Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Assistive Technology Increasing Inclusion in Classrooms and Beyond


Creating inclusive environments involves problem solving, something Sonora High School special education teacher Rob Mayben knows quite well. Mayben invented the Desktop Desk, an assistive technology (AT) device that enables better access for students with disabilities in classrooms and other environments. Recently Think Inclusive caught up with Mayben to learn more about his invention, including a special back to school sale which could help land you the AT device at a discounted price.

Origins Behind the Desktop Desk

One student’s needs initiated what eventually became the Desktop Desk. In 2008 Rob Mayben found himself with a student named Neil. Due to his cerebral palsy Neil uses a wheelchair. The way Neil’s wheelchair and the classroom’s surfaces configured limited the learner’s ability to participate in class. Mayben began brainstorming ways to change that. The video below featuring Neil captures the final product.

During the invention process Mayben realized the Desktop Desk possessed potential to help more students than just Neil, something we discussed in a previous interview. Explaining how his invention increases inclusion Mayben said, “Instead of a student being in their chair away from everybody else it hooks up to any table and now they’re right next to everybody.”

Desktop Desk Increases Computer AccessMayben also pointed out the Desktop Desk can benefit more students than those with physical disabilities. “We’ll use them for kids who just need to focus a little bit better. Sometimes we have autistic kids that they have a lot of stuff that distracts them so we set it up for them.”

Great for Outside the Classroom Too

Over the last half decade The Desktop Desk proved a great catalyst for inclusion outside the classroom too. “Whether it be for a laptop or at a table for a meal, it’s been making a huge difference” remarked Mayben. The picture to the right shows how the Desktop Desk can assist with computer access. Meanwhile the following parent made testimonial video demonstrates the Desktop Desk’s versatility as both a writing surface and eating surface.

Back to School Special

Driven to get the Desktop Desk to those who could benefit from the assistive technology Rob Mayben remains amidst a special back to school sale. Now until the end of September 2014 you can purchase the Desktop Desk for $199 by visiting Regularly the Desktop Desk sells for $374.99. Said Mayben, “I’ve never done it this much before but the goal is to get as many of these out as possible to help folks.”

He added, “It’s just me so I’m going to be up late at night getting this stuff processed, packaged, and in the mail. So it’s probably going to be a busy month for me but that’s cool. I’m excited.” With each Desktop Desk Mayben will throw in a Desktop Desk carrying bag (normally $49) at no cost besides shipping and handling.

In the past community groups like rotary/service clubs partnered with Mayben to sponsor Desktop Desks for local schools and adult centers. Mayben invites any interested parties to contact him about taking advantage of the sale to do something similar.

“If there is a rotary group or just a service club or a business that wants to sponsor a district, that’s even better. They can actually contact me and I’ll work with them and whatever the school districts are in their area. If they need help finding them, I’ll find a place to put it (the Desktop Desks) to benefit kids. “

Contact Mayben via email ( or phone (209-768-9242). He teaches full-time at Sonora High School but promises to return any messages received during the workday.

Photo Credit: kev-shine/Flickr

Why Bother Giving Access To Curriculum For Students With Significant Disabilities?

Robson Square pic-K
Why should we bother giving access to curriculum for students with the most significant disabilities?

I’ve spent 30+ years in the educational field working with students who have a label of significant intellectual disabilities. I have seen a number of practices and philosophies come and go in that time. What I have seen as a constant is that students rise to the level of expectation if given the opportunity.

There is a new emphasis on providing instruction for students that allows them to access to curriculum and the same standards as their grade level peers. Some argue that “these students” don’t NEED academic skills. Thirty years ago they told us ‘these students’ did not need to be in school. Yet our students rose to the level of expectation.

There is a focus in general education on differentiated instruction and active student participation as well as higher order thinking. I am not seeing the same strategies used as much by teachers of more significantly involved students. Many teachers argue that by focusing on academics we are not providing the life skills that students need as adults. Why do we think they are mutually exclusive? Why can’t we do both? I believe strongly that all students have the right to be exposed to the curriculum. Our job as teachers is to provide the materials and scaffolding they need to participate and progress. Isn’t that what special education means?

One of the arguments I often hear from teachers is “Why are we wasting our time teaching Romeo & Juliet when they need to learn basic life skills?” Don’t all students have the right to learn about the world around them and find their place in it? I have seen remarkable things happen once we started exposing our students to general education curriculum – better communication, interest in the world around them, more acceptance by peers, and participation in the general education program. In other words, becoming a full member of the educational community instead of someone in a totally different curriculum housed in an educational building.

The key is providing the curriculum in a meaningful way. This may mean it looks different. It means doing activities that involve the content of the curriculum in meaningful ways. It means not doing worksheets all day. It means allowing students to be involved with their peers.

The key to successfully adapting materials is starting with the skills the student has already. When I am working with a new teacher, the first thing I do is ask them to tell me about their students. They almost always begin by telling me about the deficits or what they cannot do. Until we change the thought process to what they CAN do, we can’t successfully support students. It is difficult to move forward with what the student CANNOT do. For example, the student cannot use his/her hands but they CAN track objects visually or turn toward sound. In this case we have to create materials that allow visual choices or provide auditory input to help the student participate.

The teacher has to approach every lesson thinking “What do I need to do to allow this student to participate and succeed?” Some simple strategies are providing manipulatives so the student has a concrete connection to the lesson, use photos or graphics with the words for non-readers, provide picture/symbol vocabulary sheet or communication board even for verbal communicators, provide tactile supports on materials, adapt written text for understanding and participation, pre-teach vocabulary and/or basic concepts and involve the family and other support systems. The most important strategy is expect success.

