This week, Nicole, Todd and I, had the privilege of sharing our research on Assistive Technologies. I have to thank my group members, as I really appreciated working with them, and we each learned a ton putting together our presentation.Read more: Week 10: Making Learning More Accessible
Our blog prompt this week, has us reflecting on our own experiences with assistive technology, and commenting on the challenges and limitations of using it. Personally, I was thrilled to get this topic for our presentation, as it is something that I have had a pretty high level of exposure to in my career.
Starting in my internship, I was involved with teaching and planning for a student that was partially blind. As I was thrust into learning to teach a grade 4/5 classroom, I was also beginning to learn braille and develop resources to benefit this student’s learning. The inclusion of sight words around the classroom with braille inscribed on them, large format printing, and using particularly coloured paper were all assistive technologies that we employed during my internship.
But it’s important to realize, as Todd mentioned, Assistive Technologies are more than the ‘high tech’ options such as speech to text or screen readers that most may think of when describing these technologies. Low and Mid Tech options can be just as effective to support all learners in various situations.
As I got my first contract, and moved further into my career (particularly into the Learning Support world,) I’ve been exposed to several types of assistive tech. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to things like:
- A wireless micrphone that broadcast directly to a student’s hearing aids
- iPad’s for numerous academic and social learning pieces
- Translation software
- Sensory Objects (Fidgets)
- Specific colour/size/spaced paper or hand outs
- Specific types of chairs (hooki stool, roller, exercise ball, recline)
- Wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, mobility scooters, lifts, walkers, and assisted walkers
- Kick/Bouncy Bands for desks
- Calculators, online dictionary, and translation apps for phones and iPads
- Text to Speech, Screen Readers, and Screen Magnifiers
- Read&Write for Chrome and the accessibility features within Microsoft Office365 (Click on the table below to see several)
- Personal computers to type rather than handwrite
- Highlighters, sticky notes, agendas, and communication books
- Larger pencils, and erasers
I’m sure there are some that I’m forgetting from this list. Some of these I have only used once in order to support one specific student, but many of them have been used throughout my career both to supports students with exceptionalities, and those that are part of my general classroom. The high majority of these resources worked well to support my students needs within the classroom, allowing that student to become more involved, engaged, and independent.
However, it’s important to recognize some of the limitations and challenges that arise when you are seeking to employ these technologies. As I mentioned during our presentation, assistive technology is not a perfect solution as it is often advertised to be. Many students require multiple assistive technologies and employing one does not guarantee complete or partial success. Many of these pieces of tech require training, for both the student and their adult supports. Employing these technologies without proper training, can cause frustration in both student and teacher. Furthermore, many of these technologies (particularly the high-tech variants,) are extremely costly, on top of often needing to be replaced, upgraded, or serviced often. Finally, students often fear being ‘singled out.’ These technologies may gain unwanted attention for the student, particularly when a student is not comfortable discussing a disability with others.
These technologies have great power to increase the independence, and engagement of all students. However, it does take proper time, planning, and training to ensure that these options are effective, and not destined to take residence in a dusty cupboard.