guys at Dynamic Controls from NZ.

I have been following their stuff for a while… Liz (Poppy’s mum) brought it to our attention back in 2009.

Mac and I had registered for a mini-seminar with them and, as they were just near the entrance of the expo, had the chance to catch up with them prior to the seminar.

WOW…  I am so impressed and excited by their ‘soon to be released’ iPortal.

They currently have an interface with the iPhone/iPad for your powerchair to assist with real-time management of your chair


with the iPortal upgrade

you can use your drive method (be it joystick, switch array etc) to control you iPhone, iPad. 

Watching it in action they had the phone in Voice Over mode and were simply using the joystick on the powerchair to move left and right (scan) through the apps then had a select movement (not sure if it was forwards or backwards) to select and open the app.

Mark (from Dynamic Controls) was quite interested to hear Mac is using his two foot switches for Morse Code as they have also added in Morse Code entry as an alternative to linear scanning through the iPhone’s QWERTY keyboard.  In their demo it was a left tap of the joystick for ‘dot’ and a right for ‘dash’ and it spoke each letter aloud as they typed them.

Of course, Mac managed to get himself an honourable mention in the seminar as a “morse coder” and potential user.  I think the guys were actually pretty chuffed their ‘gut feeling’ and decision to incorporate Morse as an access option was justified.

Check out the video… the really interesting stuff from an iDevice access perspective kicks in around the 1:30 min mark.

So now, I just need to convince them of the need for a bluetooth interface to ‘emulate’ a powerchair so Mac can access his iDevices with a switch array and any other user can do so not only from their powerchair but from any location (lounge/bed/car) they choose.

I admit to having a bit of a soft spot for New Zealand neighbours… they do tend to impress me constantly with their innovation and ability to think outside the square.

I am particularly in love with another NZ invention the YikeBike (and would love to see a wheelchair version… that would be sweet).


Filed under Access all Areas, Technology - things that help, the big picture

swimming carnival

This year was Mac’s first swimming carnival now he is in Second Class (Year 2).  I was greeted at assembly on the first day back by our newly appointed Sports Teacher asking can she catch up with me to work out how Mac could be included in the carnival.

Between us, our ‘cyber friends’ and ‘fleshy friends’ we all had some good ideas and plans for future carnivals but this year we decided that since there are still plenty of kids who don’t swim Mac could just go in to the pool for the free swim.  The Sports Teacher offered to take him in but I figured his Dad could swing a day off work for that job.  Mac enjoyed being in the water for his three swims and thankfully our heat wave had passed so it was a much more pleasant day with not too many sunburnt bodies.

As a competitive swimmer in my younger days and a swimming teacher since I was about 13yo I know I have high expectations of how well children should be able to swim.

It makes me laugh (and… yes, does my head in a little) that I can’t even get Mac to hold his breath under water.  I spend an awful lot of time explaining to him that his evolutionary loss of gills make his desire to continue breathing underwater a poor choice.

However, I do have to admit to being a little surprised at how many children are not very strong swimmers.  There is still the group who are great swimmers, strong, fast and impressive.  Then their is the next group who seemed to have ‘nice looking strokes’ but I would consider a large proportion wouldn’t have the stamina to ‘save themselves’ if they got into trouble.

Remarkably, there is also another group… those who think they can swim, who have parents who must also think they can swim (signing the permission slip indicating such) only to find when they dive in, actually… they can’t.   Thankfully the schools are ready for these few ‘sinkings’ so there is always someone on hand for each lane.

All in all it was a fun (and funny) day.

But how much fun would be to include some powered rides like this…  I am working on using this as motivation for Mac to learn how to hold his breath, when needed, in the water.

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Would you, could you, lend a hand?

I am not one to ask for help very often – learning how has been on my to-do list for sometime.

But, this is one thing I don’t want to ‘hog’ – this is something I am sure some of you might want to share in, help be part of the solution, part of the excitement, part of the fun.

Long time readers know of my plans, desires, dreams for a SMART wheelchair (robotic) that is affordable, light weight and, well, smart.

You can read about it here in my “I have a dream…” post.

They will also remember that the brilliant mind of Daniele Benedettelli is on the job, over in Italy.

Danny is starting to ‘ramp’ things up a little and so has put the call out for some donations to kick start the project.

The initial equipment purchase is USD$400 and Paypal donation option is available on the project site.


If anyone can spare a penny, a pound, a dime or a dollar it would be fantastic to get this project “rolling” (I could have said “off the ground” but  since no one is offering me a ‘hovercraft wheelchair’… rolling it is).

If anyone has any contacts or ideas for getting some ‘bigger’ sponsorship behind this project then please, feel free to contact Danny via his site or myself directly.





While we know Mac would benefit from this type of chair it is pretty obvious he isn’t the only one.  In fact, a good friend who is a wonderful teacher in our local area said she would love something like this. She doesn’t have a physical disability but she is blind, and there are times she would like to be able to get from A to B on her own, while having a conversation (or daydream) and not having to put all her attention into concentrating on safe passage with her cane.

Thanks for listening


Filed under Access all Areas, The 'mod' squad, the big picture

best ever headphones

For an auditory scanner, comfy headphones/earbuds are a necessity.  So, after a year or so of searching I have finally  found some headphones for Mac that we LOVE.

Headphones or earbuds have always been a bit of a problem for Mac.  Earbuds tended to fall out, headphones never fit properly, the hook on variety hurt his ears and the headband variety often ended up covering his eyes and ears at the same time.

Airdrives earphones sit outside the ear.  They are discreet, they allow you to hear everything else going on around you and they don’t pose a risk to your ear if the sound is turned up too high – something Mac can’t do anything about if the volume is accidently turned up.


Here’s what ours look like…

Now for the slightly disappointing news.

