This week Kalyn, Megan, Leigh, and Jenny presented on assistive technologies. During the presentation, assistive technology was defined by understand.org as any device software or equipment that helps people work around their challenges’. This could be anything from pencil grips, voice to text calculators, or communication devices. This made me rethink how many assistive technologies I have used with students over the years.
“Assistive technology tools can help students with certain disabilities learn more effectively. Ranging in sophistication from ‘low’ technologies such as a graphic organizer worksheet to ‘high’ technologies including cutting-edge software and smartphone apps, assistive technology is a growing and dynamic field” (teachthought). Initially, when I thought of assistive technology, my mind immediately went to ‘high’ technologies. The presentation opened my eyes to all the ‘low’ assistive technologies I have used over the years. I have used pencil grips, slant boards, seat cushions, large lined paper, magnifying lenses, among many others.
In the required reading, Assistive technology: Impact on education, employment, and independence of individuals with physical disabilities, the authors discuss that “appropriately selected and utilized assistive technology is imperative for individuals to approach an even par with their non-disabled peers”. I have had a few instances in my career where I have had an assistive technology given to me for a student, but I failed to utilize the technology to its fullest potential because I had no training on the technology. One that comes to mind is Kurzweil.
I was so overwhelmed with this program. Somehow I was supposed to scan all the work the student needed read to them. This was a time before online textbooks and I would battle trying to flatten the text to scan it. If the scan wasn’t perfect-the program couldn’t read it. I did not have an educational assistant to help the student when they required the use of the program. I was expected to teach the class while also helping this student navigate their way through the program. It was a short lived solution. Another program that I had a similar experience with is Dragon Naturally Speaking.
I had a student who had a learning disability that affected his writing ability. This program was to help him get his ideas down without having to physically print them himself. It took a long time to get the program to partially understand him as he also has a speech impediment. I’m not sure what the program is like now, but years ago we had to ‘train’ the program to understand his voice for accuracy. It did not work well for this student.
I have had autistic students in my class who use PECS with their educational assistant. This system allows communication by a student who is unable to verbally communicate. It opens up a whole new world for the student.
More recently, I have utilized portions of Google’s read&write. I have used it exclusively for speech to text. Reading through MegansEdStuff blog post, I see many other functions that this extension could be utilized with my students. I can see using this extension for students looking up words in their readings, removing images and ads from web pages so students can focus on what they are supposed to be focused on, and the ‘screen mask’ function. I have students that would benefit from only seeing a few lines of text at a time to help them focus. I have also never used this extension for its reading text aloud ability. I definitely need some PD on this extension to utilize it to its full ability! As Megan says in her blog, “educators need more support than just a device”.
Implementing assistive technology can be a slow learning process. When assistive technology is new to a student in my class (grade 6), I talk to them about the process they will go through learning the new technology. For example, I have a student who has just undergone some ed psych testing and the recommendations were to use a Chromebook for writing tasks. This student and I are working together to use this device effectively so that when she reaches high school (grade 9) using the Chromebook for writing is a comfortable thing to do (and she can do it independently).
The challenges and limitations I experience using assistive technology are:
*unskilled teacher with the technology (when do I have time to learn this stuff??)
*other students don’t understand why some students ‘get’ to use a Chromebook
*not enough technology for those who need it
Assistive technology ‘levels the playing field’ between students. I look forward to looking more into some of the technologies presented this week in class.