2010-01-13 / Columns

New technologies are revolutionizing life for disabled people


A new class of assistive technologies are dramatically altering the way people with various disabilities are able to engage in their daily activities. The Pulse SmartPen, from Livescribe (http://bit.ly/4DKjvU), is one of these devices.

Lori Katz, a learning specialist at the Joseph Sharp Elementary School in Cherry Hill, has found the Pulse SmartPen to be particularly useful for her work with special education students in two ways. First, it allows her to record the interactions between her students, to assist her in producing status reports and in conducting conferences with parents. Secondly, it assists Katz in coping with a disability that she’s had to wrestle with personally— the onset of early Parkinson’s disease.

“I can write, but I write slowly and it’s very small,” Katz explained, noting that “micrographia,” or small handwriting, is often a symptom of Parkinson’s. “It’s very inefficient for the job that I do.”

Katz has difficulty typing with both hands, and the Pulse Pen enables her to capture meetings with colleagues and lectures at professional conferences, reducing the amount of hand-written notetaking she needs to produce. “It was taking me a tremendous amount of time to get anything written,” she said.

Katz uses the pen during reading assessment sessions with special needs students. She records an introduction to the session, and while the student is reading, she makes short notes in the special notebook that comes with the pen. She then reviews the recording with her notes and can fill in other information after the assessment sessions.

“It’s allowing me to be much more precise,” she said. “It gives me a lot of time to go back and listen and really assess where the child is having difficulties.”

The Pulse Pen is thicker than an ordinary pen, and the latest model sent for review contains 4 GB of audio recording space, which the company says is sufficient for up to 400 hours of audio. The pen connects to your computer by means of the USB port, so that audio content can be transferred to the desktop.

The pen uses special notebook paper that synchronizes contents of the audio recorder and by tapping on the notes on the page with the tip of the pen; audio can be linked to a handwritten note, and then recalled by tapping on the note at a later time.

Katz used the pen at a professional conference last fall to record presentations—which sparked interest from the educational diagnosticians at the conference in possible applications for the device.

In addition to reducing the amount of notetaking that she has to do, the pen also is helpful in training special education students in repetitive concepts such as the actual calculations involved in a math problem.

In fact, the educational applications for the Pulse Pen are so extensive that the company has launched a blog for educators (http://bit.ly/5gkyM6) moderated by Tim Fahlberg (http://bit.ly/7eI3Lr), an educator from Wisconsin who has done some pioneering work developing “pencasts”—podcasts/ screencasts that use the Pulse Pen to create multimedia math lessons.

A number of applications are available on the Pulse SmartPen website, which can be downloaded into the pen and used. They include a Braille talking Periodic Table of the elements (you find the element from the Braille symbols and when you tap that element with the pen, you hear information about the element spoken by the pen); a Pulse Pen piano—you draw a keyboard on the special note paper and by tapping the keys with the pen you can play a melody; and a program called Magic Yad that turns the pen into a Torah tutor, allowing students to practice proper cantillation of their Torah portions (http://bit.ly/4nPoKI). At the LiveScribe online store, the pen costs $169.95 for the 2gb version, and $199.95 for the 4gb version. Pens are also available locally in office product and technology stores. steve@compuschmooze.com

In this CompuSchmooze video podcast, we interview Lori Katz, a learning specialist in the Cherry Hill, NJ, school system, about how she uses the LiveScribe Pulse Pen http://www.livescribe.com to keep track of her work with special needs students, and how the pen has helped Lori cope with a special need of her own -- a diagnosis of early Parkinson's Disease that makes it difficult for Lori to make handwritten notes, a major part of her work responsibility. Reported by Steve Lubetkin, CompuSchmooze Columnist for the Jewish Community Voice of Southern New Jersey http://www.jewishvoicesnj.org/ .

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