Category Archives: Access all Areas

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.


Filed under Access all Areas

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!

another award

Today’s school assembly saw Mac the recipient of his latest Merit Award.

The assembly was in our new hall and his teacher was handing out the awards for the junior school.  It was a great day for Mac.

Mac’s mate Jack wheeled him up the new ramp onto the stage to receive his award for “Excellent Computer and Maths work”.

His teacher actually took some time to explain to the whole school how Mac is in her class and how well he has been doing with his maths.

She added “Mac has also been doing some excellent work with his spelling” and went on explaining how Mac uses his feet to type in morse code on his computer.  She also told the entire audience about this week’s big spelling test and gave an example of one of the later words in the test he has spelled correctly… C-A-T-A-L-O-G-U-E (and how impressed she was).

Mac is most of the way through the South Australian Spelling Test which has been broken down over a number of days due to fatigue on his part.  I think in that test you keep going until you get 10 in a row incorrect…  amazingly he is still going and is up to word 50+.  He has missed a few words like efficient (Mac went with a “shent” ending) and furniture (a simple “tr” ending thwarted him on that one) but seemed to know about the g-u-e ending on catalogue… go figure).

It was wonderful for Mac to get that kind of public acknowledgment of his hard work.  It was completely natural, wasn’t contrived – it was wonderful to watch.

Well done Macco – not bad spelling for a seven year old.



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

a great article…

We have always maintained Mac’s greatest disability is the red tape and bureaucratic interference imposed on him as he strives for an “ordinary life”.

Guess we are not alone… this article from the Melbourne Age today, 11 October 2010.


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

my pet’s adventure

Mac’s class had a ‘writing assessment task’ on Friday.

The four key components of the task…
Series of Events

Mac used Morse Code and Yes/No switches with R (his Aide).

He didn’t have enough time to complete the task but he may finish it off in the future.

I hope so, I am dying to find out how it ends…


My dog’s name is Tirina.  She is a medium sized dog.  Tirina is black, brown and white and she is desexed.  Tirina is a good dog and likes playing.

Tirina got stolen by robbers.

Mac let R know the dog was ‘imaginary’ and he doesn’t actually own a dog.

It is nice to see him “making things up” as he has trouble with that creative writing aspect.  We have been talking to him about how it is OK to write silly stories, crazy plots etc.  Maybe, just maybe, he has been listening.

So I guess he managed to cover off Orientation and Complication portions of the task…

Stay tuned for the next installment of “My Pet’s Adventure”.


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

Shumann the Shoeman

This year saw Shumann the Shoeman by John and Stella Danalis as our book in focus for Book Week 2010.

Today was a fun day with both the ‘live show’ of Shumann and celebrations in the form of “Crazy Shoe Day” (a kind of mufti for your feet day).  A ‘grand’ shoe parade started the day off and was lots of fun.

Mac and I were torn as to what he should do… crazy shoes potentially interfere with his communication (being a foot switcher) and short of buying something – he really didn’t own anything super ‘crazy’ that happened to be the right size.

So we decided to go with “Crazy Shoe Wheels”

Mac was happy, the kids were impressed.  His wheels were reminiscent of a caterpillar wearing shoes (with eight pairs on there he wasn’t too far off the mark).

I still haven’t managed to read Shumann the Shoeman so can’t offer you a review.

Who knows, Mac might decide to borrow it from the library one week so we can both share in the story.


Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, first grade here I come, The 'mod' squad

how does he do it…

A long time follower of this blog, Adelaide, recently asked how Mac currently checks/proofreads/edits during dictation in class?

Currently he still uses the MORSEspell Excel spreadsheet program I made for him.

This relies on him completing the first letter, then his Aide hitts the [TAB] key to allow him to move on to the next letter.

Mac tends to have a fairly obvious facial expression as well as a slight dropping back of his head to indicate he is finished a letter so his Communication Partner knows to hit the [TAB] and move on.  He also has a fast kick he tends to do when he wants to start over on a letter.

It is far from ideal – it relies heavily on him having a Comm. Partner who is familiar with working with him and able to read his non-verbal cues.  He finds it pretty frustrating working with people who aren’t as ‘tuned in’.

The TANDEMmaster will start to remove some of the ‘guesswork’.

We will need to work out which text to speech software to use with basic word processing packages so he can listen back to what he types and from there he should be able to start learning some of the editing/proofreading (proof-listening?) skills he will need.

We have talked about whether a third switch to act as a “space” to show the end of the letter is viable – Mac has said a number of times that “NO” he doesn’t think he can do that.

The TANDEMmaster will literally act as a keyboard so Mac can eventually learn all the different punctuation options.

