This blog post was written by Ellis Straley, Senior Supportability Program Manager with Microsoft Support’s System Center and Security Group. Although her primary role at Microsoft is not directly related to accessibility, Ellis hopes that sharing her experiences will help others find ideas that they can use to improve their lives.
Every year when school rolls around, I make a list. I don’t make the typical list of school supplies and socks. I make a list the adaptations that need to be in place so my son can complete his school work. Adapting a mainstream school experience for a child who does not talk or write is a big task, but at its core it is simply helping my son live his life.
Last year Jake began working with an augmentative communication (AAC) device and it is filling the speaking gap well. He adopted it, named it Green and he found his voice in the device. All we needed this year for speaking was to find opportunities and to continue to push Jake to use Green. The device also opened doors to help with Jake’s writing. I just needed to show the teacher how easy it was to use the device as a computer keyboard through a USB port. His classroom had a computer and you would think I would be thrilled. But…last year every time I walked into Jake’s classroom and they were doing a writing assignment, my heart broke a little. While the other children were seated at their desks in groups collaborating, Jake had to sit off to the side at a computer away from his classmates to do his work.
Don’t get me wrong, Jake’s device plugged into a computer is a good solution and I know we are lucky to have this, but it should just be better. I want this to be better. Jake should not have to live his life off to the side.
Then it hit me and the solution was so simple. The Surface had a USB port. We could use Jake’s device with that and he could stay at his desk to do his work. Two days before school started I armed myself with a 4 minute video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLg2lLntCkg) and I went to discuss this new setup with the principal. I made my case as to how easy this was and how much support I would offer the teaching staff. Most importantly I made my case as to how this would help Jake in his life. Technology was going to be key for Jake’s success and the sooner he understood that, the better.
Jake’s school is wonderfully accepting, and the principal quickly agreed. This would be positive not only for Jake but also for the school. There was very little investment needed and it would make life easier for Jake’s teachers. They would no longer need to spend time adapting things for Jake. They could spend their time teaching.
So far it has been very positive. The setup is easy for teachers. Jake is able to be more completely included in his class and we have found other ways in school to use the Surface. He now uses a piano app when the other kids are singing “do-re-me.” The increased class participation is good, but more important than any of that is what Jake is learning about his life. He has come so far in his recovery over the last 6 years and maybe someday he will verbally speak, or maybe he won’t. That is not important. What is important is that Jake sees that he can do the same things as other kids. He might need to do it a bit differently, but he can do it.