Assistive technology gives children with disabilities access to the tools that their peers have been able to take advantage of due to the constant innovations in technology. It can be as simple as writing down the answer to a math equation and enlarging the font on a device, or as complex as filming and editing a video on iMovie, hands-free. Assistive technologies bridge the gap between a person and their environment and give children the ability to learn the new skills they need to succeed in future careers in a classroom setting.
According to the United States Assistive Technology Act of 1998, assistive technology refers to any "product, device, or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to maintain, increase, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." They remove any limitations that students may have when learning and allow teachers to follow the existing curriculum with tailored adaptations that fit their students' needs.
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For example, tecla-e is a cloud-connected assistive technology that provides users who have limited upper-body function with hands-free access to their smart-devices and environment using ability switches. It is the ideal device for children with cerebral palsy to have access to tablets, computers, and other technologies that are being used more presently as aids in a classroom's teaching methods. It is especially useful for students with speech impairments who want access to AAC apps availble in the App Store and Google Play. These apps are almost always switch accessible and make it easier for students to use the apps independently to share their ideas verbally.
Benefits of Assistive Technology
Introducing assistive technologies into instructional settings can prevent students with disabilities from being placed in segregated classrooms or having a full-time aid to speak or write on their behalf. Instead, children with cognitive, motor, speech, visual or hearing impairments now have a tool that allows them to adapt to a mainstream classroom by using assistive technology, making them necessary for success in the classroom.
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Technology also helps children with disabilities overcome communication barriers that they encounter in school. Although they have insightful comments to share, they may be reluctant or unable to verbalize their thoughts. This can make group work especially difficult and restrict the student from being able to input ideas and opinions.
Types of AAC and Assistive Learning Softwares
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication (other than oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants and ideas. Text-to-speech applications like SayIt! are essential tools for nonverbal students to feel comfortable communicating to those outside of their inner circle early on in their lives. However, children with barriers to communication who are too young to type sentences on a keyboard can also take advantage of assistive technologies that use images and symbols to help them convey their message.
GoTalk Now, Clicker 7 and HelpKidzLearn are all switch accessible software that are commonly used by children with disabilities in the classroom.
- GoTalk NOW is a customizable AAC application for children who may have limited and comes with the essential features like adjustable page layouts, customizable navigation, recorded and text-to-speech capabilities, and an included symbol set.
- Clicker 7 is a complete set of assistive literacy tools for students of all abilities and includes a word processor, a child-friendly space for planning, an audio note creator, speech feedback, intelligent word prediction and point-and-click access to whole words, phrases, and pictures.
- HelpKidzLearn is a collection of softwares for students with learning disabilities to play online and aims to create a fun learning experience. The software is split into five sections: Early Years, Games and Quizzes, Stories and Songs, Creative Play & Find Out About.
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Whether you are a teacher who incorporates technology in their classroom or a parent who wants their child to get the most out of his or her education, assistive technologies revolutionize how students with disabilities function in the classroom and help prepare them for their future in this digital world.
There are hundreds of different types of assistive technologies that tailor to the needs of learning disabilities beyond communication. Here is a list of 25 common types.