We intentially didn’t teach Mac his Morse Code numbers as I believe on the TANDEMmaster you can choose to be on NumLock and then have much shorter character sets for the numbers.  Normally in Morse Code each number is five (5) characters long so the NumLock option will make it much faster.

We have a review meeting with his teacher next week.  One of the things I need to make sure we do is allow Mac the option of changing  his answers.  We don’t do it very often as he does pretty well, for example he did some Maths the other day and got 19/20 as his score.  As time goes on he probably needs to be given the time and chance for reviewing his work.

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Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, Technology - things that help

Tandem Master is on its way…

NSW DET have funded the Tandem Master USB keyboard for Mac. It is ordered and soon will be in the classroom. Happy days Macco, happy days.

which in Morse code is:

-. … .– /  -.. . – /  …. .- …- . /  ..-. ..- -. -.. . -.. /  – …. . /  – .- -. -.. . — /  — .- … – . .-. /  ..- … -… /  -.- . -.– -… — .- .-. -.. /  ..-. — .-. /  — .- -.-. .-.-.- /  .. – /  .. … /  — .-. -.. . .-. . -.. /  .- -. -.. /  … — — -. /  .– .. .-.. .-.. /  -… . /  .. -. /  – …. . /  -.-. .-.. .- … … .-. — — — .-.-.- /  …. .- .–. .–. -.– /  -.. .- -.– … /  — .- -.-. -.-. — –..– /  …. .- .–. .–. -.– /  -.. .- -.– … .-.-.-

Comparing the above paragraphs makes me realise just how well Mac does with his morse code.  The first paragraph,  if we typed it, is only 138 characters (including spaces).  To type it in morse code Mac would have to enter 504 characters.

To date Mac hasn’t learnt punctuation or spaces – but with the TandemMaster soon to be in his life then I imagine these will be a priority as he moves on in his learning.

During class dictation over the last couple of weeks Mac has only been finishing some 30 seconds after the other children.

Not bad going all things considered.

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Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, Technology - things that help

i have a dream…

Well I have this dream for some years now.  It’s not that I haven’t done anything about it, it’s just that there is a limit to my skills and knowledge and an even more finite limit to my finances.

Some years ago I trawled the internet studying all the LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robotic Technology geniuses to see who I felt was the best in the world.

My intention… to see if by combining LEGO Robotic Technology with lightweight electric cars we could develop light weight, affordable and safe mobility devices which could not only ‘follow lines’ and ‘avoid obstacles’ they could localize themselves in known environments providing safe passage for users like Mac who have significant vision and mobility issues to contend with.

I tracked down Daniele Benedetelli, an Italian Automation Engineering Masters Graduate who is, not only a robotics legend, but also a musical genius… therein solving my personal shortcomings as I don’t believe Danny has a limit to his skills and knowledge.

He was enthusiastic about the project and despite neither of us having any money to ‘pursue it full time’ we have been collaborating (time permitting) ever since.

Here is an application Danny has submitted for our project to Campus Party Europe, hoping to gain the support needed for development.

It is nice to have a shared vision of lightweight, affordable, smart wheelchairs for EVERYONE with someone who doesn’t even come from the disability sector.

I abhor the idea all the therapists and medicos involved in the lives of our children believe ‘learned immobility’ is acceptable.  I resent all these organisations who receive money because OUR children have disabilities think it is OK to compromise their lives.

I will keep chasing this dream because one day this might mean at the very least:


  • Mac can move himself around/between classrooms – further reducing the need for ‘teachers aide/personal attendant’ support.
  • Mac can transport himself around the school either by following specific coloured lines, algorithmically mapped safe passage or ‘free wheeling’ with obstacle avoidance.
  • Mac can deliver message to the office, collect items required by the teacher or run errands just as the other students do.
  • Mac can go where he wants and be with who ever he choses during break time.


  • I can ‘call Mac for dinner’  and he can come (or not) of his own volition,
  • I can send Mac out to round up the chooks to put them to bed for the night, feed the dog or close the gate.
  • Mac can leave and enter any room in the house whenever he wants to.
  • Mac could decide to ‘pop’ up the hill to visit his Grandparents or his cousins… all by himself.
  • Mac would have independent mobility that is inexpensive and really “smart”.

It is certainly worth the challenge – for all kids, not just Mac.


Filed under Access all Areas, Technology - things that help, The 'mod' squad

when I grow up…

I finally got round to asking Mac if he knows what he wants to be when he grows up.   I’ve always told him jokingly that he will need to get himself a good job since all the ‘disability’ things he needs are so expensive.

It was a fun conversation, it went like this…

GINA: So, Macco, do you know what you want to be when you grow up?

MAC: yes

GINA: Do you think you could tell me somehow?

MAC: yes

GINA: Could you spell what you want to be using the Macaw?

