What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Boardmaker and other Picture Symbol Resources

This listing was last up-dated: 2/2015

(More resources are listed on my Pinterest boards "Visual Schedules to Live and Work By", "Social Skills and Stories" and "Visual Strategies Worth Seeing".)

Boardmaker is a software program with a library of Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) to help create printable visual supports and interactive activities to help support learners of all ages. There are additional (addendum) libraries that can be added to Boardmaker that provide even more symbol choices. This is a very rich program that has been used with students with cognitive and complex communication needs for many years.

This posting is a list of websites compiled into a handy resource listing for all of us who rely on picture supports as there is just way too much time invested in recreating the wheel. Many of the following links are absolutely fabulous sites and others provide useful handouts and tools for us to continue to get educated to efficiently plan and effectively teach children with this powerful tool. 

Boardmaker Software
There are 4 different versions of Boardmaker to be aware of (7 day full function trials are available for all of these):

  1. Boardmaker  - used to develop print materials.
  2. BoardMaker Plus! (BM+) - creates interactive activities plus allows you to continue to create print materials.
  3. Boardmaker Speaking Dynamically Pro - is designed for communication with symbol support and word prediction/abbreviation expansion abilities and high quality voices. This is usually use on communication devices or computers to be used for verbal communication purposes. 
  4. Boardmaker Studio - is an activity program for students to use on the computer or interactive whiteboard. This is meant to help Boardmaker come alive with gadgets and tools not seen in the other programs.
  5. Boardmaker Online - will allow you to create symbols-adapted schedules, calendars, books, and educational activities through a monthly or yearly subscription… create all your activities online without installing anything and access it from anywhere. 
  6. Boardmaker Instructional Solutions - classroom support that is
    subscription based providing academic instruction in ELA and math. Delivered through Boardmaker Online. Every activity is accessible using scanning, eyegaze or touch. (Requires a Boardmaker Online Personal, Professional, or District subscription.)
Other options: 
  1. Boardmaker Player - Play all of the activities you create with Boardmaker Studio and Boardmaker Plus! on every computer in your classroom or computer lab.
  2. Boardmaker Pre-Made Activities -  Boardmaker authoring software is not needed if you want to just use Boardmaker Pre-Made Activities. These are computer activities that focus on different skills, like literacy and counting. Just pop in the CD or complete the download and your activities are ready. 

Boardmaker add-ons:
There are more and more add-ons all the time. (Prices range from $22-$49) These are worth exploring further. For more information about what is available, go to Mayer Johnson's website. 

Add-ons worth considering:
  • PCS Sign Language Symbols is designed to reinforce sign language. Features American Sign Language (ASL) symbols, Signed Exact English (SEE) symbols and a combination library of ASL and SEE symbols.
  • Picture This contains more than 5000 very clean photos that can be used alone or installed right into your PCS library. 
  • PCS High Contrast symbols designed for individuals with low vision and visual impairment. These symbols are easier to see than standard symbols and offer a range of vocabulary topics to enable individuals with low vision or visual impairment to participate in a variety of communication settings.
  • ThinLine style allows you to add thousands of brand new symbols to your PCS collection. Boasting a clean, more detailed look, the PCS ThinLine style offers more support for your academic subjects, and symbols are organized by category so you buy just what you need.
Tutorials and Demonstrations:
  1. Free online Training at Mayer Johnson website - View a previously recorded archived online session.  Registration is free.
  2. SET BC Learning Centre has Boardmaker resources for both Mac and Windows.  You can find presentations, demonstrations, tutorials and related resource materials at the Learning Center.
  3. The Oklahoma Assistive Technology Center has some wonderful PDFs and video resources for how to use BoardmakerShare along with the Boardmaker software.  
Boardmaker Resources
BoarmakerShare, provided by Mayer-Johnson, has set up as a place for all of us to share what we develop. If you have Boardmaker Plus or Studio, there really isn't any place else that you need to go. This truly is the best creation since napkins. So, the first thing you need to do, if you haven't already, is to become a member and ask to receive the email updates. If you want a little tutorial about BoardmakerShare, there is a nice little 7 minute tutorial that will walk you through it, developed by Aaron E Marsters.