In working with many teachers over the years, I have found two common characteristics of teachers who are successful in working with students that have severe disabilities. The first characteristic is that they approach instruction with a positive mind set. “How do I make sure this happens?” instead of “They can’t do that.” I call this thinking outside the box. Our students don’t fit in the gen ed box neatly so our solutions will have to be found outside that box. The second characteristic is they do their job with joy and create a fun learning environment. If the student and teacher are having fun, then learning will definitely take place.

Photo Credit: Karen Pedersen-Bayus

What do you think? How should we approach teaching students with the most significant needs grade-level aligned curriculum? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

The Case For Inclusion (Part Three): Sea Change

This post was originally published at Ollibean. The longer there is a strong distinction between general and special education the worse it is for students who are labeled with a disability. It perpetuates the language of Us and Them… These two worlds need to meet and the sooner the better. I will try to make…

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“I will go to Wilson. Yes!” -Henry Frost For those of you don’t know…Henry Frost is an extraordinary young man who expressed his desire to attend his neighborhood school, even at the behest of Hillsborough County School District (HCSD) that he should attend another school in a segregated classroom. His courage is laudable and should…

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Part Of Your World

By Dusty Dutton My favorite song from “The Little Mermaid” is “I like to be where the people are… I want to be part of your world.” My name is Dusty Dutton. I am 32 and have Down syndrome, which means I need help doing some things. I am legally blind, which means I need really thick glasses….

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Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

Let’s face it. I have no original ideas… Very few of us do… and as I have been surveying the mounds of research that is available on the subject of inclusion…I am reminded that I am standing on the shoulders of giants (though I doubt that the people I read would describe themselves as such)….

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All We Needed to Know

By Leslie Lederer Like most parents, we did not expect to have a child with a disability. Our firstborn son Danny seemed fine at birth. However, we soon noticed he wasn’t achieving the developmental milestones at a typical pace. At age 6 months, Danny was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms. We knew the news was not good when Danny’s…

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Example of Reverse Inclusion

I know. I know. Not a very snappy title. But…hopefully the various search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) will like it. Since inclusion is hard to accomplish without the right amount of paraprofessional support…I have compensated by engineering some reverse inclusion opportunities. I know this is not ideal but since we are not living in an…

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The Case for Inclusion (Part Two): What Does Inclusion Look Like?

This was originally published at Ollibean.  I must concede that my closing thought in the previous post is not airtight. There are families who for whatever reason…decide to have their children or loved ones live separately (temporarily or permanently) because they feel like they are not able to give them the support they need. But that is…

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My Decision to Homeschool My Son With Autism

I’ve been asked to write about our decision to homeschool Jackson, our middle school son with autism, a number of times.  People’s response generally falls into 2 camps: extremely skeptical or enthusiastically supportive.  There seems to be little gray area on this issue.  As a former high school teacher, I never thought twice about my ability to educate my own child, so the negative response took me a bit off guard, until I realized that many people are intimidated by the complexities of autism education, therefore believe it ought to be left to qualified professionals.

As I was brainstorming how to explain our decision to an audience of professional educators who support an inclusive approach to special education, I felt an analogy would be an interesting way to illustrate our situation.

In addition to autism education, I am also passionate about healthy living.  I have been researching and implementing healthy nutritional, dietary and environmental lifestyle choices for over a decade.  I am a huge Michael Pollan fan and have been an advocate for local food before it became the latest craze.  So, it only seems fitting to have the local organic family farm represent our family in this analogy.  On the flip side, let’s have BigAgra business (like a Tysons or Purdue) represent any institutional school system, public or private.

With this in mind, the scenario I present to you is this:  A BigAgra business acquires a small local organic family farm.  What challenges do you foresee in this merger?  What steps need to be taken by both parties to ensure a successful transition?  And, is there ever a time to dissolve this newly created partnership because the two farms are just not compatible?

Inclusion of a small organic family farm into a massive, government subsidized and regulated farm is going to be challenging for sure.  But there are steps that can be taken to respect the integrity of the local farm without compromising the requirements of the big agricultural machine.  Compromise must be made on both sides for this partnership to work, and if it can work, how wonderful for all parties involved!  The local farm gets huge exposure to new and innovative ideas and practices and the large farm gets a refresher course on the value of individual care and attention to purity and quality of each morsel of food produced.

Sadly, my precious organic family farm, that I had tended with painstaking care everyday for 12 long, hard years, with every ounce of heart and soul I had, got plowed over and salted without anyone ever consulting me.   One day, it was there, and the next it was gone.

The decision to homeschool Jackson came very suddenly and very emphatically as we were sitting in an “emergency IEP” meeting 6 weeks into the start of middle school.  We had no idea he was having trouble until we got a letter in his binder requesting a meeting to address his behaviors and lack of academic progress.  We felt blindsided in the meeting because all the reports home up until that point seemed fine.  During the meeting, it became very clear that this large public school of over 2,000 students, that housed an autism center with over 220 students, had 1 system and 1 system only that every student had to conform to, and unlike our wonderful public elementary school, there was absolutely no room for individualization based on the needs of the child. We were essentially told, “that is how we do it here and Jackson needs to learn to adapt because middle school is tough and he has to figure it out like everyone else.” All of a sudden we realized that our special needs son was a product and not a person.

My local organic family farm was being swallowed up by an agricultural machine that had no time or interest in our silly ideas or sustainable practices to ensure a healthy and vibrant future for not only our food, but for our greater community.

So now, we homeschool, and we spend more time out and about in our city, meeting people, sharing our ideas, teaching tolerance and acceptance of diversity, spreading our passion for learning, and growing the highest quality human beings that we can with our small organic family farm of unique and awesome people.

Allison Trotter is a former high school government and economics teacher and writes for her blog Homeschooling Autism. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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