Steven Hawking is the best proof that no one should be barred from obtaining an education. His use of, at the time, modern technology, allowed him to attend school, study, and graduate. Afterward, it provided him with a way to document and publish his research and interact with others. But his difficulties are only a drop in the bucket. New technologies are invented to allow equal access, comfort, and independence for individuals with difficulties and disabilities. That’s exactly what we analyze below – how technology can help differently abled students.
What is assistive technology?
First, we must define assistive technology, the topic of our discussion. And what better way than the United States’ Assistive Technology Act (1998)? It states the following:
“Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Assistive technology service is directly assisting an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.”
1. Physical impairments
Students who have physical difficulties need assistance leading normal lives, and movement is the major part of it. That provides an apparent way technology can help differently abled students. We’re referring to the invention and application of items such as canes, braces, wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, and very soon, bionic limbs. Also, have you heard of self-balancing pens and bookstands or anti-tremor keyboard and mouse adapters? Most people didn’t. Well, they are pivotal for students with motor coordination problems. Additionally, if learners cannot be present physically, they can sign up for eLearning schools, and benefit from the advantages of online classes.
Inability to use hands
Early technological advancements provided students to use other parts of their body, especially the head or feet as an alternative to performing tasks done by hands. Nowadays, if an individual can use their voice, they don’t have to. Improvements in speech-recognition software allow learners to operate their computers and smart devices using their voice. Moreover, voice-to-text software allows them to “write” essays, keep notes, publish research, and communicate with professors or fellow pupils. Finally, many of the written resources are released in form of audiobooks.
2. Sensory damage
Assisting students with sensory difficulties is one of the most obvious uses of technology in special education.
Students with mild visual impairment can benefit from magnification tools built into most modern devices. As an example, we taught you to zoom in and zoom out on PC and how magnification works on Mac. This is also possible on smart devices such as smartphones, tablets, TVs, TV boxes, and more. The same applies to students who are blind. Every major operating system has a built-in text-to-speech functionality. This allows students to hear everything that appears on the screen, regardless of the type or format. It also allows them to interact with their peers and professors, use e-mails, or receive/convert schoolwork as audio. Although inferior and slower method, learners can also convert on-screen elements to Braille. Likewise, the rapidly improving translation feature allows translating to or from foreign material to Braille or audio almost in real-time. Actually, this benefits all students.
The most obvious example of a sound amplification tool is a hearing aid. While it’s usually placed behind the ear, the introduction of the Cochlear implants created the new-now. This technology made hearing implants safer, cheaper, less invasive, and best of all, invisible. Students can also install apps on their devices that use visuals (flashing lights, text, icons) instead of sounds to draw their attention. AI-aided speed recognition improvements in transcribing made real-time closed-captioning possible as well. Classrooms and staffrooms equipped with TTY (Text telephone), VCO (Voice Carry Over), and other TDDs (Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf) are also common in today’s world.
If they suffer from a speech impediment or impairment, students can get access to counseling and management from speed and language therapists. That remains true, but instead of being location-limited, learners can communicate in real-time via the Internet. That means therapy can be done remotely. On the other hand, students who suffer from muteness, now have access to the same text-to-speech software popularized by Steven Hawking. Moreover, smartphones and computers now act as a more powerful version of speech-generating devices (SGDs). They also have unique features, such as a word-prediction algorithm. Finally, advancements in medical technology might allow for partial or complete restoration of their voice.
3. Cognitive and behavioral difficulties
The rapid expansion of the Internet made students with cognitive difficulties accepted and normalized in the community. It also made online flexible learning, also known as eLearning, not only a possibility but an imperative option. In fact, it’s undoubtedly the most beneficial application of modern technology in education for them. Students with cognitive difficulties, especially with autism and slower processing speeds, gain just as much as students with behavioral problems.
Why is eLearning technology so effective for them?
Both groups of learners can progress at their own pace and utilize non-conventional learning methods. They also receive much-needed undivided attention and instant help since teachers don’t need to monitor 30-60 students simultaneously. This not only eliminates bullying from peers but also provides positive reinforcement to learn and improve. Furthermore, attending online courses eliminates the distractions of a typical classroom. This is instrumental for students with severe ADHD, anxiety, depression, or Asperger syndrome that make them differently-abled and unique.
4. Chronic illnesses
Another area where technology can help differently abled students are chronic illnesses. They are often invisible, but take a massive toll if they are severe. Take diabetes for example. If it weren’t for technological advancements in portable blood glucose/ketone monitors, which often sync with the students’ smartphones, some students would be in and out of the hospital rather than listening to lectures. The same applies to students with advanced heart, lung, liver, or kidney problems. We’re referring to liver function probes/analyzers, hemodialysis and oxygen machines, and Holter monitors. They are portable and allow students not to lead relatively normal lives. In most cases, they can live in dorms or independently, without constant medical care.