I made my first online switch accessible activity over twenty years ago when I was teaching at Priory Woods School in Middlesbrough. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t that singing hippopotamus, it was an activity for a young girl with cerebral palsy in S1 class who loved the Cheeky Girls. She loved it and used it with her switch and in doing so, began her switch progression journey. Seeing the potential for student engagement, it was quickly followed by activities featuring other pop luminaries of the time… Gareth Gates, Will Young and many others.
I wasn’t alone in trying to make the internet a little bit more accessible for young people with learning difficulties. Richard Walter at Meldreth Manor School was also making accessible activities in Opus which could be downloaded from their website. He even devised a web page navigation system which used mouse rollovers to replace the need for accurate clicking. Or how about Simon Evans, who made the Kingsbury Special School website which had symbol integration and a collection of activities for students to use independently. Like the original Priory Woods website, both are now lost in the Recycle Bin of time.
Those were heady days at the very dawn of the widespread use of assistive technology in schools. What connected us and others working around the country was a need to give our students as many opportunities to interact with the world around them. We wanted our students to be as independent as they were able. We wanted to help realise the potential of technology to support the learning, communication and leisure needs of our students. Access to the Internet was an important part of that. We didn’t have much if any money. Back then and with very few exceptions, ICT spending wasn’t a high priority for schools. We made do with what we had and we freely shared what we had with everyone.
When I left Inclusive Technology in 2011 and began to set up the website for my training business, I decided to continue to freely share the accessible activities I make as part of my work, much to the exasperation of my accountant who regularly reminds me that without the free activities, my server costs would be less than one tenth of what I currently pay.
I remind him that not every one of the many thousands of schools that use my activities has money to spend on software. Many are in parts of the world that are just beginning their journey towards inclusive teaching and assistive technology use. I remind him that on average, colleagues use around eight different activities with a student each session in an effort to provide them with a breadth of experience and that what motivates a child with complex needs this week may not be the same next week.
The costs for hosting the free activities on my website are subsidised by my training and consultancy work and from paid subscriptions to my ‘other’ website SENict Software, together with donations from a few generous colleagues which help meet the server costs. The activities on my website are free and will remain free now and in the future. Thank you for your support.