When considering technology and special education students, it’s important to get the priorities right. To be successful, the focus must be on the person who will be using that technology, not just on the technology itself. Affordable technology is available to help those students with special needs. Assistive technology is made to aid the student, not replace a capability. Identifying where the student needs assistance is the first step.
Where in the student’s life does he or she become frustrated? Does he have difficulty verbalizing words? Does she need repetitive practice to remember lesson material? Is he easily distracted? Is she just unable to physically work with the standard material? A student with autism, Down’s syndrome or a neurological condition such as cerebral palsy can experience some or all of these frustrations. Finding the right assistive technology for a student to help reduce these frustrations will allow him to learn more effectively.
Multimedia technology is being used in the classroom to help with a variety of challenges from hearing and vision loss to limited physical movement. Digital textbooks offer high-quality images, video and audio capabilities. Most of the devices emphasize interaction to engage the student. Activities that a student may be shy about in class can be done on a multimedia device.
Laptops and netbooks have become a low-cost option for the classroom. Students who struggle with a pen and pencil find new opportunities to express themselves on the computer. Special education teachers have seen their students’ writing quantity and quality improve with laptops, according to the Maine Laptop Technology Initiative. The result for students with motor-coordination challenges is that they can do their assignments, work on projects and do research in line with the rest of the class.
For those students who are still challenged by the physical keyboard, voice-recognition technology has greatly improved and has reached 98 percent in simple text documents. This technology can be used to replace keystrokes in a document as well as control the overall computer. Most of this software “learns” as the student speaks to it so the results become even more accurate.
Tablets are becoming more popular and will be seen in the classroom as prices continue to drop. Tablets offer touch-screen technology so there may be no need for a physical keyboard. Tapping on the screen with a finger or stylus will give the same results.
Special equipment can create very new experiences for special needs students. For nonverbal students, there is a device that shows them images that they select to represent what they are feeling or something they wish to say. Audio feedback tells a student what she selected for confirmation. This device can give a voice to those students who get frustrated trying to express themselves.
Other technology making advances is text-to-voice. Available on computers and many e-book readers, this software scans text and reads it back to the student. This is helpful to the seeing-impaired student, but is also useful to the student who needs the audio reinforcement of the words he is reading. This capability often comes with voice-recognition products so students can dictate their work and listen to the proofreading process.
Various applications are available for every student need. Because of the diversity of these tools, review them closely and, if possible, try them out before purchase to make sure they will help a student in the right way. Some examples of these applications include:
The goal of any assistive technology is to allow students to perform at the level that their age and grade dictates. Special technology can make it possible for a student to stay in his or her class instead of being sent to a special program away from friends and peers. Students with severe learning disabilities can still benefit from technology to advance their learning. It can allow them to communicate with others in ways not available to them before.
Students have less anxiety and frustration, and a feeling of accomplishment. For some students, assistive technology gives them the chance to be successful in ways they didn’t think was possible.