Episode # 20

Making the Impossible Possible with Assistive Technologies

September 22, 2022

About This Episode

Assistive technologies can make the impossible possible for diverse learners. Michale Roush joins us to discuss some of these technologies and the opportunities they can give learners.



Michael Roush

Michael Roush specializes in educational technology, assistive technology, and Universal Design for Learning.  Michael presently works for Forward Edge, LLC, as an Instructional Design Coach for K-12’s in the southwest Ohio area, supporting blended learning, effective educational technology implementation, and a district makerspace.  Michael is a Google Certified Educator and Trainer, a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, and a 2018 TEDx Dayton speaker. Michael’s passion in education is helping every student learn to be able to define and achieve what the highest level of success means for them.


Hey, is this thing on? Are we recording? Can I get a tech person? Oh, for the love of ed tech.

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Kara: So today is an interesting podcast because not only do we have a new guest, but we also have a stand in co-host Matt Gerrick is joining me today in place of Caryn. So Hey Matt.

Michael: Hey, Kara..

Matt: Thanks. Nice to be here. Thanks for letting me be a relief pitcher here today.

Kara: Yes. Thanks for stepping in. So, and Matt is our newest educational consultant.

SOITA C E T. So yeah, and Michael is joining us, who is an instructional design coach with an emphasis on educational technology and assistive technology working for forward edge at Felicity local schools in Ohio. So, Hey, Michael, how are you?

Michael: Hi Kara. I’m doing great. Thanks. It’s great to be with you guys today.

Kara: So I , I have a question for you in regards to, cuz obviously you have this really long title that I had to write down so I could remember to say everything. But how did you get involved in education in the first place?

Michael: I think it’s a great story actually leads into it because when I started teaching, I took a pretty alternate pathway into teaching. My educational, you know, career in teaching started in in an at risk program. Oh, from many, many years ago, called jobs for Ohio’s graduates where I had a classroom that was.

You know, for, for where it was located, it was pretty varied. You know, I had some great students in there and to be quite honest, I had some students who the consensus probably was, they were likely not to finish high school. And my job , I mean, the, the, the main thrust of my job was to get them through high school, get them into college. Employed or, military service, something like that, so that they could be a success story after high school. So that was my, kind of my first foray into, into education. And it was a, it was a real, it was kind of a shock to me for me because I was. I was not a great student when I was in school.

And by that, I mean, I didn’t have to study. I didn’t, I mean, it all just kind of came too easy, I would say to me. And so I had to learn really, really fast, how to reach kids, that it didn’t come naturally to. And so these were the very, very early days of what people in Ohio will remember as ETech and I got to my classroom and we were going along doing stuff in the classroom.

And suddenly one day they brought this giant beast of a metal cart into my room and said, congratulations, you’re getting a computer.

Wow, this is wonderful. They’ll be back in a week to drill through, you know, 12 inches of brick. The

so so we, we got a computer and so it was like, okay, how, how can I use that to. Kind of help these, you know, these students that, that I have. And so, you know, I, I did that for, for several years and eventually. My, my geeky side kind of took over and I was like, oh, there’s this, there’s this thing called the internet now.

And you know, we’re people are, you know, just garden variety. People are able to make their own websites. That’s kind of cool. I wonder how we do that. And so it was, it was more just okay. Me going out and being sent to places to learn how to do this, to learn how to do that. And so, you know, as that process kind of went on, I, I got an opportunity to kind of jump over to the, to the ESC and work more directly with both the the it side and the educational technology side of things for, with the ESC.

And so that, you know, that continued to morph into, okay, how do we make this more useful? How do we make this more meaningful and to kind of bring it back to what you were talking about early with, you know, how. Kind of, I have to kind of explain my job title now. Back when I first started, you know, technology was sort of a here’s this cool new thing, teachers take it or leave it.

Yeah. A technology coordinator at a district was a supplemental. It was, it was like a track coach. Oh, it was, it was something that somebody did for a couple extra hours a day, a few times a week. Now a, a district doesn’t exist without somebody being committed to that work. Mm-hmm all the time. Likewise, you are intentionally not taking advantage of the best tools available.

