Many view technology as the great equalizer for those who are differently abled. It allows those with disabilities and other cognitive and perceptive limitations to participate in the “regular” classroom setting without segregating them to separate classrooms or special schools. Utilizing assistive technology to include those with disabilities levels the playing field and helps these students feel better about themselves, which in turn boosts their performance and chances of success.
While technology is a broad term that can encompass any number of devices, systems, and applications—assistive technology (AT) specifically is defined as equipment or systems that maintain or improve the functional capabilities of those with disabilities. The range of AT devices and systems available is vast and includes both high and low-tech. Unfortunately, though assistive technology is readily available, educators often do not fully understand how to implement it or utilize it in the “regular” classroom setting to assist their differently-abled students.
Disparities in the Availability of Assistive Technology
Many schools and teachers rely on the fact that other services and special schools are available to those with disabilities. This belief that the differently-abled are being treated fairly because of their access to other specialized programs is what keeps “regular” schools from utilizing assistive technology. However, some educators see these separate systems as unconstitutional.
Many believe that for it to be a truly fair and equitable system, students with disabilities must have the option to study alongside their peers in the “regular” classroom setting. Although not all children with disabilities will benefit from full inclusion, it is apparent that assistive technologies are necessary in all classroom settings to provide a more equitable learning environment. For children capable of learning in a “regular” classroom, assistive technology can provide them with the tools they need to live a more enjoyable and inclusive life.
Why Equitable Assistive Technology is Essential
Despite assistive technology being readily available, children with disabilities have continually struggled to have access to the tools and resources they need to succeed in most learning environments. Many different-abled children and even adults struggle to feel accepted and included. They often view themselves as “other” or different because they are treated as such.
Even with special programs and schools geared towards helping them, we are essentially telling them that they are different and separate by not allowing them to learn in the same settings as their peers. However, with advancements in technology, it is becoming harder to ignore the benefits of assistive technology and the ways that we can now easily implement its use and integrate it into existing systems.
There are no excuses now, and thus, educators need to make changes to provide a more inclusive and accessible space for all learners. There are many ways that assistive tech can benefit all classroom settings. AT is not only beneficial to differently-abled children but can help create a more effective and efficient learning experience for all learners, including those with:
There is any number of physical or cognitive issues that can limit a student's ability to learn. By integrating assistive technology into “regular” classroom settings, it shows all students that they matter and that educators truly care about helping them succeed by addressing their individual needs. Assistive technology creates an inclusive environment that encourages individuals to speak up for their needs as opposed to settings that cater only to a generic or “standard” type of learner.
How to Address Barriers With Assistive Technology
The best way to implement assistive technology is to look closely at the specific challenges and needs that it can address. Thanks to advancements in tech, it’s not about if we have the tools we need (we do); it’s about looking at what specific tools we need to address the specific needs of all students, but especially those with disabilities.
Thanks to the fast-growing fields of engineering and science, there are many amazing tools, devices, and systems available now that can enhance and improve the classroom setting for differently-abled learners.
Examples of assistive technology include:
- Voice and speech aids: Tools like voice synthesizers, speech-recognition software, and text-to-speech applications make it easier for students with speech impediments or children who are blind to participate more fully in any classroom setting.
- Visual aids: Screen magnification software, devices that turn screen text into Braille can help students who are fully blind or with other visual impairments.
- Audio aids: For those who have a hard time hearing, sound amplification tools and alert devices that use flashing lights or icons instead of sounds can make it easier to absorb the information they need and stay on track with the other students.
- Physical aids: Devices and equipment such as audiobooks, electric wheelchairs, and keyboard adaptors can make it easier for those with mobility issues to complete their schoolwork and access their environment.
- Word processing and grammatical tools: For slower learners, tools that assist with editing and spell checking can help them keep up with schoolwork, so they aren’t falling behind other students.
- Virtual Reality: Even Virtual Reality (VR) devices can help those with disabilities experience the same things as other students. If a student can’t attend a field trip, for example, they can see and experience the same places as the other students through immersive VR.
With assistive technology, many of the limitations that children with disabilities face are eliminated. It evens the playing field and allows all students to have access to the same experiences and learning environments. Though special schools or classrooms may still be necessary for those with more advanced disabilities, integrating AT into “regular” classroom settings gives differently-abled children the option to learn alongside their peers should they desire. And not only does it benefit those with special needs, but it also teaches other children to be more accepting and inclusive in their thoughts and actions.