Thanks to the generosity of the Williams Syndrome Association, Berkshire Hills Music Academy received a grant that has put more independent living tools into the hands of our students. The addition of these devices, applications, and adaptive equipment has allowed for the exploration and implementation of personalized assistance in all areas of daily life. Since the launch of the grant, staff at BHMA have creatively identified and employed these tools and technologies into various classes and activities, in order to help our students achieve their highest levels of independence.
A computer-based application that students use regularly at BHMA is Pictello. Pictello tells a story, sequentially, through images and an optional text-to-speech voice option. The student initiates the text-to-speech voice option when they touch the image on the screen. Some students who activate the text-to-speech option do so if they have visual impairment, low visual processing, or limited reading ability. Other students benefit from the pictures or videos within a story, and silently read the text instructions before completing the task. The intuitive nature of the application allows teachers and caregivers to easily create visual and audible schedules, routines, and social stories for their students, to help them complete a task, or transition to another activity with less intervention and greater ease.
Students at BHMA have found success using Pictello to prepare recipes, generate their weekly budgets, at the bank and grocery store, and when completing laundry, room maintenance, and grooming & hygiene routines. A key feature of Pictello is its accessibility to the individual; most students are enrolling and arriving at BHMA with their own "smart" devices (iPhone, iPad, tablet, etc.) and staff are able to input Pictello stories into each student's personal device, so that they can access and utilize a cache of information and prepared prompts off-site and in the community. This has been an especially beneficial resource for those transitioning from the dormitory to off-campus housing. Having this bank of information at their fingertips, regardless of location, is providing consistency and continuity of service, while instilling and fortifying the independent living skills of the young adults attending BHMA. Our staff have seen significant progress in the abilities of both residential and day students to navigate their programming, and we look forward to furthering growth and achievement using assistive technology!