If you walk in as a teacher to a classroom, deciding I’m just not gonna use any technology at all. It’s as ubiquitous in our kids’ lives as running water and electricity. And so it, it has to be part of their education for them to, to truly get an education now. So I, I, I like having to describe my, my job title that way, because I think it does a great job of.

Expressing the fact that, you know what there are so many pieces that are so tied together. You can’t cut them apart from each other and let any piece of that stand on its own. When I walk into a classroom, is it about how to use your, LMS more effectively sometimes? Is it about how to.

Design instruction more effectively sometimes. And sometimes that has a lot to do with the technology they’re using. And sometimes that has nothing to do with the technology that they’re using. And I’m okay with that because I want all that to be kind of part and parcel of the same thing. I do not wanna go back to the days when that stuff all existed separately in its own silos.

Silo. Yeah. Mm-hmm

Matt: when you, I’m curious, when you, in your roles that you’ve had previously in, especially the ESC where it sounds like I’m familiar with kind of a certain role where you are the technology person and having to differentiate between the instructional side. And I I’ve read this article, it’s a very old article, but terms the electronic janitor side to where.

You know, you’re I can’t print and things like that. How did you navigate that piece as you were working through that?

Michael: Oh yeah, I kind of had to keep a, you know, a spare dress shirt and tie and a spare. T-shirt and jeans , you know, in the closet cause sure enough, the day that I, you know, the day that I have to wear the suit to work is the day that I’m gonna be crawling through a ceiling.

Mm-hmm trying to replace a piece of cat fives to do that. So you know, how do you, how do you navigate that? Sometimes, you know, sometimes the situation just kind of dictates what you’re gonna do on that day. That’s always kind of a, been a, a big part of it when you’re dealing with anything on the, on the it side.

But I think my, my best way of navigating all that was, I always wanted to make sure, I always thought that the it side of things worked best when nobody noticed. , the term that you, that you mentioned of, you know, being that like the, the it custodian you know,

nobody notices what the custodian is doing until the custodian’s not doing it. That’s right. Mm-hmm nobody notices what the, what the, you know, the, the back room it guy is doing until it’s not working that’s right.

Then that last mile and that piece between us, like, okay you know, the computer’s been brought into my room now, what do I do with it? And for all the great things that that those early days of, of of, you know, of ETech accomplished, getting. Device to the classroom, that last air gap between the keyboard and the kid sure was the, you know, that last mile was the stretch and I don’t think that was the piece that anybody was really super prepared for because we hadn’t done it before Uhhuh . Yeah. And we really didn’t know how that would work best. That’s where the best part of my work is now is okay.

Teachers, you’ve got all this technology in your classroom, the kids have all this technology available. How can we best leverage this to help kids do stuff that they’ve never done before, and really get to work with addressing that question, that issue of why is school even important for me right now?

How is this preparing me for what’s going to come next? Which, you know, as much as we probably hate hearing it, it’s a valid question. Mm-hmm, , it’s a valid question from our students. It’s a valid question from their parents and guardians. It’s a valid question for the colleges and the employers that we’re going to be sending these kids to. How is this gonna make sure that each and every student we send outta here with a diploma in their hand that says, here you go world, this kid is ready for you.

Kara: Which do you have like certain strategies that you’re giving teachers to kind of take that approach?

Michael: Teachers do an important job and they know how important their job is. They don’t wanna look like they don’t know what they’re doing. If something doesn’t work right. And instructional time is so precious, they don’t wanna have to spend.

20 minutes trying to get something to work that, you know, you’re not sure in the end if its gonna work. it’s not because necessarily because of being frustrated with the technology, it’s the time constraint, you know, I’ve got these kids just for this small set of time this day and I’m not gonna see them again until tomorrow.

And so I’ve gotta make sure that I, that I have something that’s worthwhile. I’ve gotta make sure that I have something that’s. That’s worth them doing. I love asking teachers the questions, like what, what do you want your students to be able to do?

And then beyond that, what do you want your students to do that they don’t already believe is. Hm. Cuz when you start getting into that business of accomplishing the impossible, that’s when I find I have the best success, helping teachers reach the student who they say is just disconnected and disengaged.

It makes me think of the, the situation it wasn’t at this school. It was, it was at another school that a friend of mine works.

There was a kid who was just, who would work frantically on their Chromebook day after day after day and never turned anything in. And the, the teacher finally caught what the kid was. The, the kid was like managing their own Etsy store during class.

they’re getting zeros on all their sciences. Cause they’re not turning anything in, but they’re, they’re like making bank.

So it’s like. Yeah. How, how do we, how do we take those things that the kids are really tapped into? It’s like, Hey yeah, you know what? You can do some pretty amazing stuff and we can find ways to work that into what you’re already doing and what you’re being expected to do here at school.

Kara: Oh my gosh. Yeah, that’s hilarious. It reminds me a little bit of that kid that you had Matt that kept getting sent to the principal’s office. Oh. And then come to find out he could.

Matt: Yeah, I was, I was assistant principal at the time and he’d been, I don’t know, I didn’t have a pencil or something along those lines and I just have a seat and I was working on whatever I was working on.

And, and this is back in like 2010 or 2011. And so, and I can’t remember how this, but it was something like Mr. G I’m I’m running iOS on my Android phone. I’m like, And he, yeah. Firmware and all this kind of stuff. I’m like, how is this kid getting DS and Fs? Like, what are we doing here? If that kind of talent or that kind of imagination isn’t being

Michael: Fostered. whether we’ve understood it or not, that’s always been the promise of technology in the schools. It wasn’t to learn how to use the technology because let’s face it.

The technology that you’re using as a fifth or sixth grader is a museum piece. By the time you graduate. Mm-hmm , you know, it’s, it’s not about learning to use an individual tool. It’s not about learning to use an individual device. It’s about what this tool can help me do that I can’t do, or that I can’t do effectively without it mm-hmm I like

Matt: that.

And I, and I’ve said that too, the same kind of thing, Michael, where it’s like, it’s not the how to use, it’s the use of like, I can show you how to hammer a nail, but how do you make, how do you build a wall or how do you build something with it? And it’s a whole nother conversation.

Michael: You have to have both, but

Matt: mm-hmm , but that, that, I love that.

What you just.

Kara: Yeah. So with the technologies and reaching all of our learners, because that’s the key there, we know that there are varying levels and there are students that need. Adjustments in order to be able to use technology. There are students that need the technology in order to be able to communicate in general.

But where does your assistive technology piece of your job title come in? Or how did that kind of morph into what

Michael: it is? Yeah, that’s kind of the dichotomy of some of this is we’ve got, one set of common standards that we’re supposed to be working from and working towards, in a lot of cases we’ve got these one to one programs where , for expedience sake in the technology department, we’ve got one kind of device that we are saying we’re putting it in every kid’s hand.

And it’s like, okay, so. Is that same device, the best for each of those kids and some of their individual and unique needs. In many cases, maybe it works great. And in some cases, maybe not, maybe it needs something a little extra, maybe it needs something a little different. If I’ve got students who’ve got a visual acuity issue.

Mm-hmm and you know, that that screen is not real clear for them. If I’ve got a student who deals with a, a motor issue and typing is difficult for them using a track pad is, is difficult for them. Suddenly, I’ve gone from, taking a tool, a piece of technology that was supposed to make things easier for.

and that was supposed to make the impossible possible for them. And I’ve just made the impossible, difficult or more, you know, impossible for them in a different way. If I pick up my phone and I’m typing a, a text message, I start typing a word.

It it, what does it do? It suggests mm-hmm , you know, the next, the word that maybe I’m trying to, trying to type word prediction was an incredibly expensive and very specialized piece of software 20 years ago that, you know, a school would. Lots of money to have one computer that sat in a separate room that, you know, maybe one or two kids would go to when they needed it.

Now it’s this common piece of technology that everybody has in their hand it’s amazing how some of these innovations, some of these technologies that have been designed to help grant access to a certain individual or to a certain type of individual have found wider use in the population.

And we figured out, Hey, you know what we can actually make things better for a lot of people with this same.