Beyond that, you might want to explore some of the resources that are provided by various schools and organizations. Many are provided in PDF format, which means they cannot be adapted but it also means you can print them without having Boardmaker software:
  • Ace Centre has a section titled, "Developing and using a Communication Book" provided a few pages worth taking a peak at.The purpose of this site is to sell a book but there's a downloadable 320Kb PDF file in the menu on the right that contains five sample pages from the communication book.
  • Adapted Books by NYC Department of Education, "These are adapted books and materials created with Boardmaker, Writing with Symbols, Smartboard's Notebook, and MS PowerPoint. Some have also been converted to Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)."
  • Amy Speech and Language Therapy provides PDFs of various communication boards for "Adults who may not be able to communicate using their voice.  These type of boards are extremely important to arm yourselves with when your loved one experiencing such is in the hospital and cannot communicate."  She also offers a variety of boards for children.
  • AugCom has materials relating to AAC generated by various people who were willing to share. This site is part of the Speaking of Speech site which is very rich in many areas of speech related materials.
  • The Autism Helper provides free visuals to use in the home. 
  • Over 700 children's books already adapted, with lesson plans, and vocabulary lists The Baltimore City Public Schools.
  • The Boardmaker Idea Book is a great resource to give you ideas and get you started creating materials using Boardmaker.
  • The Call Scottland has created a large number of BoardMaker Resources for you to use as wish, including story and symbol packs, games for all and symbol topic boards. These resources are either .zip or PDF format
  • Chapel Hill Snippets has developed various books for you to take advantage of, along with various wonderful PowerPoints.
  • Early Literacy provides several downloads. 
  • eLearning has pre-made visuals for various things, visual schedules being the best. Take a look. They have 3 pages of boards that are very easy to search through.
  • Jane Farrall has developed boards for specific books to use in Guided Reading. These are primary level books.  This is a great resource! 
  • English Visual  Images provides a variety of pre-made boards, using PCS, from a variety of behavior, communication and schedules.
  • Jefferson Parish Public Schools Speech-Hearing-Language Services gives you 100s of speech pathology activities and resources made in Boardmaker.
  • Live Speak Love (may be expired) provides you with Visual Behavior Supports.  Be sure to peruse her site for other supports. She has them embedded in various blog postings.
  • Miami Dade has many Boardmaker downloads. This is probably my favorite! The Miami-Dade County Public Schools website has activities using picture symbols, including activity boards, communication boards and song boards. Boardmaker software website has picture symbols for more than 800 book titles, which require Boardmaker software to open, and MS Word documents with story comprehension questions.is required to open the activities but it is wonderful in that now you may adapt the boards to fit specific student needs.
  • Great find –NYC Special Education Department has a whole caboodle of adapted books and materials created with Boardmaker, Writing with Symbols, and PowerPoint software. They have been converted to Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format as well. A place to visit, for sure. 
  • Orange County Public Schools has a nice collection that includes some activities and manipulatives for younger content areas. 
  • PictureSET is my absolute favorite place to get pre-made boards. Boards are in 6 categories and from there, there are tons of goodies available. They are available in either PDF format (cannot be manipulated/changed) or Boardmaker format. This is a go-to site!
  • Practical Autism provides you with hundreds of "free printables".  They are arranged by category and have a description for each page. Easy preview option.
  • Polk County Public Schools provides their boards in both PDF and Boardmaker format. Be sure to scroll down and open each category as there is a wealth of resources to explore on this site.
  • The Spectronics Activity Exchange is a collection of activities designed for a range of software programs – and for a range of purposes. Activities can be downloaded and used within programs such as Boardmaker, Clicker, Communicate: SymWriter and many more. Please check back as activities are added regularly.
  • Need a social story in a hurry? Check out this listing on Autism Inspirations.  Also, be sure to explore Region 3's Thematic Visual Supports wiki for ore Boardmaker resources.
  • A site from British Columbia has a treasure of resources. See their Picture SET (mentioned above but worth mentioning again) collection...pre-made boards available in Boardmaker or PDF versions. The SET-BC website has PictureSET, a collection of downloadable visual supports that can be downloaded and incorporated in stories or lessons. They can be used by students for both receptive and expressive communication in the classroom, at home, and in the community. (Be sure to check out this amazing page of resources: Behavior Supports and know that on this page, each square links to a category of resources on that topic! This is an amazing resource.)
