There are around 25,000 children living with sight loss, and 286,000 children who have a learning disability – with those figures in mind, student’s learning with a disability often require adaptive or assistive technology to support their education.
A child’s education is vital – and it is important that teaching staff have access to the correct tools to ensure a child with a disability can get the most out of their education. The use of technology can enhance the learning experience for many children who struggle because of the barriers they face from their disability. When students with a learning disability have the opportunity to use their strengths to overcome their challenges, it often results in a successful education. Assistive technology (AT) is just one approach that allows students to work around their disabilities.
Why can assistive technology help?
Every disabled child’s needs are different – they are unique to them, and the support that one child needs will more than likely differ to another child’s. For that reason, there are several types of assistive technology available to help enhance a child’s education – with many able to address a child’s learning difficulties and make the education experience better for the student, and teacher. AT has tools which can be used to assist those with disabilities that struggle with listening, reading, writing, math and organisation. Whether the student is visually impaired, dyslexic or any other disabilities that cause skill deficits, AT can be implemented into the education processes to help. In fact, research has proved that AT can improve certain skill deficits, such as reading and spelling.
Assistive technology is used to support a children’s education and give them the independence and freedom to learn at their own pace and use their strength to achieve. It does not give disabled students an unfair advantage but instead gives them the opportunity, in some cases, to learn alongside their fellow students by giving them the independence to learn in an environment that allows them to use their strengths to overcome their challenges, whether they are learning in a public school, a special needs institution or a blind school. Adaptive devices help to increase participation, achievement and independence of the student, by improving their access to the same general curriculum as other pupils without a disability via an assistive tool that breaks down the barriers of their disability.
What technology can be used?
Certain assistive technology tools give disabled students the opportunity to learn effectively with their peers. Around 20% of young people with a visual impairment have additional special education needs or disabilities, with a further 30% having complex needs within the education system. Assistive technology offers support. Generally, the term assistive technology is applied to technology that is used to support children with learning difficulties – most commonly, electronic devices, computer hardware and digital tools that are available on the internet.
Visual impairment affects a significant number of children, and assistive technology can provide students with access to educational assets in a larger format, both in print and digital. For many visually impaired students, digital technology is a way for them to learn in mainstream schools – this is because text can be enlarged, and other senses can be used to aid the learning process, such as touch and sound. Around 60% of visually impaired students are educated in mainstream schools, and assistive technology supports their learning needs, and allows students to learn at their own rate. A qualified teacher of the visually impaired is likely to support to pupil further.
To encourage engagement, participation, production, alternative keyboards have overlays which customise the appearance of the keyboard. Not only for students with visual impairment who might need braille, or larger keys, these customisable keyboard overlays can add graphics and colours to help students who struggle to type. And it doesn’t stop there – from electronic math work sheets and talking calculators to talking spell checkers, electronic dictionaries and braille technology, AT makes school a comfortable environment for students with a disability to learn in.
AT to suit individual needs
Every child living with a learning disability or a visual impairment has unique learning needs. Assistive technology gives a disabled student the opportunity to take control of their own learning journey and gain some independence in their education – but finding which assistive technology is right for the student can be difficult. To find the right tool to support their education, establish which tools best address the child’s specific needs and challenges – which tool will help overcome the barriers? The AT tool must be used to the student’s strengths, be easy to use, reliable and preferably portable.
It is important that your student is capable and willing to use the assistive technology provided. If they are not comfortable using it, it can hinder the child’s education as oppose to support it. Be aware that a tool that one student can use, cannot necessarily be used for another student. Disabilities are different for each person, and whilst two pupils might both have a visual impairment, their requirements could differ significantly.
For more information about Assistive technology please visit www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com