Assistive Technology Doesn’t Just Involve Technology

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks Flickr via Compfight cc

I was a little apprehensive about having to write this post discussing the topic of assistive technology. I wasn’t sure that I would have a lot to say because I didn’t think I had a lot of experience with using assistive technology but after reading a few of my classmates blogs this week I was able to think about assistive technology from a new perspective. I teach at the same school as Andrew so my experience is much the same in the fact that I don’t have the variety of students that many other teachers have. I have had very few students with disabilities that need adaptations however there have been instances in which I have had to make adaptations. In my internship I had a student who was unable to read from anything printed on white paper so I had to print everything for them on yellow or green paper.  Another way that I have accommodated a student with a disability is by chunking their work. This involves breaking a big assignment down into manageable pieces for them so they don’t get overwhelmed and fail to finish the assignment.

I didn’t think that any of these adaptations could fall under assistive technology until I read Amy and Heidi’s blogs this week. Each blog discusses ways that we adapt that might not involve technology. If you check out the Understood website there is a large list of assistive technologies that don’t actually involve technology. After reading through some of the items in the list I realize that I do a lot more adapting than I had originally thought. In my math classes, students use calculators, graph paper, rulers, protractors and manipulatives. These are all assistive technologies. Other examples include chair cushions, fidgets, spell-check, timers and graphic organizers.

Dave Eayburn describes assistive technology as: “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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability”. I feel like it’s a pretty good definition of assistive technology but I do think it assistive technology can help everyone, not just those with disabilities.

Assistive technologies (or ATs) are specialized technology (software and/or hardware) that are used by people with and without disabilities to adapt how specific tasks can be performed.

Photo Credit: DiegoMolano Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DiegoMolano Flickr via Compfight cc

I think that assistive technologies go beyond hardware and software and include any object or device that allows us to be more efficient or productive. We all use assistive technology everyday; computers, phones, word processors, Siri, microwaves and cars are just some examples of the daily items we use that assist us. Obviously there are some devices (hearing aids, braile, sensory objects to name a few) that are more helpful to those who have disabilities and which impact these individuals more in their daily life than my everyday life. For example, could I get by without a computer? Sure I could, but my work life would be a lot less productive. I appreciate having the technology to use but if the computer was never invented I wouldn’t know any different and I would be able to carry out my job no problem. However, someone who is blind and never learns to read braile will have significant issues reading and learning.

Google Read and Write was discussed a lot this past week and it was interesting to read teachers discuss their experience using it in their classrooms. Roxanne is able to integrate it into her daily language lessons and I think that it is a great tool to adapt for those who struggle, but is also a great tool for students who may not necessarily need the tool. There are a variety of features and two of them that I thought were really great were the vocabulary list and the word predictor. The word predictor is great for students who may be learning English or who struggle with reading.

I haven’t had any experience with the add on, but after watching this video there are a few suggestions that I have. The first is that when the picture dictionary is used it would be nice to have real, lifelike pictures to choose from as opposed to simple cartoons/clip art. My second suggestion isn’t just for Google Read and Write, but for all Text-To-Speech (TTS) software. It would be nice if the audio didn’t sound so robotic. Is it too much to ask to have it sound more like an audiobook that is read by a real person? Now I know that it isn’t as easy to develop software that can do that but my hope is that sometime in the future we get there. I can’t imagine having to use TTS often and having to listen to Mr. Roboto talk to me. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a sample from the article we were asked to read this week. It had a listen option so I decided to click it to see how it sounds. Let’s just say I didn’t listen to the whole file and can’t imagine having no option but to listen to it.

One final thought is based on a recommendation from the article Rethinking Assistive TechnologyThe article has seven recommendations for rethinking assistive technology and the one that stood out to me the most was that we should consider using “technology enhanced performance” as a replacement for the term “assistive technology”. The reason I like this so much is because it breaks down the barriers and stigmas that might be associated with students who use the assistive technology. The adaptations shouldn’t be something that makes users feel singled out or different and changing the name of it might help break down those barriers a bit.

What are your thoughts? How do you adapt for your students? Do your adaptations always involve technology or are some of the adaptations less sophisticated? Have you had any experience with TTS software and did it involve a Mr.Roboto? Do you think TTS software will ever sound ‘human’?

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6 thoughts on “Assistive Technology Doesn’t Just Involve Technology

  1. I really enjoyed your blog post Ashley. I agree with you completely that assistive tech does not need always be involved with technology. I will for sure have to check out Mrs. Roboto.(Thanks for sharing this resource!

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    • Hi Krista, thanks for reading. In regards to the Mr/Mrs Roboto, that isn’t an app or resource but it’s what I’ve coined the robot voice that accompanies many text to speech software haha. Sorry for any confusion.

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  2. Pingback: Assistance for All – Allison's Blog

  3. This week really led me to reflect on the adaptations that I provide but wouldn’t consider to be “assistive tech”. I think a huge part of this topic is having conversations with our students about equity and how each individual needs a unique combination of supports to be successful.

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    • The conversation piece is huge. It’s also important for those students who need the assistive technology to hear that they aren’t any different, that just because they need assistance doesn’t mean they have less value than the student sitting beside them. We all struggle and we all use tools to help us everyday so it’s okay to “stand out”. It’s an important lesson for everyone. Thanks for reading!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Ashley. I appreciate you noting that not all ATs are actually “technology”. Sometimes, it’s an approach or strategy that a teacher uses…. Something as simple as chunking an assignment for a student. You reminded me about that… I did it for a student many years ago, but didn’t ever consider it to be an assistive tactic. Thanks for sharing the Understood website… I had a look at it and I’ll definitely be returning for more!

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