MAC: yes

MAC: (using Macaw) d – a – d

GINA: Do  you want to be LIKE Dad?

MAC: yes

GINA: So, do you want to be a teacher/ lecturer like Dad?

MAC: yes

GINA: Do you want to be a teacher at school?

MAC: no

GINA: Do you want to be a teacher at University?

MAC: yes

GINA: Do you want to teach the same thing as Dad?

MAC: I don’t know

GINA: Do you want to teach Journalism like Dad?

MAC: yes

GINA: Or, do you want to teach Maths?

MAC: yes

GINA: Is there anything else you might like to teach?

MAC: no

GINA: So, you want to be either a Maths Lecturer or a Journalism Lecturer at University?

MAC: yes

They sound like pretty good choices to me.

We also talked about the other obvious option from the above conversation about Mac maybe wanting to ‘BE A Dad’.  He agreed he would like to be a Dad one day.  He has been very inspired by Tania at TandemMaster who is a Mum who happens to have quite significant CP, and who uses Morse Code for her communication and access.  I used some of Tania’s stories with Mac when I started talking to him about morse code – seems there was more for him to learn than I imagined.  Tania has been a great help to us offering advice as we move forward with the morse code option for Mac.

Here’s a news story just after Tania gave birth to her son Michael

And here’s the TandemMaster in action.  We have applied for a Tandem Master for Mac to use at school.  Hopefully it will get approved, in the grand scheme of disability equipment it is on the ‘cheap side’ at less than USD$500.

As many people have proven to me, not the least of them being Mac, anything’s possible.


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


OK, so it didn’t come as a written note, but it was a message passed on via the Teacher’s Aide from his ‘second break’ attendant.

These kids are way more conscientious than I would ever be – there’s a reason Mac should be with them and why they are with him.  There are so many learning opportunities for the children who take up the role of wheelchair attendant.

I must make sure to send in one of his bike pumps so that if need be the job can be taken care of right there and then.

I’d hate to get a real ‘road-worthiness infringement’ from the students.


Filed under Access all Areas

mumma… “it’s stupid”

We are finally getting some agreement from Mac to participate in Auditory Scanning.  He decided he “hated” it once he started morse code.

But, we have managed to convince him there is a place for it in his life.

We tend to use it more for book reviews, conversation and observation at the moment.

Mac’s library book last week was Two Left Feet by Stacey Apeitos

…the story of how Barclay McClay with his two left feet, and Sally O’Malley with her two right feet, dance together and finally swap shoes…

It is particularly relevant because Mac’s ‘left foot’ is always crossing over to the ‘right side’.

I teased him and told him I might start calling him Sally O’Malley if he keeps that left leg crossing over.

So I gave him the chance to tell me what he thought of being called ‘Sally’ via his Macaw Auditory Scanning Device.

Not surprisingly he determinedly chose the option
“it’s stupid”.

He also chose “I love it” for his book review – high praise indeed.   Historically, Mac is a pretty tough marker with his book reviews, rarely giving anything above ‘2 stars’.

It’s nice to know I have a very ‘typical’ child who thinks what their mother says is ‘stupid’… very reassuring.

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

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Macco!

A wheelchair drawn by reindeer in the hot, Australian summer… of course!

The exhibitionist child of ours shows just how proud he is as he arrives at school dressed for the Christmas festivities that day.  Apparently he LOVES having reindeer on his chair and he LOVES having lights on there too.

Mac is very proud to show off his Christmas wheelchair to friendsAnd how do you pull your look together…

the breakdown of items to “pimp my ride, Christmas style”

  • Two singing reindeer (hobby horse style)  bolted to the front of the chair.  When you press their antlers they sing and their nose flashes – I am sure the teachers were thrilled.
  • Coloured christmas lights for each wheel $2.99 per set.  These run on 2 x AA batteries and are easy to wrap around the wheel rims when you don’t need to self propel.
  • Santa Clause wheel covers made from one of those extra large gift bags purchased for $2 from one of the discount stores
  • Tinsel trim to ‘up the fancy’ on the wheel rims.
  • “model’s own Santa hat” 🙂
  • Oh, and there were some ‘elf style spats’ on his shoes made from the sleeves of an old green t-shirt and cut with jagged ends.

Then to be sure you completely disrupt the class for the entire day you take in your very large sound activated singing polar bear who channels Elvis with a bit of Tom Jones style dancing thrown in.  As it was an entire school “Doing Things Together Day” the bear was a huge hit with all the students as they rotated through his activity task area.

The chair will remain “pimped for Christmas” at Mac’s insistence.  He really is quite terrible, he just laps up the attention he gets everywhere he goes.


Filed under Access all Areas, The 'mod' squad, things that make me go "glll"