2000 Conference Proceedings

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Assessment Activities for AAC and Access

Dana Bertrand
Assistive Technology, Inc.
7 Wells Ave.
Newton, MA 02945
Voice/Message: (617) 6419000
Fax: (617) 6419191
Email: dbertrand@assistivetech.com

EvaluWare™ is a software tool that allows educators, SLPs and AT professionals to assess the best computer access methods and alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) setup preferences for their clients. The software program contains 350 interactive screens which lead the clinician through a series of diagnostic activities to assess listening, looking, motor and related skills needed for successful communication and computer access. As a comprehensive evaluation tool, EvaluWare™ is designed to support the following access methods through an extensive set of preference options: standard and alternative keyboard, mouse, joystick, trackball, touchscreen (additional hardware may be necessary), switch (additional hardware may be necessary) and alternative pointer (additional hardware may be necessary).

The ready-to-use computer screens are intended for informal rather than formal testing. As such, EvaluWare™ provides the clinician with flexible materials and valuable ideas for conducting evaluations that allow for trial and experimentation in the assessment areas.

The inherent flexibility of the software allows for the development of the clinician's own creative strategies and alternative uses for the materials.

The screening tool is the brainchild of leading AAC clinician Dr. Howard Shane, Director of the Communication Enhancement Center at Children's Hospital ~ Boston. In his years of experience with both recent graduates and seasoned professionals, Dr. Shane found a need for a comprehensive framework to make the evaluation process easier on both the clinician and client. To this end, Dr. Shane collaborated with Assistive Technology, Inc. to create the EvaluWare™ product using Companion™ software.

EvaluWare™ is the first software title in the Companion Solutions Series, a growing line of software programs designed Assistive Technology, Inc. in collaboration with leading clinicians and educators in the field. The software series is designed to help clinicians, educators and parents meet the changing needs of people with a variety of disabilities through interactive and easy to use diagnostic and screening tools for AAC and computer access.

Upon launching the EvaluWare™ program, clinicians will encounter five brightly colored buttons corresponding to the five major sections of the software: Explore Your Looking Skills; Explore Your Listening Skills; Explore Your Motor Skills; Explore

Related Skills and Build a Screen. The number of screens in each section cover a wide range of content and may be selected in any order depending on the needs of the clinician or client. Due to the comprehensive nature of the program and the significant number of screens, it may be more appropriate to use EvaluWare™ over multiple sessions with some clients.

It is important to note that the materials contained within Evaluware™ should not be viewed as diagnostic tests of the individual's visual or auditory acuity or as a complete diagnostic inventory of a user's motor skills. Therefore, these materials should never be used as a substitute for an in-depth evaluation by a certified ophthalmologist, neurologist, audiologist or occupation or physical therapist. However, they do provide excellent opportunities to screen skills and expose users to a range of materials.

Exploring Looking Skills offers materials that assess vision and visual perception skills for setting up displays of AAC devices. The materials and interactive screens are designed to examine a variety of standard features of AAC and computer systems, including optimal size of symbols or text, optimal number of symbols or words displayed on a screen and the ability to recognize photographs, realistic drawings, line drawing or text. Additionally, Evaluware™ targets more detailed observations such as the amount of contrast between background and targets, the difference in performance or preference between grid-like arrangement of symbols versus targets in context with a realistic screen and the ability to follow a moving target on the screen.

The evaluation screens are designed to be flexible to accommodate the needs of users with various physical abilities. For example, in presenting a screen with four 1" targets to determine if a user can differentiate among individual targets, the observer might ask one of the following questions depending upon the degree of physical ability of the user:

'Can you touch the ball?'

'Can you look at the ball?'

'Is there a ball on the screen?'

'Is this the ball?'

'Blink if this is the ball.'

Use the "Back" button on your browser to return to the previous page. This degree of flexibility is maintained throughout the entire software program and related materials. If a clinician is uncertain of which questions are appropriate to ask for a given screen or it they are new to the evaluation process, onscreen help boxes will guide them.

Exploring Motor Skills offers a set of materials to explore an individual's motor access abilities as they relate the use of computer-based AAC systems. This section of the evaluation assumes that the appropriate access method for the client has been determined, that the client has been fitted with the appropriate device and that it is available for use during the evaluation. The activities in this section are arranged by access method and include only skills that are appropriate to the selected access method. While it is preferable that the appropriate access method be determined before using EvaluWare™ the activities can also be used as an initial screening to determine an appropriate access method for a client. For example, an activity in the 'touch' screens is used to determine whether a given target should produce actions when the user first touches down on the target or when the touch is released. This is an important component of successful use of an AAC device as some users may need to drag a finger or hand to the desired target before activating it. The section concludes with a Fun & Games area which allows users to go on a treasure hunt, play sounds, music and movies or direct the clinician to perform fun actions such as jogging around the room or neighing like a horse.

Exploring Listening Skills presents materials that target an individual's preferences for voice and auditory feedback. The section contains a variety of activities to determine optimal volume setting; sound feedback (auditory feedback when a target is selected) and voice preferences (computer or human voice/male, female, child). A fun and interactive Listening Comprehension Game allows the clinician to observe whether a user can understand and follow one-step directions at the optimal volume setting and with the desired voice settings. Because the evaluation process can be tedious for clinician and client, several sections include functional activities which are entertaining for the client. The games may include fun sounds, colorful graphics or engaging animation. With a clear understanding of a user's looking, listening and motor skills, the clinician may choose to examine related skills such as receptive language and language comprehension. In the Exploring Related Skills section, clinicians can assess a user's readiness for an onscreen keyboard or word completion software by trying one of the sample activities. A Visual Questions set of activities explores visual memory and cognitive-linguistic processing skills typical in the use of AAC and computer devices.

Perhaps one of the most significant challenges faced by clinicians, special educators, administrators and parents is the ability to make standardized tests more accessible to those with physical disabilities. Although tests that are given using alternative methods may not be considered valid as they are not standardized, the results may still be reliable and beneficial for school personnel. For example, modified tests provide opportunities to observe student skills in order to provide anecdotal observations. To this end, EvaluWare™ includes two important sections labeled Test Modification Strategies and Sample Interactive Screens for Modified Tests. The Test Modification Strategies section includes ideas for modifying the materials, visual representation, medium of representation and response indicator for a variety of standardized tests. Clinicians can use the sample screens in conjunction with the strategies to administer modified tests.

As the purpose of EvaluWare™ is to investigate the best computer access method and ideal AAC setups for people with special needs, the software program contains a section that allows the clinician to build a custom grid based on features and settings determined to be most suitable for the user. While an authoring tool would allow the clinician to create communication screens which would contain all of the user's preferences, it would not be realistic to assume that he/she could do so within a single evaluation session. Therefore, the Build a Screen section contains features and settings which are generally most relevant to successful use of an AAC system, including input method, level of representation, target size, number of targets and text font and size (if appropriate).

Included with the EvaluWare™ package is a comprehensive report form to record information about an individual during or after the evaluation session. The form covers each area of the EvaluWare™ package and it presented in both onscreen and paper formats. The same form is also provided on the EvaluWare™ CD as a PDF (Portable Document File) file.

All materials contained in the EvaluWare™ package, from the comprehensive manual to the flexible report form, serve the intended purpose of the software. Tree to its original design, EvaluWare™ serves as a tool to help both beginning and seasoned clinicians conduct the most effective evaluation possible to gain the greatest potential from AAC and computer users.

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