Mark Coppin, a distinguished Apple educator who focuses on assistive technology, spoke Wednesday at MU on the uses of assistive technology to help children with disabilities learn and connect to the world around them.
Coppin said he uses special software loaded on Macs to give kids opportunities they would otherwise not have. At a summer camp every year in North Dakota, he teaches kids with cerebral palsy, autism and “fragile mental states” to take photographs, make slideshows in iMovie, and create songs in Garage Band.
Coppin uses a universal design for learning theory to guide him in educating his students. He defined this universal design as a curriculum with multiple ways of getting information to students, multiple ways for students to express that information and multiple ways of engaging the student with that curriculum. This ideology, he said, is what drives him to try and find ways to make creative expression by his students in any medium they wish possible. First, he needed a platform to accomplish this goal.
SwitchXS, an assistive software, allows a user to use a single contact point to control their computer. This may be in the form of a switch the user taps with a finger or a button on the headrest of a wheelchair the user must bump with their head. Through the use of this software, students can type, play and create music and do just about anything a fully-capable person can. Despite the simplicity, users who become proficient with the software use it as naturally as I can type on this keyboard.
“It allows everyone to take advantage of all software,” Coppin said.
And for those who cannot speak, there is software that reads text back to the user, regardless of whether it is from a Web site or if the user wrote a note in a word processor.
In some special cases, Coppin explained, users become so savvy that they are able to play online computer games. One video framed the story of a boy named Bryan who is an avid gamer and game reviewer, hobbies he is able to accomplish with only the use of a thumb.
Coppin outlined a plethora of great uses of this software, but the examples focused mainly on creative expression, leaving a significant chunk of material in the classroom out of a talk on “the future of assistive technology in the classroom.” In addition, the lecture seemed eerily like an Apple plug in vague disguise. A plug, no less, that failed to show attendants any software or teaching devices that reach too far, if at all, into the future. All the software besides SwitchXS, which is the door for these kids into a world of computing, was not standard Apple software.
Putting that aside, it was certainly encouraging to see Coppin’s efforts to engage a section of the population that could easily be given up on in terms of computing.