What is Assistive Technology?
This week, we had a presentation from Darcy, Daniel, Reid, and Janeen on assistive technologies, and they did a great job of showing that assistive tech is a very broad category and there are many possibilities for what it looks like to use assistive tech in the classroom. This article states, “assistive technology refers to the devices and services that are used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of a student with a disability” and provides three summary points:
- Assistive technology ranges from low- to high-tech.
- Assistive technology can be used in two ways: to support learning and to bypass a challenging task such as handwriting.
- In order to be effective, assistive technology needs to be embedded within quality instruction.
Here are a few examples from Autism Adventures:
- Graphic organizer
- Visual schedule or timer
- Adapted pencil
- Adaptive paper
- Pencil grip
- Slant board
- Sticky notes
- Screen magnifier
- Audio book
- Voice amplification system
- Gait trainer
- Braille translation software
- Adapted seating
- Word prediction software
- Electronic tablet
- Electric wheelchair
- Text to speech
- Speech to text
- AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) devices
- Alerting device
Wearable tech is also becoming more popular in schools, as Reid shared during the presentation. This includes using health-monitoring tech like FitBits, Apple Watches, fitness trackers, and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems for students with diabetes. Wearable tech also includes using VR headsets for virtual field trips, GoPros to film lessons or field trips for online learning or students who were absent, and even upgraded versions of Google Glass that help autistic kids decode emotions.
Making Instruction More Accessible
After the presentation, we were asked to reflect on what technology and/or methods we could use to make our instruction more accessible to our students.
Apply UDL Framework More Consistently
The first thing that comes to mind is using Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which Darcy discussed in the presentation. This article defines UDL as “a set of principles that guide the design of inclusive classroom instruction and accessible course materials” and provides the three principles:
- multiple methods of representation that give learners a variety of ways to acquire information and build knowledge
- multiple means of student action and expression that provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they have learned
- multiple modes of student engagement that tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn
This video gives a quick overview of UDL:
I love the focus on changing the design of the environment rather than changing the learner. I just discovered the UDL Guidelines Graphic Organizer tool, and I want to start using it to help me apply the UDL framework more consistently. It seems like a great tool because it gives you a set of concrete suggestions for each principle (engagement, representation, action and expression).UDL-Guideline-Graphic-Organizer
You can zoom in using the + button in the bottom left corner, or you can click here to download the PDF!
If a student is struggling, I can go through these suggestions to see what I’m already doing and reflect on barriers that are still present for that student. I can also use it proactively while planning to ensure I am planning for learner variability and diverse needs.
Encourage All Students to Use Assistive Tech
As Kelly points out in her post, using assistive tech can benefit all students, not just students with exceptionalities. Similarly, Rae explains that when she applies support for a specific need, she tries to apply that support across the board so all her students can benefit.
I want to do a better job of introducing assistive tech tools to the whole class I am working with, modelling how they help me as a learner, and providing consistent opportunities for students to practice using them. These are some of the assistive tech tools I would like to incorporate more consistently, including some explanation of the tool and how I plan to use it:
- Use videos with captions as much as possible
- Explain how this is important for deaf and hard of hearing people and EAL learners
- Talk about how this also helps everyone comprehend dialogue that is spoken quickly or mumbled and allows people to watch videos without sound when needed
Microsoft Immersive Reader
- This tool reads content out loud to students in Teams, Word, PowerPoint, Forms, OneNote
- Can change text size, increase the spacing, change fonts and background colour, separate words by syllables or parts of speech, use a line focus
- Can translate into different languages, flip between the two languages, and has a picture dictionary
- I need to teach students how to use it and then share strategies (ex: listening to their writing or a peer’s writing, pausing after a chunk to jot down the main idea, etc.)
- Dictate feature is available in Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote
- Show students that this can be a great tool for those who find it hard to get their ideas down on paper or for saving time
- Teacher would need to set up a space for students to use this tool (ex: corner of classroom, hallway, another quiet room)
- I love audiobooks but didn’t discover them until I was an adult
- I think listening to audiobooks should always be an option for students
- Sora, our divison’s online library, has audiobooks available for students to loan out
- If I am working with classes for book clubs, Global Read Aloud, or a novel study, I’ll make sure there are audiobook options available
Connections to Learning Theories
These approaches fit with constructivism – the idea that learners construct knowledge based on experiences and are actively involved in learning and meaning-making – because the purpose of incorporating assistive technology and UDL is to reduce barriers and support all learners to be active participants in the learning process. Many of these assistive tech tools would help students be more successful in project-based, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning.
Next, these approaches fit with constructionism – the idea that learning is a reconstruction of knowledge and learning is most effective when learners construct a meaningful product – because assistive tech can give students the tools to be more successful when constructing a meaningful product. For example, if a student was writing a poem, they could have the options to hand-write, type (using word prediction software), dictate, or record a spoken word poem. Assistive technology is all about providing options to meet individual needs so students can experience success.
Finally, I think I can argue that these approaches fit with connectivism – the idea that nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate learning – because assistive tech can give students the tools and confidence to share their learning with a larger network online. They might want to share the meaningful product they created or the results of their project-based learning on Twitter or on a blog. They could start building a PLN with people who have similar interests or challenges. For example, students might want to start following some disabled content creators using TikTok to spread awareness about their disabilities.
Models of Disability
In Daniel’s breakout room on social and cultural impacts, we discussed how there is still stigma associated with disability and using assistive technology, and we have to be careful that we aren’t singling students out or unintentionally excluding them based on their use of assistive tech. In this study, Cranmer found that: “…rather than digital technologies becoming a comprehensive leveller for disabled children (Florian, 2004), they are often implicated in the reproduction of exclusionary practices compounded by technical issues/occasional skills deficits. There is a need then to close the gap and instead to develop inclusive digital pedagogy”.
We also need to be aware of the persisting, harmful dominant narratives of disability present in society, schools, and classrooms. Eli Clare explains these in Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies:
Clare succinctly explains each model:
- The Medical Model – insists on disability as a disease or condition that is curable and/or treatable.
- The Charity Model – declares disability to be a tragedy, a misfortune, that must be tempered or erased by generous giving.
- The Supercrip Model – frames disability as a challenge to overcome and disabled people as superheroes just for living our daily lives.
- The Moral Model – transforms disability into a sign of moral weakness.
- The Social Model – In resistance to this, the disability rights movement has created a new model of disability, one that places emphasis on how the world treats disabled people: Disability, not defined by our bodies, but rather by the material and social conditions of ableism; not by the need to use a wheelchair, but rather by the stairs that have no accompanying ramp or elevator.
We have to be careful about the messages we are sending when using assistive technology in the classroom. How are these technologies framing what it means to have a disability and what it means to be able-bodied? Are we disrupting the medical model and moving towards the social model of disability? How can we dismantle the external barriers present in schools? We should not be sending the message that anyone needs “fixing”; instead, we need to make sure students know we respect their identities and that we can all use assistive tech to support our learning.