Wednesday, May 28, 2008

ZAC Browser...A Web Browser for Children with Autism

I just downloaded the ZAC Browser. This browser has been designed with children with autism in mind. Quoting some from their website:

ZAC is the first web browser developed specifically for children with autism, and autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), and PDD-NOS. We have made this browser for the children - for their enjoyment, enrichment, and freedom. Children touch it, use it, play it, interact with it, and experience independence through ZAC.

ZAC is the zone that will permit your child to interact directly with games (a LOT of games) and activities (focused on MANY interests) that cater specifically to kids who display the characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, like impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. ZAC has been an effective tool for kids with low, medium and high functioning autism.

ZAC focuses on the children and their interaction - But we also provide an excellent forum for parents, caretakers, teachers, and others to share their experiences, tools and resources and to unite as a caring, compassionate, and extremely knowledgeable community. It is said that "it takes a village to raise a child", and that is exponentially true for raising a child with autistic spectrum disorders. The power of your experience yesterday is going to be instrumental in helping someone successfully tackle the circumstances of today.

The user interface is very visual and very interactive. It provides links to a number of different places on the web related to videos, stories, games, and music. The interface makes a great browser for many young children. I did some further investigation with the browser and noticed that it would be fairly easy to configure the browser for switch access as well. Check out the preview below:

So....what do you think?

Why aren't all schools using Firefox?

I was just reading an article written by Steve Lee enititled "Mozilla Firefox helping to make the web accessible to all". It discussion many different accessibility features that are built into Firefox that are aimed at providing access to the web as well as different extensions that can be added to Firefox (at no charge) to improve the accessibility of the browser. There is ongoing committment by the Firefox developers to increase the accessibility of Firefox as well.

Firefox is not only free and working towards good accessibility, but just like the extensions (also called add-ons) mentioned above, there are a number of extensions that can support students in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my favorites beyond those that can be added for accessibility:

  • Clipmarks - Allows a person to clip all or part of the web page and organize into various collections while retaining URL info. Great for research!
  • Duplicate Tab - A person can duplicate a current tab along with its browsing history.
  • - A quick access to posing links to one's own account.
  • Diigo Toolbar- A quick access to posting links, organizing links, highlighting and annotating web content through one's own diigo service.
  • FireShot - FireShot is a Firefox extension that creates screenshots of web pages.
    Unlike other extensions, this plugin provides a set of editing and
    annotation tools, which let users quickly modify captures and insert
    text and graphical annotations.
  • Image Zoom - Allows images to be viewed independenly of the webpage and enlarged.
  • Google Notebook - Great tool for quickly creating and sharing Google Notebooks.
  • Hyperwords - Select any word or words on any web page. A menu pops-up. Choose from
    any one of the many powerful commands. Fully customizable menu and
  • PicLens - Allows browesing of online photos and videos in a very unique way! Much easier than standard browsing methods.
  • Scribefire - ScribeFire is a full-featured blog editor that integrates with your
    browser and lets you easily post to your blog. You can drag and drop
    formatted text from pages you are browsing, take notes, upload images,
    and post to multiple blogs.
  • Tab Catalog - By hovering over an icon, the user get a thumbnail array of all of the open tabs. Nice way to find the tab for which one is looking!
  • WOT - Warns users about risky websites that try to scam visitors, deliver malware, or send spam.
  • Zotero - Great for those of use doing research. This tool allow for the collection and organization of many different content types. It will even capture the necessary information for correct citations and produce those citations in the correct format (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.).
There are so many more extensions that can be used to help students explore and interact with web content. When I have had the fortune to present and work with educators, I often speak highly about different ways in which Firefox can be used. I am shocked and amazed how many times I am told that their schools have policies that prohibit Firefox from being installed on school computers. I hope more teachers will advocate for access to Firefox within schools.

Given all of the power and flexibility of Firefox...why aren't all school using it? Talk about Universal Design....