Students with disabilities often find the classroom environment daunting to some extent. These students tend to feel inferior compared to their counterparts, which negatively impacts their learning. Students with disabilities may feel left out or excluded since they have difficulties completing even simple tasks like turning a page. Assistive technology is crucial as it enables individuals to carry out tasks on their own.
Assistive technology can prove complicated but is useful and improves life quality by making it easier to perform activities. The term refers to any form of equipment or software when used, helps to overcome physical challenges. Assistive technology enables individuals to take part in education, live dignified lives and engage in civic life.
What is assistive technology?
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), assistive technology is defined as any product, system, or equipment used to maintain and amplify people with disabilities' functional abilities. Assistive technology is anything that can be used by a person to overcome their disabilities. In the school set up, it can help the complete student tasks or overcome challenges.
Technology has been proven to be effective in improving the learning process for numerous children. Research points pot that learners with disabilities perform better using their strengths to get around their weaknesses. It is essential to note that assistive technology does not eliminate the disability but rather provides leverage to capitalize on strengths—for instance, reading software to listen to audiobooks.
What type of assistive technologies are out there? And how can they be used by educators and help learners to reach their potential?
Types of Assistive Technology
According to the United States Department of Education, around seven million learners benefit from special education. To promote inclusivity, these services are offered effectively; school districts are adopting assistive technology. There are several types of assistive technology that can be applied to overcome a spectrum of disabilities. Assistive technology fosters independence and enables learners to access grade-level information.
Some researchers classify assistive technology into two: low tech and high tech. High tech refers to sophisticated devices and equipment with electronic parts and includes software features in devices. Text to speech is an example of a built-in accessibility feature in the high-tech category. The low-tech class is comprised of simple adaptive components like graphic organizers and flexible furniture.
Adoption of Assistive Technology in the Learning Environment
Schools are now working towards adopting modern and improved learning methods that involve incorporating technology into the curriculum. All these efforts ensure that the learners attain their potential and acquire the necessary skills to enrich their lives.
Below are some of the assistive technology tools used by learners with disabilities:
1. Alternative keyboards
There are programmable keyboards with unique overlays to change the function and appearance of the keyboard. Students benefit immensely since they can customize the keyboard to help reduce input errors, confusion of keys due to color, and graphics to facilitate understanding.
Audiobooks and publications
Recorded books are presented in numerous different media like CDs, MP3 downloads, and they enable users to listen to written messages. New features would allow learners to save and search specific chapters; additionally, subscription services provide vast electronic collections.
Software programs used with word processing enable the users to store, develop, and re-use abbreviations for common words and phrases. The learner can conserve keystrokes while ensuring proper spelling of phrases and words.
Freeform database software
Commonly used together with word processing software, this tool helps the learner create and store notes electronically about any particular topic. Students can refer to the information at their convenience by typing any part of the initial essay.
Optical character recognition
A modern technology that enables learners to scan printed information into a computer device. Once the information has been reviewed, it is read aloud through the screen reading system. Learners who have trouble writing notes can use the program to learn new concepts with fewer complications. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can be found as computer software and available in pocket-sized devices.
Electronic math worksheets
Computer-designed programs to help people align, solve, and organize math questions are known as electronic math worksheets. These programs are developed with a speech synthesizer to read out loud on the user's command. All special features are incorporated to assist students with difficulties in aligning math problems with pen and paper.
Graphic organizers and outlining
Outlining and graphic programs assist learners who experience challenges organizing and presenting information, especially when completing a writing assignment. The program is designed to allow the user to post the information as desired and manage the inappropriate data categories.
Word prediction programs are beneficial, especially when using word processing tools, to help identify the word the user will use next as they type. The software uses various factors like spelling, frequency, the syntax to make the appropriate suggestion.
Students experiencing speech-related complications like spelling, poor grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure can benefit from proofreading programs. The program scans word processing documents and notifies the user of any existing errors and mistakes. The tool is efficient and effective to ensure individuals communicate without making errors.
Funding for Assistive Technology
Due to its complex nature and need for additional learning materials adopting assistive learning is very costly. Most parents feel that it is necessary to incorporate this equipment in schools to enrich their lives.
There several ways of funding assistive technology for learning, and they include:
A collaborative effort between the federal and state government to secure funding where assistive technology is medically recommended.
A doctor's prescription is necessary to validate learners' necessity to use assistive technology. Different insurance companies have varying rates for funds allocated to adaptive technology.
Public school students are required to have an individualized education plan (IEP). The Individualized education plan ensure s that every learner with special needs is offered specialized education based on their disabilities. The program can recommend the use of assistive technology for students free of charge.