I haven’t been able to find them in Australia.  I purchased ours from Amazon in the USA and had  a friend to send them to me for Mac in time for Christmas.   A bit of fiddling around but SOOO worth it.

We have added an extension lead to Mac’s airdrives so he can be a fair way away from his device.  It is just a Smiggle headphone hub we had ‘kicking around’ the house – but works a treat.  The Smiggle hub has two audio outlets so he could have his communication partner listening in to his auditory cues with their own headphones to check they are all working if needed.


Now, I just need to have some sort of transmitter to make them wireless to his communication devices…  I know, I know… I am never satisfied.


Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, Inclusion... straight up!, Technology - things that help, things that make me go "glll"

an ‘app’ a day 2

Another AAC app made its way into the iTunes store late December last year for iPods and iPads.

The TouchChat suite looks like it has lots to offer with the ‘hook’ most likely to be the opportunity to add Word Power.  WordPower for TouchChat is a special version of this popular word-based vocabulary, designed specifically for the small iPod screen.  It is a word-based page set developed by Nancy L. Inman, M.A.T., CCC-SLP that is used to create sentences “on the fly.”

At this stage TouchChat isn’t switch accessible.

I look forward to seeing some reviews from users on this one as I know WordPower has a good reputation out there when used on other ‘high end’ devices.

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an ‘app’ a day

Arriving in my inbox this evening was news of Predictable a switch access alternative & augmentative communication aid available in the iTunes app store for iPad and iPhone users.

The email claims Predictable offers:

  • Voice output – including 2 Australian voices
  • Switch access
  • Sophisticated predictive text engine
  • Choice of keyboard
  • Phrase bank
  • Back ups
  • Email and facebook links

I haven’t looked into it in any depth but on the surface it appears a very interesting ‘app with potential’.  I particularly like the idea that some editing can be done in Excel restored to the device.

I have requested information about their ‘bluetooth switch interface’ and will share as soon as they get back to me.

Switch Access for the iDevices are starting to make them even more attractive than they were initially but at AUD$199 I will have to save my pennies for a little longer before I am able to test drive it.


Predictable uses the RJ Cooper Switch Interface.

Click the Info button to check it out.


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the fiance

So they are not officially engaged to be married – but there was a declaration some years ago by Miss B of her intention to marry Mac.  Friends since pre-school they still have a bond that remains as strong as ever.

Miss B’s Christmas gift to Mac was this book – we love it.


AUTHOR:  Tango Books
ILLUSTRATOR:   Mark Chambers


A boy in a wheelchair and his best friend pretend they’re pirates on a ship, mountain climbers, astronauts, explorers and Olympic sprinters.  But even when they’re not playing make-believe, they have a great time together doing everyday things – swimming and basketball – because they’re best friends.


Filed under Access all Areas, friends, things that make me go "glll"

the big award, the bigger surprise

Presentation Night was here.

Leading up to the end of term I had considered Mac might, in light of his performances this year, garner an award.

However, as the night drew nearer there were no questions raised as to how Mac might make it up on stage, where he would sit etc – so I pretty much ruled it out.

Over dinner, before presentation night, we discussed with Mac the likelihood he wouldn’t be getting an award.  We explained how so few awards are actually given out it means the majority of students don’t get them and how, some people never, ever receive an award despite working hard their whole life.

On arrival at our local ‘Entertainment Centre’ (our venue for the evening) we were greeted by Mac’s teacher, Mrs R, who pointed me in the direction of the rest of the class.

Unaware of what was happening behind me Mac and I trundled off to get him seated.

Meanwhile, Mrs R had pulled Shawn aside and said

“right, Mac is getting an award – can you check the best access route onto the stage for me… oh, and don’t tell Gina as it is a surprise”.

Needless to say I was enormously proud of our little boy for receiving his first ever ‘big’ award for “Maths and Communication” – proud that he truly earned this award and proud, once again, that his teacher took the extra effort to explain to the entire audience how Mac does his work to ensure this was not seen as a ‘sympathy’ award.



I was also absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to get the same “surprise” other parents get to enjoy.

I have (occasionally) reflected privately on the fact that as Mac’s mum I don’t really get to experience surprises with the ‘little things’ like other parents do.  There always seems to be planning and involvement in most areas in order to simply make things appear to happen spontaneously.

To have Mac’s teacher go to the effort of ensuring this was a surprise was almost overwhelming – I felt, and still feel, so very privileged at the amazing gift she gave me.

I know as parents of children with disabilities we often talk about the concept of “getting it”.

Mrs R absolutely “gets it”.

We have had a great 12 months – it certainly feels like this was “our year”.


Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, Inclusion... straight up!, Technology - things that help

can Stephen Hawking spell ‘catalogue’?

School assembly had finished, I was waiting for the bell to ring – but had that funny feeling I was being watched.

I saw her out of the corner of my eye – she seemed to be waiting.  “Does she want me” I wondered.  I didn’t recognise her but made eye contact all the same… just in case.

She quietly approached, her face looking very serious and spoke to me, almost whispering…  “Hello, I’m Caitlyn M.  My sister Maddy went to pre-school with Mac – I saw Mac graduate pre-school”.

It worked out the relationship and who this young girl was.  “Oh yes, I knew Maddy” I told her, “she’s a year younger, right?” Cailtyn nodded.

“Well, I think that Mac might grow up to be a scientist.” she added (still very sincere)

“Because, well, there’s a very smart man who is in a wheelchair and uses a computer and he is a very, very good scientist.  I think Mac might be going to be like him because ‘catalogue’ is a very, very, very hard word to spell.

“You might be right” I concurred “who knows what the future holds”.

Look out Stephen… Caitlin thinks you might have a rival in the making – better hone your spelling bee skills.



Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, Inclusion... straight up!