I recently returned from some adventure-filled technology outreach to the Nepal/India border town of Birgunj. I posted several photos and observations about my experience on my website (click the image). What a thrilling experience, as always.
This week for EdTech 554, we explored some of the the issues surrounding assistive technology. Our forum prompt asked us to explore how we as leaders in educational technology can support the use assistive technology to make these possibilities a reality for our students, in spite of budget cuts.
This is certainly an exciting yet difficult issue, one laden with challenges on every front. My mom has taught special education in a low income area of Nevada for 20 years. She faces this issue every day and there is no easy solution.
Yet, “technology can be a great equalizer for individuals with disabilities” and can provide alternative solutions to assist students with physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments (Behrmann, 1998). Technology holds great potential “to enhance access, inclusion, productivity, and the quality of life of individuals with disabilities (as cited in Chmiliar & Cheung, 2007). While the vision is a strong one, the implementation and funding for Assistive Technology often comes up short.
What stood out to me most from the readings (here and here) is the need to support professional development of teachers (a recurring theme in educational technology…). Assistive Technology (AT) will have little impact unless teachers know how to best integrate it into student learning. Though teachers have a “pivotal role” in implementing AT, they generally receive very little training on how to do so (Chmiliar & Cheung, 2007).
Some things require little money or effort but still make a big difference. I have a nerve deafness, due to a childhood illness, that makes it difficult to understand spoken words. I function in ‘normal’ society but I am greatly aided by small efforts that make my life less frustrating. I enable subtitles anytime I can because it helps me differentiate words and it’s good literacy reinforcement for my children. I also always appreciate it when a speaker or teacher can see their students and speaks loudly and clearly.
The encouraging news, I believe, is that accessibility features are becoming more and more common on computers and tablets. What used to require expensive software is now built-in or available within an inexpensive app. Part of the solution to accessibility is to train teachers to properly use the accessibility features already available to them.
For EdTech 541, I explored the issue of accessibility. I created a Clarify-It tutorial on the built-in accessibility features on my iMac and wrote about it on my learning log. I designed a webpage suggesting iPad apps and software/hardware for students with cognitive, physical, sensory, along with at-risk and gifted and talented students.
This is an issue that we can tackle – one step at a time – together.
Behrmann, M. (1998). Assistive technology for young children in special education: It makes a difference. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/assistive-technology-young-children-special-education
Chmiliar, L., & Cheung, B. (2007). Assistive technology training for teachers – Innovation and accessibility online. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin, 35(1&2), 18–28.