Whether it’s in a traditional teaching setting or special education programs, assistive technology has helped change the face of education across the globe.
Countless students are living with intellectual, cognitive, and physical impairments that can pose a challenge in the classroom. However, thanks to the advancement and widespread availability of assistive technology, more children have the opportunity to learn in a way that works for them.
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Assistive technology refers to software and devices that are designed to improve learning capabilities and day-to-day experiences by catering to the specific needs of disabled students.
Assistive technology not only makes it possible for students to access classrooms, both on and offline, but it also ensures learners can engage with the material required to enhance their skills and complete their education.
This type of technology is personal and different types of software and devices can be combined to create a distinctive learning experience.
The following types of students can benefit from using assistive technology in the classroom:
Visual Health Initiative findings from the CDC indicate that close to 7% of children in the United States are living with visual impairments. These students struggle to navigate classrooms, read, write, and distinguish color, something assistive technology tools can assist with.
Learners who are deaf or hard of hearing have difficulties following instructions in the classroom and are often unable to communicate with their teachers and peers. Assistive tools can help remove these barriers, offering an equal learning experience.
When students are unable to communicate within a classroom setting due to speech difficulties such as a lisp or stutter, it can lead to frustration and unnecessary stress. The right tools can provide these learners with more confidence.
Anxiety, dyslexia, autism, and epilepsy are all examples of cognitive and intellectual impairments that can hamper the learning experience. Assistive tools make it possible for these children to still learn and work towards their education goals.
A large percentage of students require mobility assistance in the classroom to avoid falling behind in their studies, but assistive technology can aid with fine and gross motor movements.
TTS technology is ideal for children who have impairments related to reading, including blindness, ADHD, and dyslexia. TTS tools such as screen readers scan text and read it out loud to students using speech synthesis technology. Not only does this improve reading comprehension, it also enhances pronunciation and alleviates eye strain.
Speechify, Natural Reader, and Google Text to Speech are just a few of the TTS tools that are used by learners.
In an effort to reduce background noise and focus on what an educator is saying, students can use frequency modulation (FM) systems. To make this possible, a teacher would need to wear a microphone that broadcasts to students using this device. FM listening systems are used by students with autism, language processing challenges, and hearing impairments.
For students with mobility impairments, there are sip-and-puff devices, which allow them to control a desktop or mobile device with their mouths. This device also makes it possible for a child to type using an on-screen keyboard. In essence, a sip-and-puff device was designed to replace a mouse and keyboard, with some also having touch, push, and pull capabilities.
There are a number of writing support tools available to support learners in the classroom. Pencil grips and slant keyboards are ideal for aiding physical writing exercises, while word processing programs can help them better form grammatically correct sentences.
Assistive technology for writing can also encompass speech recognition software, which makes it possible for a child to speak and have their text appear on the screen. Apple Dictation, Dragon, and Braina are some examples of this.
When a child is able to better organize their thoughts for assignments, it makes the process of completing these intellectual tasks far less stressful – this is where graphic organizers come in handy. Using images and symbols, learners can visualize relationships between facts, concepts, or ideas, which will guide their thinking.
Reading guides are helpful for students who have trouble staying focused on a page. To enhance focus, a reading guide highlights one line of text and blocks out any words surrounding it. Once a reader is ready to move on, they simply slide the plastic strip down to the next line. Screen Mask is a digital reading guide for students who need this same functionality online.
A large number of students struggle with mathematics, but for learners with writing impairments, writing out equations by hand can be frustrating and demotivating. Math notation tools make it easier to write out equations that traditional word-processing software cannot. MathType, MathMagic, and Math Equation are just a few of the popular options.
For students who are unable to or have trouble speaking, communicators can make a noticeable difference in the classroom. These ACC devices make it possible for a learner to share their thoughts and ideas by typing or using switches, which are then communicated out loud via the communicator.
Children with learning disabilities can use alternative keyboards to learn and better engage in the classroom. These keyboards are programmable, which means parents and educators can customize the appearance and functionality to suit a child’s requirements. For example, the keyboard can be programmed to include graphics, reduce input choices, and group keys according to color.
With an OCR device, a student with visual impairments is able to scan printed material into an electronic device. This text is then read aloud using a screen reader. An OCR tool can be installed on a child’s preferred device or it can be used as a stand-alone device.
The classroom can be an accessible and engaging space for all students, regardless of ability, thanks to the wide variety of assistive technology available today.
With that being said, it’s also important for parents and educators to first gain a thorough understanding of a child’s needs and preferences before deciding on specific tools. Regular check-ins to evaluate whether a tool is working should also be factored in to achieve the best results.
Some of the most popular assistive technology options for online classrooms include a combination of low, mid, and high-tech tools. Speech recognition software, speech synthesizers, electronic worksheets, word prediction programs, alternative keyboards, and braille support are some of the commonly used tools.