, as more awareness has grown of things like ALS mm-hmm and like, Hey, you know what, we, we need a way for these people to.

Communicate use devices. Yeah. And so, you know what that subtly, those, those kind of technologies become a little broader use and if you’re a windows OS user, you can go out right now. And I believe it was Boston university in conjunction with w G B H the public media giant in the Boston area.

Another little shout out for the public PBS, develop a software tool called camera mouse that you can download for free and you can install it on windows right now.

Is it quick mm-hmm is it easy? Mm-hmm no, but if you are an individual with, you know, ALS or a similar condition that prevents you from using a, a standard keyboard in mouse Like most people who do this is the difference for you between I can use this technology and I cannot use this technology.

And so it’s those assistive pieces , that really open up and, and make the technology available to that broader range of people instead of the narrower focus and a, a required set of skills that you have to bring to the technology in order to use it.

Kara: Now, are there ways to implement features like that in schools for low cost.

Michael: In many cases, absolutely. I’ll give you a great example, from some of my earlier days at the ESC, we had schools that would pay thousands of dollars for the capability of taking a printed sheet of paper, scanning it, electronic text that could be spoken out loud.

Okay. that was technology that I, I would say less than 20 years ago, schools were paying thousands of dollars to get that capability. Mm-hmm . Now you can do that. Very thing better with the camera on your phone and Google drive. With Google drives built in OCR, optical character recogni. And the camera on your phone, you can do better than those multi-thousand dollars systems did 20 years ago.

So are there still things that are expensive nowadays? Sure. Mm-hmm that there are but the more those technologies get used, the more those technologies become useful. We find more ways that they help people and they become more useful. I, I always think about the. You know, sidewalk, curb cuts, you know, you’re walking along a sidewalk, you get to an intersection.

There’s that little ramp, that little curb cut that was there. originally it was there to help people in wheelchairs make that transition from sidewalk to street, to crosswalk and back across simpler. Because curbs were just dangerous. Well, suddenly.

Moms and dads with strollers found those to be really, really helpful. And so something that was designed to fix a very narrow, a very specific problem. Had a much wider range of uses, maybe we have somebody who cannot type effectively who makes great use of speech to text technology.

  1. My computer types out what I’m saying mm-hmm well, okay. So it worked great for that person who, who has a difficulty, you know, with, with the motor process of typing, but maybe it also works great for somebody who is just learning English and knows how to say a whole lot more than they know how to spell.

Mm-hmm maybe it works great for somebody who has a lot to Cranked out in a short amount of time. And like me, you talk a lot faster than you can type. And so when we have a solution that addresses a needs, suddenly we could take that solution and turn around and say, Hey, you know what? This is also gonna work great for some other circumstances and some other situations.

So, you know, is, is the, is the solution expensive at time at, at first sometimes? Yeah, sometimes it really is. But you know, a, a 3d printer that was $5,000. Yeah. Several years. Is now under a thousand dollars mm-hmm and becomes a whole lot more useful and a whole lot more approachable for schools to look at as a way to start I to start implementing solutions to the problems they’re facing.

Matt: Yeah, I think that’s the good news about that. For those folks who this is right now, a, a. You know, it’s, it’s expensive and maybe it’s a limited use to only a certain population.

Just like we talked about the screen reader just a moment ago, like in 10 years from now, I wanna listen to this 10 years from now and see how widespread. The the, the visual keyboard and so forth actually turned out to be. Yeah, well,

Michael: we’ll probably be saying what, what you had, you had to go download a separate program.

Oh yeah. To do IGS. Are you that wasn’t built in? What are you nuts? The technology that’s in our hands today is, is the worst technology that our kids will ever will ever deal with. Everybody who knows me knows that I have a 12 year old daughter named Amelia who has autism.

And so I, it’s kind of funny because, you know, I started this whole road of educational technology and assistive technology long before , there was, there was an Amelia. She has an iPad that she carries around with her that has a lot of communication tools on it. It has a lot of self-regulation tools on it.

