On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, about 15 people participating in AHRC New York City’s Day Habilitation without Walls, (DHWOW) program gathered at the Stapleton Library on Staten Island, as part of Tech Group, an ongoing effort to learn about new technologies. While each of the meetings is focused on a different group-based goal, the ongoing theme of Tech Group is to introduce individual attendees to new technologies that enable them to increase their independence. AHRC NYC’s person-centered supports focus on the unique goals and dreams of each person, so each person in the group receives technologies that assist them as they try to achieve their own chosen goals.

Charles Umana works to make technology available for people receiving AHRC NYC services

Charles Umana

The first thing to do is for everyone to have their tech out. You can use your phone if you like.” said Charles Umaña, Technology Deployment Specialist / Trainer for AHRC NYC’s Individualized Technology Strategies department, welcoming everyone to the library. He explained the day’s goal, critical reading and writing. “Today you’re going to analyze a news article.”

The group members were asked to use the internet to find either a news article or a written review. Charles noted that the group had previously explored a few different ways to find news articles using devices like the iPad and Kindle, website applications such as the New York Times app, content aggregators like Google News, and specialized services such as Newsela.

Building Critical Thinking Skills

After reading their chosen article/review, members of Tech Group were asked to write down the name of the author, a brief summary on what the article was about, and to write about whether they agreed or disagreed with the author’s opinion.

The goal today is not the reading, in and of itself, although if that’s something you’re working on, that’s obviously important,” said Carmine Cammarata, Community Support Professional for Staten Island’s DHWOW. “The goal today is to find something, to have your own thoughts about it and to respond to it.

Carmine then wrote a few guiding questions on a dry erase board to prompt further discussion of the articles chosen by attendees:

  1. What point or argument is the author making?
  2. If the author is reporting, how do you feel about the information?
  3. If the author is making an argument, do you agree or disagree?

Using Technology for Independent Travel, Healthy Living, Reading Comprehension, and Stress Reduction

Dana Johnson uses a number of iPad applications in her day-to-day life. “I travel by myself a lot of times. I take the train,” she said. “We’ve been going over Google Maps. We’re learning how to find where you live, and if you’re going to travel… how long it takes, what buses or train you can take.”

Mobile device applications explored by the Tech Group often have a particular appeal to its individual members. “Now we’re doing a health thing. I’ve got some apps [that show] what’s healthy to eat, and what’s not healthy to eat,” adds Dana.

Much of Dana’s access to these technologies began when she took a class hosted at Pace University, which was taught by Charles Umana. “Each week we met, along with Pace students, and learned about techniques and technologies available predominantly through the use of iPads,” says Charles. Carmine, Dana’s mentor, traveled with her from Staten Island to Manhattan, so that she could attend the Pace class.

Dana finds an article to read during Tech Group

Dana finds an article to read during Tech Group

Dana’s work with Charles and Carmine continues as she joins Tech Group twice per month to learn about a variety of useful applications while practicing academic skills. One application, in particular, is helping Dana to improve her reading skills: Newsela is an online service that aggregates high-interest articles from multiple sources daily. Each published article is made available at different reading grade levels. Readers like Dana can choose an appropriate reading level, and as their skills increase, they can select higher a reading level.

Dana selects a level of reading that she is comfortable with

Dana selects a comfortable level of reading

You read the article and then there’s a quiz,” explained Dana. “The ones that are red mean I got them wrong, and the ones that are green mean I got them right.” The quiz helps to determine if Dana has retained the article’s most important information. Over time, the application tracks a reader’s progress and also assists teachers by delivering progress notifications to them.

Dana uses Newsela very frequently to read news articles,” said Carmine. “She chose an article about students who didn’t believe their Principal had the right credentials to be teaching at their school. They investigated and eventually learned that she did not have the right credentials. It was all about pushing for the truth, which was something that resonated with Dana.”

Some people with disabilities use technology to assist them in areas outside of academic learning. Dana sometimes experiences high levels of stress, so she has found a way to use technology to help her to take control of those feelings. You can view that story below: