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Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson told us about her amazing work at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies here at UNC. Wow! There is so much we could contribute to this great work.

Their philosophy at the Center is “All individuals regardless of their ability or disability have the right to an opportunity to learn to read and write.”

She told us about about a couple of students she has worked with. The first was Whitely. He was 19 years old with severe hearing, vision, and movement problems. He had never been given the chance to learn to read. Using a simple device consisting of a PVC-pipe frame and colored cards as depicted below they convinced his teacher to work with him 5 minutes per day on reading. The student first selects a group of letters by looking at a card. Then he selects the individual letter by looking at the card with the matching background color. With two looks the student can select a letter.

A reading system based on direction and color

Karen says the teacher didn’t quite believe it would work but, to her credit, agreed to work with him 5 minutes per day for 3 weeks. Whitley was so eager for the activity that the time grew to 10 minutes per day. During the summer he had the opportunity to use the system twice per week. Now he knows over 60 sight words and can tell the first letter of any word you say. He, and the other kids at his school, enjoy learning to read.

I’m convinced we could write free software to help kids like Whitley read and write. The web-cam based eye/head tracker project would be a big step in the right direction.

Next she told us about Jake. I’m looking forward to meeting him soon. Jake is totally deaf and has very limited motion and he is a really smart guy. He uses two switches to communicate. The switches are literally those battery-powered closet lights you can buy, modified to use an external switch. One light has a green bulb and the other has a red bulb. Jake controls one with his leg and the other with his arm. An assistant points to a letter and he signals for them to go to the next one, or to select that one using the two lights. This is called two switch scanning.

Again, it seems to me that we could write a simple plug-in for Firefox to allow two-switch scanning using a mouse which has been modified to allow the switches to replace the mouse buttons. You can read about a commercial product here

Karen demonstrated the ALL-Link web site for helping kids learn to read. A Comp145 team plus Brad from our class will be doing a conversion of it to a more maintainable database-driven design. I include a screen shot from the site below.

A screenshot from the ALL-Link web site