Assistive technology (AT) can be compared to a person wearing a pair of glasses to support one’s vision, a pair of hearing aid to improve hearing or a leg to aid in mobility. AT comes in various types and degrees of sophistication. The use of AT is to promote independence and increase, maintain or improve the learning experience of students with SEND.
An audiobook is the first thing that comes to mind if a student finds reading difficult or is visually impaired. This enables the student to have access to the same printed material, but via listening. The student is able to playback and does so repeatedly in the same manner in which a reader is able to turn back the pages of a book to retrieve information. The AT resource may be in the form of MP3, CDs, etc. The audiobook allows the student to interact with the content of the text, to follow the words being read in the appropriate eye sweep (not the visually impaired), hear clearly how the words are enunciated, and as a result, some students are able to better enjoy and understand the text more than if it were being read.
The computer is also another medium which can provide audio visual support for students’ learning needs. This is not necessarily only for students with learning challenges, but for all student. Students are able to see events, illustrations, presentations etc. They are able to employ their auditory and visual abilities at the same time. In addition, schools can purchase programmes or software which is specifically tailored to the needs of the students, which may include songs with actions, numbers, letters, colours etc.
iPads/Tablet computers are very similar to the use of personal computers, the differences are that they can be individually programmed, can be easily managed and handled by students. Students can highlight, underline, change font sizes etc. to their desired learning needs and activities. Depending on the software being used, some students may also have access to audio.
Speech – to – text AT, allows students who are unable to write-dysgraphia or type or who are physically disabled, but have the ability to speak, to talk into a microphone and have their talk translated into text on a screen. Some software goes a bit further by allowing the students to edit their work. There is also the use of the keyboard to support writing challenges and for some a simple pencil grip makes all the difference.
Similar to speech – to – text, there are programmes that allow students to ‘talk through’ the math problem, while at the same time, the problem is being computed on the screen. This technology is available, from primary to tertiary institutions. In addition, there are ATs which simulate mathematical situations and allow students to grasp mathematical concepts more readily.
Students who have difficulties organising their ideas can be supported to do so with a graphic organiser. It is programmed to give students ideas and prompts when writing. Therefore, the students are better able to structure their written tasks and convey coherent ideas.
Furthermore, there are more sophisticated ATs, such as the ones that enable those with disabilities, to use their mouth or toes with a stick to write or draw, those which use the blink of the eye to communicate and as time and technology advance, there will be far more support for students with SEND, including artificial intelligence (AI).
By: Debbie Hamilton-Bogues
Debbie is an experienced international educator, who has spent almost 30 years in education in the Caribbean, USA, UK and the Middle East. She has a passion for students with special education needs.