1999 Conference Proceedings

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Richard L. Stein, M.Ed

Alice W. Wong, B.S.
Oakland Unified School District and the
Cerebral Palsy Center for the Bay Area, Inc.
4500 Lincoln Avenue
Oakland, CA 94602
E-mail: cpcoak@slip.net

In this paper we discuss how authoring software can be used to teach functional reading to individuals of any age. Due to its limited length, this paper will provide less depth and scope than our CSUN presentation. Following are the areas of functional reading we discuss in this paper: community signs, store names and products, product information, comparison and direction words, and reading directions. At the conference we also discuss how to teach functional reading and related skills in the areas of money identification and counting, maps, calendars, telling time, alphabetizing, using a TV and movie guide, reading schedules, job applications and weather maps, and reading and understanding control functions of a microwave, washer/dryer and electronic equipment.

Additionally, we discuss computer access methods and sources for acquiring graphic material and digital images. Our primary purpose is to generate ideas for creating activities with demonstrations of making the activity as time permits. We assume the reader has a working knowledge of the authoring software we discuss below and the additional applications we discuss at the conference.


Consumers identify community signs most easily in their natural environment. That environment can be photographed and/or recreated in authoring software. We often photograph in the community at locations such as business districts, shopping malls and inside stores (with permission). We, then, use the images in activities such as the following one. To teach community sign-reading in Speaking Dynamically Pro (SD Pro) by Mayer-Johnson, Inc., make a new board and paste a photo into it. We prefer to make the picture and board as large as possible to be more readable. Next, make a picture button and size it so that it fits around the community sign.

From the tool bar, choose the 'dotted line style' then select 'color' and set it to 'none.' This creates a dotted line around the community sign and enables SD Pro to highlight and say the name of the community sign. Add a 'spoken preview' or 'recorded preview' to enter or record what the consumer hears when s/he sees the picture and highlighted sign. Create a series of boards in this way and use branching for the consumer to go from one to the next. The activity can be accessed in various ways, including direct touch and auto scan.

To quiz consumers, use the picture and place a question mark in the button where the sign belongs. Write or record the question, 'What sign belongs here?' At the bottom of the board, place the correct sign in a picture button and use as many distractors (signs) as you wish. Use branching to progress through the activity.


It is a good idea to begin by teaching the names of stores that consumers frequent and to teach them about products they are using. To introduce store names and products in their natural environment, create the following activity using IntelliPics (IP), Overlay Maker and IntelliKeys (R) (all by IntelliTools, Inc.). Discover:Switch (Don Johnston, Inc.) setups can be made for single-switch users. Begin by creating an IP activity that shows the consumer a series of pictures of store names with a corresponding product.

The consumer can access the activity with IntelliKeys or a Discover:Switch. In the IP quiz mode, the consumer sees a picture of the store name and can be asked to find the product that can be purchased there or s/he can be shown a product and asked at which store it can be purchased. To use the Discover:Switch to answer questions, create a Discover setup that contains pictures of all of the products for which you quiz.


There are many kinds of product information. We limit our discussion in this area to nutrition facts, that are found on packages of food products. Because nutrition facts are often difficult to understand, we begin by introducing familiar concepts, such as fat and sodium. To teach information about cholesterol, we created the following activity in IP. The students sees a picture of animals that produce products we consume. The student hears, 'Cholesterol is a kind of fat that comes from animal products.' Then the consumer is shown a series of pictures depicting the animal and related end product, for example, a cow with a carton of milk, a chicken with eggs and a pig with bacon. You can add whatever speech you choose, e.g., 'We get bacon from pigs, and it is high in cholesterol.' At the top of each picture we place the target word.

You can create similar activities to teach nutrition facts about products containing sugar, fiber, sodium, calcium, etc. Then an activity can be created to ask the consumer to identify the nutritional information that most pertains to a product. When shown a chicken s/he would have answers on his or her overlay or Discover setup, such as cholesterol, sodium, calcium and fiber.

The final step in teaching nutritional information is to photograph, scan or create a nutritional table in a draw program that can be pasted into IP or SD Pro. The advantage to making your own is that it can be as simple or complex as you choose, and it is not difficult to make realistic-looking tables, especially if you add a product logo above them. You can then begin to quiz consumers for information, e.g., 'Potato chips are high in _____?' As in this case, there may be more than one correct answer. We will talk more about that at the conference.


In SD Pro or IP create an activity with a teaching and quiz component to teach consumers to read and understand comparison and direction words. You can use digital images, clip art or symbols from Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson, Inc.). The pictures should give a visual representation of the target word.

To quiz the consumer for his or her understanding of target words, create an environment, such as a living room, in Companion (Assistive Technology, Inc.). In the 'Edit' mode, go to File>New, then from the tool bar select 'find'(file) > Elements folder> Living Room folder> Living Room.BG (background). Name and save the file. From the tool bar, choose 'find'. From the 'Elements' folder, select the object you want to place in the environment. Click off of it and repeat the steps to add other objects to the living room. The objects can be resized and moved around the room. To add text and speech to an object, click on it to highlight it. Then, go to the tool bar and choose 'Edit>Actions and select the icon named 'Both', which represents both 'text' and 'pop-up'. Next, click on the icon in the preview window, then click on the 'Value' window and enter the desired text, e.g., 'The phone is ON the table. The shoes are UNDER the table.' (We capitalize target words in the 'pop-up' box.) Then press 'return' and click on 'OK.' You will need a way to ask the consumer a question. To do this, place the Boardmaker symbol for question mark into the environment and add 'spoken text', e.g., 'What is on the table?' All objects that are not the correct answer should have 'spoken text' that says, 'No, that is not correct, please try again.' To return to the 'use mode', click on 'done' in the tool bar.

In the 'Finder' duplicate the file and name it #2. You can then rewrite the question and and choose a new target word represented by the placement of an object. You need to change the 'spoken/pop-up text' for the correct answer and change the previously correct answer to reflect that it is not correct. Once all of the boards are created, you can set up branching by selecting 'Edit' (an object must first be highlighted), then 'Actions>File (find) icon and, from the folder window, select the file to which you want to branch. Choose 'OK' and repeat the steps for each environment.


Following is an idea for teaching directions and key words found in a simple recipe. Paste digital images, clip art or Boardmaker symbols that depict the steps and ingredients needed to make fudge brownies into one of the previously discussed authoring applications. Add speech to accompany the graphics. For simplicity, each step should have its own board or environment. Each board should have a picture to go with the speech output, e.g., 'Step one, place the brownie mix in a large bowl.' Once the consumer has familiarized him/herself with the recipe instructions, quiz him or her about what ingredients are needed, what amount of each ingredient is needed, and the order of the steps needed to make the recipe. As s/he progresses through the steps, the next board or environment can show by numbering the steps that have been completed.

Authoring software can easily be used to teach persons with disabilities functional reading skills. Creating your own activities enables one to choose graphics, target words and the degree of difficulty for the consumer.


Assistive Technology, Inc.
Companion (TM) V. 1.1, 1997
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

IntelliTools, Inc.
IntelliPics (TM), V.1.2, 1994-95
IntelliKeys, 1993-95
Overlay Maker (R), V. 2.2b, 1992-95
Novato, California

Don Johnston, Inc.
Discover:Switch, 1996
Wauconda, Illinois

Mayer-Johnson Company
Boardmaker, V. 3.3.2, 1990-95 by Dennis L. King
Speaking Dynamically (TM) Pro, V2.0.1 1990-97, King Software Development
Solana Beach, California

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