Winter 1998, Vol. 9 No. 1

by Gerald Quinn

Clear, bright, dark eyes peer at the cursor as it moves across the computer screen in highly selective and controlled increments. Noticing me, the young man pauses, smiles and says, "Hello, I'm Pintoo. I'm happy to see you." I introduce myself and glance at the journal entry on the screen; it tells of my anticipated arrival and our interview.

Although he has difficulty moving due to athetoid cerebral palsy, Pintoo turns toward me by maneuvering his lean frame with a wriggling kind of motion. He explains that he and his speech therapist, Monica Clarke, are refining the settings on his new Macintosh Powerbook 1400cs. "I like this a lot," he says. He access the Powerbook using a Sip & Puff switch (Enabling Devices). Used in connection with Discover: Switch (Don Johnston Incorporated), it enables Pintoo to input into his computer with single switch scanning, in lieu of a keyboard.

Linda Peroff, department head for Speech and Language Therapy at the Cerebral Palsy Center of North Jersey's Horizon School in East Orange, NJ, joins us in the classroom. She shares her enthusiasm for Pintoo's use of the computer, "The computer is great in our classrooms. It opens doors and makes achievement possible. It helps students bypass problem areas and enables them to work with their abilities. Handwriting, for example, is no longer an obstacle to written expression. As with Pintoo, students move beyond former obstacles; they don't get stuck." Clarke sees the computer maximizing her students' abilities and enabling them to achieve greater levels of independence. Pintoo adds, "I take things home that I've done at school during the day, too." A quick glance at his computer's directory indicates sizable files.

First School Experience at Age 9

Pintoo has come a long way in his short time at the Horizon School. Born in India, he spent his first eight years at home with his family, whose dominant language is Gujarati, a dialect of Hindi. Pintoo credits watching TV for his fluency in English. He speaks Gujarati, as well. Attending school for the first time when his family moved to New Jersey, he has demonstrated incredible academic achievement. In only one year's time he has advanced to second grade levels in math and reading.


Scanning with Write:OutLoud & Co:Writer

Pintoo's computer enables him to complete his school work with relative ease. His teacher, Ruth Mize, working with speech therapist, Monica Clarke, has taught him to use Co:Writer (Don Johnston Incorporated) the word prediction program (see review on page 12), with Write: OutLoud (Don Johnston Incorporated), the talking word processing program. Using his Sip & Puff switch and a scanning array from Discover: Switch, he activates the switch by puffing when the desired letter is highlighted. When scanning is used in conjunction with Co:Writer, selecting the letter "P," for example, presents a list of predetermined words beginning with that letter. Co:Writer then scans the list of words. When the scan reaches the word he wants, Pintoo puffs the switch again, and the word is entered into the word processing document. To speed things up, Pintoo and his teachers/therapists have added custom lists of frequently used words and expressions to the Co:Writer dictionary.

"We've found that Pintoo utilizes a sip and puff switch better than voice activated software," explained Clarke. He speaks clearly and is able to use voice commands with the computer, but using his voice tires him very quickly. It is not strong enough for extended work on the computer. While his current setup is adequate, he is always on the lookout for new and better access tools. Reflecting upon his many experiments with various computer input devices, he explains, "You have to try everything."

Adaptive Tools for Math

Mize shares that Pintoo is strong in math and written expression. He enjoys current events, too. Pintoo adds, "I want to read the news online. I'm getting a modem so I can get online. I want to send e-mail to the President, Governor, and others who can help people."

Pintoo beams with pride as he tells me that he uses Big Calc (Don Johnston Incorporated) for math. His teacher shares that they are awaiting the receipt of Access to Math (Don Johnston Incorporated) so that Pintoo can make up math worksheets for himself and other students in the class.

The program will enable her to customize math activities. It is apparent from the instructional activities occurring in the classroom that peer teaching, in addition to collaboration among the classroom teacher, speech/language therapist, and occupational therapist, is practiced in this classroom with the six students ages nine to thirteen years old.

New Hardware

Pintoo has been awarded a Bellows Fellows Grant from the United Cerebral Palsy Association. The grant, which is a three year contract, has provided a laptop computer complete with printer, fax/modem, CD-ROM encyclopedia, and appropriate wheelchair mount. In addition, the grant supported the purchase of Discover:Switch for scanning, the special software for writing which Pintoo has been using, and a service contract. UCPA will monitor Pintoo's progress through semi-annual reports in order to evaluate the effectiveness of this set-up. The laptop, which travels with him from home to school each day, provides Pintoo with more consistent access to the computer.

Technology Offers Power and Control

Pintoo tells me, "The computer gives me a feeling of power and control over what I'm doing. I want to go to college and be a doctor." This interviewer has little doubt that he will realize his dream. He is a remarkable 13-year-old with his eyes on the future. He understands and is comfortable with the computer technology that so effectively levels the playing field by providing access to the world-a world otherwise off limits to students such as Pintoo. He truly is a computer user with a purpose-to live his life as fully as possible.

Gerald Quinn is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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