  • Loudoun County Public School's Assistive Technology has provided more links for you to explore - see Resources Links (Beware, you may get lost here!)
  • Juanita Pritchard has put many great ideas into an easy to find and use website, entitled, Special Student Services, which is full of lesson plans integrating Boardmaker materials throughout. This is an ever changing website so be sure to bookmark this one.
  • YAHOO GROUPS – BOARDMAKER – free share library.This list is to offer support and ideas to parents, teachers, and SLPs that use it with their children or students.
  • Victories 'n Autism provides a variety of Schedules, Behavior Charts and Task Checklists developed in Boardmaker, provided in PDF format for your instant use. These are beautifully developed by Laura Molluer, M.Ed. who is a Behavior Specialist.  
  • Yuichi has a wonderful selection of Power Templates to use which includes Talking Books, Sorting, Multiple Choice, Word Scrambles, Hidden Picture and so much more! Yuichi just keeps on sharing. Not only has he designed some amazing games that can be purchased through Mayer-Johnson but he provides all kinds of free templates and activities on his blog. Worth going back and back and back again!
Communication Board Resources
More Icon Supports
Remember, you can always get pictures from other sites and paste them directly into your Boardmaker program to add to your library of symbol supports. Here are some sites to explore for more visual supports beyond the Boardmaker PCS.
  • ARASAAC offers graphic resources and materials to facilitate communication. This works really well if you need pictures on your iTouch or iPad to use in commmunication programs. It has the ability to turn any (free) symbol into a billion languages. They are offered in both black and white or color. (A tip: if using with iPad, create a link on your iPad screen to it so you can get free, no royalty graphics for various apps like Pictello and Go Talk Now. Find the symbols you need, save to camera roll and use!)
  • ConnectABILITY is built for people with a developmental disability and their support networks. The site is organized by age group to help you find the information you need. This site has 4 sections: kids, youth, adult and senior. The visuals engine will help you build visual supports and sequences for the person you are building it for.
  • These are not Boardmaker but if you don't have access to Boardmaker you will want to explore this website. The Imagine Symbols website has picture symbols that can be downloaded and incorporated in stories or lessons. (I am leaving this in as I am hoping it comes back up!!) If you do have Boardmaker, they still have great ideas!
  • Do2Learn also uses their own picture icons but again, they are worth exploring. They have a variety of picture communication cards, games, songs, worksheets, and more in the Free Areas section. It also provides strategies on how to use visuals for classroom organization. This is a great site with information and resources as well as free printable picture symbols and charts to use for visual schedules and steps within tasks. This site was originally designed for children on the Autism spectrum and children with learning disabilities, but has wide application to any children who might benefit from the use of visual supports for learning - problem is utilize a different icon language (not M-J PCS symbols) but still great for ideas.
  • GivingGreetings has both free and low cost products for families for visual & communication supports. A variety of communication boards, visual signs that are pre-made for family activities. There are some unique things to point parents to consider telling other family members about that may be useful and meaningful gifts.
  • Kids Pages Flash Cards provides a lot of printable pictures- language cards. This is a great resources for SLPs and would be wonderful to use with ESL students. 
  • Lesson Pix is a subscription site but has a great section for trial that will allow you to throw together some great worksheets in a hurry! This is a web-based program that allows users to create picture symbols and a large variety of other materials for learning. With LessonPix, you cannot create your own board designs, but they offer a ton of pre-made activities. You can try this for free. Purchase is $36 a year
  • Linda Burkhart provides a listing of copyright and fair use pictures that can be found on the Internet to add to your communication systems. She reminds us that, "There are many places to find pictures online that can be used for communications systems and educational materials. Please keep in mind that images on the web are protected by copyright. Unless specifically labeled as Public Domain, copyright laws do apply. Please read the copyright sites listed below for a good discussion about the Fair Use of copyrighted material for use in education and multimedia."
  • The Call Scottland by Sally Millar has provided an up-dated listing of other sources for picture image supports. This is an extensive listing.
  • Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities offers many stories supported with icons.
  • Pics for PECS is a CD that contains nearly 3000 images that you can add to MS Powerpoint, MS Word, or just about any other program. $40
  • Photosyms provides digital photographs designed specifically for making communication supports.
