The Importance of Special Needs Networking
December 27, 2011

There’s a saying that says, “If you’re not networking, soon you’ll be not working.” Today, I’d like to examine this from the perspective of a parent of a child with special needs. One of the major difficulties facing these parents in the past was finding a support group where ideas, success stories, and tips could be shared with others in similar situations.

Thankfully, that is changing, and there’s one less thing that parents of special needs children have to worry about.

Look for Support Online

With internet availability becoming more widespread and the growth of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, connecting with others and sharing information is becoming easier and easier. While every disability is different and each child is unique, digital collaboration through online communities has made finding a prescription for success much easier for everyone.

Widespread Accessibility

Additionally, the technology that is now accessible (although we realize not for everyone – which is exactly why we’re petitioning our lawmakers to cover the iPad under Medicaid) has progressed by leaps and bounds. The iPod and the iPad in particular can do things that no one thought possible even ten years ago.  The Conover Company currently has 90 apps in the iTunes App Store, with our two newest (the Functional Communication System and Functional Planning System) submitted just a couple of weeks ago.

Supporting the Cause

We see the enormous benefit in having these online support systems, which is exactly why The Conover Company is proud to support many contributors to these online communities, like Apps for Children with Special Needs (A4CWSN). A4CWSN is a site that posts video app reviews so that parents and educators can make informed decisions before spending their hard-earned money. They also recently completed a tour in which they handed out 50 iPads to 50 children in 50 states, and are having an “app party” on their Facebook page where they give out promo codes starting tonight at 7 pm EST.

It’s not easy having a child with special needs, but thanks to today’s technology, finding the answers you need (and applying them) can be.

Thoughts on Android
December 20, 2011

I just returned home from the M-Enabling Summit, a global conference that focused on accessibility for aged populations and persons with disabilities. There was a lot of focus on apps, and in particular Android apps. People often ask The Conover Company if we have considered developing Android apps, and the short answer is yes. However, there are several significant challenges with developing for Android:

  1. There are currently 6 different versions of the Android operating system, and they all do things differently. Therefore, to develop an app for Android, you have to develop it 6 times to make sure everyone can access your application.
  2. In addition to developing for all these different operating systems, there are support costs associated with each.
  3. In our major market (education), most schools have iPads, not Android tablets.

Android and Dedicated Devices

The reason a lot of people who market to persons with disabilities favor Android is the fact that Android allows you more flexibility in distribution than Apple does. With Apple, you have to deliver your application through the iTunes App Store.  Apple also restricts what you can do with the operating system, while Android offers a more open developer environment.  This allows Android developers to market “dedicated” devices, which are covered under Medicare and Medicaid as AAC devices (we are working to change this, and so far Medicare and Medicaid will cover the iPad in a couple states like Minnesota and New Hampshire). These dedicated devices are usually around $8,000 because thatʼs what insurance will cover, and are sometimes as basic as an inexpensive Android tablet with a locked application.

I personally believe in the power of the iPad as an AAC tool, and believe itʼs only a matter of time until people see the iPad’s versatility as a positive and not a negative (see my previous post on this very topic). The fact that a device can be fun to use doesn’t diminish it’s value as an assistive technology tool.

Inherent Functionality of the iPad

The truth is, the iPad has so many amazing assistive technology features that nothing on Android even comes close (at this point). At the M-Enabling Summit, I saw a high-level marketing representative from Apple demonstrate their AssistiveTouch technology, which is available in the free iOS5 upgrade (Click here for more information on Apple’s accessibility features). AssistiveTouch is an amazing technology that allows the user to execute any of the advanced touch gestures recognized by the iPad (such as multi-touch, pinch, shake, etc.) with a single touch. She used the example of someone being able to fully use an iPad with their nose, which is just not possible on Android. If you want to see AssistiveTouch in action, here is a YouTube video that demonstrates it pretty well.

Conover’s Quest for Accessibility

Android has gotten a lot of press lately for the Android App Store surpassing the 10 billion download mark, and thereʼs no doubt itʼs a powerful platform. In the future, Iʼm sure we will revisit this technology, but as of this writing, the accessibility features in Appleʼs iOS 5 make this decision a no-brainer for a company like ours, that is dedicated to providing accessible products to as many users as possible.

What do you think about the difference between the iOS and Android operating systems for assistive technology? Feel free to weigh in and let us know your thoughts!

Portions of this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

Thoughts on Dedicated Devices
December 13, 2011

I just got back from the M-Enabling Summit in Washington DC, a global conference that focused on accessibility for aged populations and persons with disabilities. There were over 300 attendees from from over 30 countries, including representatives from some rather large companies (Apple, Microsoft, Research in Motion, IBM, and HTC to name a few). It was very interesting to see whatʼs coming next in the area of accessible technology, but it also opened my eyes to the fact that weʼve got a long way to go in the quest for making assistive technology truly accessible.

Functional Skills for Success
December 6, 2011

The following is a guest post from Courtney, a Wisconsin educator who has worked with The Functional Skills System and believes in its value in the classroom.

I am so impressed with the Conover Company’s Functional Skills System. I had the opportunity to work with a young adolescent with his math skills and greeting others for a short while prior to his family’s move. When I started to work with him, he had a base understanding of identifying coins and knowing their worth by rote memory. However, through the Functional Skills System, his skills were sharpened and expanded. After only 3-4 times working with this young man, he was able to move from his prior knowledge of identifying coins to an instructional level in his understanding of money equivalency. I am confident that his skills would have moved to an independent level, given more time with the material. This skill is so important in daily life skills with store and bank transactions as well as possible employments skills.

Education or Entertainment?

Not only did this young man gain skills, but he was motivated. The exposure to technology motivated him. Through working on the iPad, he could interact by selecting different options and steps for his learning. Therefore, through the format of the technology, being on the iPad, he was learning and utilizing age appropriate technology that his peers use for entertainment, but he used as a tool for learning.

The format of the Functional Skills System not only uses technology, but other educational best practices, such as natural materials (example coins and dollars), the venue of the iPad itself, and the setting in which some of the skills are taught.

Putting Functional Skills into Practice

Another skill that this young man learned and applied in the natural setting was learning how to greet someone. Prior to learning this skill, this young man did not make eye contact consistently or even direct his head towards someone who was speaking to him. It was common that he would be looking around the room as someone would attempt to hold a conversation with him. However, after viewing the steps in how an individual greets another, including eye contact and practicing this skill after viewing the steps, he would direct his attention towards the individual speaking to him. There were times where he displayed eye contact independently and other times where he responded to a simple prompt such as, “Do you remember what you do with you eyes when talking to someone?” In such cases, the videos provided a common reference point to help aid in the application of the skill. Using the natural resources and setting helps individuals transfer skills more smoothly when the skill is applied.

-Courtney Harvancik, Wisconsin Teacher