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CanAssist Spinners rolled out to classrooms across B.C.

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The printed overlay on Melody's Spinner shows four simple colors.A relatively simple technology from CanAssist is having a profound effect on the way students with severe disabilities are able to interact with their peers and participate in classrooms.

The Spinner is a circular device on which a selection of printed overlays can be attached – such as the six sides of dice shown in the photo. When activated, a light travels around the Spinner's circumference, stopping at a random spot.

Many children with extremely challenging physical and cognitive disabilities can activate the Spinner by pressing a large button called an “accessibility switch” with any part of their body over which they have some control. Learning how to use a Accesibility switches often come in the form of a big button.switch is critical for these children, both in learning the concept of cause and effect and in beginning to independently control any number of electronic devices, such as computers and communication devices and TVs.

“The Spinner is a way for students to be active participants in the classroom,” says Chris Jenkins, Coordinator of Inclusion Outreach, the provincial program that distributed the devices to 50 schools across B.C. “It also teaches them how to use an accessibility switch. And for many of these kids, using a switch is a starting point in participating – it's a way into that child's world.”

In this instance, the Spinner's white overlay has the names of all the teachers and staff willing to get wet. Jeffrey activates the Spinner to find out which one gets a soakingIn one example, a youngster named Jeffrey from Houston, B.C., got to participate in a fundraising competition at his school in a way that would never have been possible before. The school was recognizing the student from each class who had raised the most money by letting each winner choose a teacher who would get a bucket of water poured over his or her head. Jeffrey raised the most money in his class.

“So this was a great opportunity for Jeffrey to participate,” says Jenkins. “We wrote the names of teachers on a blank overlay and attached it to the device, Then Jeffrey got control over who got wet by using his Spinner!

Hunter, who attends school in Coquitlam, activates the Spinner. The light has landed on the number “1.”During a skipping event at another school, a student was able to participate by using a printed overlay with different skipping styles – such as forward, backward and double-Dutch. Using the Spinner, that student got to determine which types of skipping moves her peers would do next. Another child used the Spinner to “roll the dice” for classmates playing Snakes and Ladders.

A classroom in Armstrong, B.C., was studying the Panama Canal. So the teacher took a blank overlay and divided it into questions about the famous waterway. A non-verbal student using the Spinner was in charge of “asking” classmates questions by pressing her accessibility switch.

“It puts that student in a position of importance and respect,” says Jenkins. “And Taslyn and her classmates get their first look at the Spinner.that's really what this is all about – giving them an active role that they wouldn't otherwise have had.”

Jenkins says that the Spinners are being provided to individual students as long-term loans. When a Spinner is no longer beneficial to a child, the device will be returned to Inclusion Outreach, which can then loan it to another student. Using this approach, it is expected that, over time, the 50 Spinners will be used by hundreds of students with disabilities.

The Spinner project was made possible by generous grants from the Loyal Protestant Association and from an anonymous foundation.

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