It has a lot of those kind of things on it. The first commercially available iPad came out when she was six months old. She doesn’t know a world that didn’t have the iPad in. My daughter cannot conceive of a world where you’re not carrying around. you know, an, an iPad, the thing that does all the things that the iPad does, that’s, that’s normal. That’s, that’s the way life has always been for her.

Yeah. For me to think about the difference in opportunity for her now versus what they would’ve told us the future held for. Mm-hmm 50 years ago. Yeah. That’s sobering, if not hearting mm-hmm . Yeah, it really is to think about, about how far we’ve come in, such a, really a relatively short time in 20 years.

Oh yeah. Mm-hmm and, and, and where will, where will we be in five. Every kid that we’ve been entrusted with can accomplish this stuff. We’ve just gotta find the thing that eliminates the barrier.

If we have a, a student in, in algebra or geometry or physics who is completely blind mm-hmm, darn it. Yes. There’s still a way that they can do this. .

Kara: I’ve been curious the whole time you’re talking actually of like sharing information, you know, with people that some of these things exist, are there resources

Michael: , it’s a wonderful question to ask because it’s one of those things that. Until you need it. Mm-hmm even if you know about it, you don’t really know why it’s that important. And so yes, there are some fantastic organizations that are out there.

There’s an organization out there. A I a it’s the assistive technology industry association. Their website is a I a.org. There’s a lot of fantastic resources there. A lot of a lot of, or really a lot of great people that you can connect with there to help you kind of steer towards, Hey, I have this situation I have this need.

What would help with that? We are very fortunate here in the state of Ohio to have an organization called OCIE in Columbus. Okay. They work statewide here in Ohio, but then they also work nationally and internationally as well to provide resources for a wide range of needs. And so along with one of their centers is assistive technology and accessible educational materials centers.

So that idea. Of what technologies work great for specific circumstances as well as how do we provide the best, most flexible resources in order to best leverage those technologies?, you can have the best screen reader software in the world, but if you’re still working off of six generation photocopies of worksheet, You know, there’s no technology that can make up for the deficiency that’s built in to the materials.

So you know, that O Cali does a great job of helping provide support for both sides of that. Yeah. Here’s great technology that the student can use. To increase their access and overcome some of those, you know, perceived barriers that they have. But then also here are some ways that we can do some great work in designing instructional experiences so that we mitigate, or in some cases eliminate the barriers that were inherent in ways that we’ve presented material in the past, just because it was the best option we had before, but we have better options available now.

I’ll also mention that there are some great people in a lot of the school districts who work with assistive technology there are a lot of great resources around to start tapping into. Yeah. When you’re, when you’re in a situation and you don’t even have to know what you need mm-hmm and you just have to be able to define the problem.

Yeah. Here’s the access problem we are seeing. And then it’s like, okay, let’s try this. See if it works. Let’s try that. Let’s see if that works. In special education for an IEP, that’s really how the entire assistive technology device and service process is supposed to work.

We try something, we test it, we see if it works. If it does work, we refine what we’re doing with it. And we implement it in a way that’s gonna help the student across every situation that we expect that student to, to achieve in.

Kara: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. I’m yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned the resources, cuz that’s kind of a great place to start. If you’re looking to understand more like myself, that’s why I wanted to have this conversation, because I know that those things are out there and I’ve, you know, had students that needed some of those assistive technologies, but I oftentimes don’t always connect with all of the needs. I remember I had a boy who had a degenerative eye disease, and so eventually he was going to be blind. And so beginning, you know, in second grade they were teaching him how to read brail. And so there was someone that came in to teach him.

And I honestly didn’t even know that existed until, you know, I had him, like, I didn’t know that was an option, but I’m so thankful that it is

Michael: Once we’re presented with those situations and, you know, and we come in with the belief that, there’s a. Yeah, for this person to do this, they’re just not gonna do it the same way that everybody else might mm-hmm

Once we securely have in mind that presumed competence, that’s when we start looking for solutions instead of just looking for ways out.

Kara: I think too, oftentimes there’s one set of standards no matter what your accommodations might be what’s your take on shifting that mindset?

Michael: The standards are for each kid.

If those standards are for the average kid, that means half of ’em are gonna do it. And half of ’em are not. They’re supposed to be a floor. and we have found ourselves in a place where we are treating them, you know, more and more as a ceiling.

Hmm. And so I think because we see the enormity of the task in how many students we think we have to build to that place. Then the task just becomes, okay. Let’s, let’s get as many of ’em there as we can. And how can we do that? We try to do that just by reaching the closest ones first mm-hmm and then we’ll reach the next ones after that.

And then maybe we’ll reach the next ones after that. When it’s very possible that there are some approaches, I’ll go back to my curb cuts example, rather than helping one wheelchair at a time into the crosswalk. And then from the crosswalk back to the sidewalk on the other side, instead of helping them one at a time, mm-hmm we build the ramp that lets them all traverse the crosswalk at their own pace at their own time.

Matt: You’ve empowered

them to make their

own way across. ,

Michael: We’re used to doing things a certain way. Yeah. Even when that way we did them only suited a narrow section of the population. Instead of providing a paperback novel to every kid in the class you say, okay, you know what, for those who want it, we’ve got the paperback version of the novel here for those who want it.

We have an electronic text version of the, of the novel here, so that using the assistive technology, using the screen reader that you have, you can have that material read. You can have it on a screen. That’s more easily controllable than having to physically hold a book and turn the pages. If you’re riding a bus an hour and a half, one way every time you have a sports contest and you’re driving 20 minutes back and forth to a job you’ll have an audio version that you can listen.

While you’re doing all that. By increasing the flexibility of the materials that we provide, we allow ourselves to leverage the technology we have available to make the material approachable in a way that makes the most sense for the person receiving it

Kara: I like that.

So for teachers who really are looking to meet the needs of all their students, but feel unprepared, what kind of advice or direction would you push them?

Michael: I have been a big fan of the idea of universal design for learning mm-hmm and some materials that you can find available at cast.org in their universal design for learning categories, because it’s not that we don’t know what we’re doing and it’s not that we don’t provide good materials. We do. It’s just a matter of finding ways to provide more and more flexible materials. Mm-hmm you know, that the, the materials that we provide, we, we talked about, you know, the, the way that we provide materials, meeting the needs, and it’s like, okay, so how do I, how do I do that?

The other piece is taking advantage of the strengths and the abilities that students do have. So I have a student who may be for whatever reason is a poor typist, but they’re a talker. And so at that point, Maybe I introduced that student to the built in voice typing in Google docs.

Mm-hmm or I introduced them to, you know speech to text options in whatever other device that they may be using. And suddenly this student they’re really not a poor writer. They struggled with typing mm-hmm and they’re a fabulous writer. They just have to be able to get the words out a different way.

One of the things that I’ve had the best success with is a tool from a company called text help called read and write. That does a great job of helping bridge those gaps between modes that, you know, it will. The text, it will take the, you know, the, the visually available text and turn it into audio speech.

It will take my audio and turn it into the visual of text. Now suddenly we’re not looking at thousands of options. We’re looking at just a very few limited set of options, but being able to transfer material from one to the other.

Don’t use every writing assignment to measure how well the kid can hold a pencil. Yeah. Don’t use every writing assignment to measure how well the kid can type mm-hmm if you wanna know what the kid really thinks, give them a way that makes the most sense to.

To, to tell you what they think. Think I like

Kara: that. Mm-hmm . All right. Well, thank you so much, Michael, for joining us.

Michael: Thank you so much. I always love to sit down and talk about the way that technology can make our lives make our lives better, make our lives easier and beyond making lives better and making life easier.

Just making things possible that weren’t possible possible. That’s when that light turns on for a. For a student when honestly, when that light turns on for a teacher, those are the days that I go home. The happiest from work. Yeah, for

Kara: sure. Absolutely. Making the, what is it you say making the impossible possible.

Thanks for listening to our, for the love of ed tech podcast. We hope you enjoyed our conversation today and learned something that you can use with your own students. You can find the show notes, resources, and more@wwwdotfortheloveofedtech.org. For love of ed tech is produced by SOITA the Southwestern, Ohio instructional technology association, and partnership with think TV and C E T the local PBS stations in Dayton and Cincinnati.