  • Picture Recipes, provides simple recipes with or without picture supports for each step. (Go to the bottom of the recipe for the button "Picture Recipe".)
  • Practical Autism Resources has a page FULL of free printables that are in PDF format and categorized for ease of finding what you need.  You absolutely MUST visit this page! 
  • Quick Pics offers pages of simple picture supports broken down into categories. Need an clean picture of fast food joints? This is the place to go! There are not a lot available but what is, is great stuff.
  • Success Stories are personalized children's books.  Customize the illustrations to the child's appearance based on gender, hair style and color, eye color, skin tone, glasses, and method of communication.  Alter the text to personalize the story's content. The collection of children's stories addresses emotional, social, safety, and communication skills to foster character development.
  • Visual Support Engine provides you with templates that you can then add your own pictures to. Either copy/paste from the Internet or take your own photos and plug them in.  
  • Widgit – Symbol Inclusion Project is a collaboration between Widgit Software and Warwickshire IDS (Integrated Disability Service) on the use of symbols to support inclusion and curriculum access. Free and low cost symbol based skill packs available for download.
  • Widget Symbols at Home pack contains a set of 20 flash card files relating to feelings and emotions, numbers, playing, playgroup, safety, shopping, colors, times of day, days of week, mealtime, behavior, food and drink, recycling, activity labels, hand washing sequence, notices, transport, dressing up, getting dressed and places to go.
  • Widgit – Symbol World resources is an online symbol newsletter with downloadable articles and stories.
  • Wild Rumpus SchoolHouse has provided free worksheets, printable books and resources for parents and teachers of early readers. "These are books I created to help my little ones who were struggling with word boundaries, sight words and alphabet skills."
Other Icon Support Software Programs worth Considering: 
  • Communicate: In Print 2 is a desktop publishing program for creating symbol-supported resources for printing.
  • Matrix Maker Plus has been "specifically designed to be the simplest and most affordable software for making communication overlays and educational resources. With an easy to use intuitive interface, you can start creating and printing straight away with no need for training."
  • Overboard is "for creating printed communication boards, schedules, reading/writing activities, visual supports and speech enhanced dynamic display (AAC) solutions. Includes 5,500 communication symbols, 250+ communication device templates, and a link to 150,000+ images and symbols from Microsoft's clipart library. With speech output and page linking."
  • Picto4Me offers a free AAC Comunication Board Editor, Player software and image search engine service. Available in Chrome also.
  • PictureIt  has "over 10,500 Literacy Support Pictures, the flexibility to customize materials and vocabulary designed to support all curricula in English or Spanish."
  • Pix Writer  provides "Literacy Support Pictures to support all subjects in English and Spanish. Write reports, stories, journal entries, letters, lists and demonstrate comprehension." (There are some helpful handouts on the SunCastle website.)
  • Pogo Boards is an Internet based program so unlike the other programs, you access these online and share boards online.
  • SymbolMate is "specially designed for those who prepare contents for static communication devices, Tobii SymbolMate allows for quick and easy production of printed communication boards and education material with symbols, text or photos; ideal for communication, advancement and fostering independence."
  • SymbolStix Online is a "web-based symbol search engine that gives you access to the most complete and current symbol set available anywhere. A SymbolStix Online subscription gives you unlimited access to over 12,000 symbols for non-commercial use in any application or materials."
  • SymbolStix was "originally designed and developed by News-2-You, Inc for use in its internet newspaper and online curriculum, SymbolStix depicts activities and people as lively, vibrant stick figures, drawn with a distinctive flair to create “stick figures with an attitude”. The set consists of approximately 11,000 symbols."
  • The Widgit Symbol Set "consists of over 10,000 colorful, simply-drawn symbols, which each illustrate a single concept. The symbols have been designed specifically to support literacy and are used in many countries worldwide to support a variety of learners, including students with special needs, early learners, and those who do not have English as a first language."
Just a few ending words:
Take a look at the site No Boardmaker, No Problem posting by SuperPowerSpeech Blog, shares how to put boards together using PowerPoint and MicroSoft Word. 

DO NOT forget BoardmakerShare where many are provided for your use. Be sure to share yours too! 

And just in case this isn't enough Boardmaker Resources, try this amazing list at "Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs" or Hindie Dershowitz's List. 

More resources are listed on my Pinterest boards: "Visual Schedules to Live and Work By", "Social Skills and Stories" and "Visual Strategies Worth Seeing".