Assistive Technology – My Experience

According to the Disabilities Education Act 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 the functional capabilities of children with disabilities”. This is a very descriptive definition except it only takes into account children with disabilities. In my experience all types students might need or benefit from assistive technology. At Central Collegiate we have a lot of English as an additional language learners who don’t have a disability but they can understand so much more clearly with these technologies. Therefore, the definition from the World health organization fits a little better for my practice so far. “Assistive products help maintain or improve an individual’s functioning related to cognition, communication, hearing, mobility, self-care and vision, thus enabling their health, well-being, inclusion and participation.”

The issues I have come across is not having enough hands-on deck or space to support our students who struggle whether they have disabilities, or they are learning English or they are neurodivergent thinkers. Hence, this assistive technology replaces a scribe, or a reader for activities or assessment. As there are more and more students that need supports to be more successful, we will either need to buy more subscriptions to supportive software, physical tools to help or have more adults in a classroom. The assistive technology I have used the most in my high school classes is google read and write, speech to text software, and google translate features on docs. Speech to text software is great for students with ADHD to help them get all their ideas down by speaking rather than typing, same for my students who struggle to write and type. The technology that was shown in the presentation was called immersive reader and this was such a neat tool to replace a person for a student with dyslexia. Instead of having a reader a student could use earphones with a chromebook to listen or use the line reader aspect to support themselves. This is the exact reason and importance for this technology, is to help students become more independent regardless of their limitations.

However, there are limitations with these technologies. Firstly that students need to have independent instructions on how to use these tools. They then need to practice them and when other students don’t need to do this sometimes it is an issue. There seems to be a lot of comparison in my grade 9 and 10 classes when I try to use these technologies. Kids do not want to be different. My language learners really are happy about the support but my students that need those adaptations to be more successful they seem to rather not do well than be different. The other issue is the space. Students to use text to speech will need an alternate environment and we have no room at Central. There are no where for kids to go with adult supervision and a quiet environment. There is always that adult needed to support. Sometimes kids don’t want to leave the room because again they look different. I have tried getting all kids to try this technology with their phones to show that is normal to use different tools for writing. Still hasn’t helped a few of my students. According to the Assistive Technology: Enabling Dreams video, students should learn these skills from a very young age to foster independence as they get older. I think this would help with some of these embarrassment issues. I speak to students about equity vs equality when they notice differences, we speak about all different people need different things. But they seem to compare often so kids would rather not use the tool and not do well than be different. I have tried getting students to then try these things at home, but then there is the issue of accessibility, wifi and the parent having to know how to use the technology as well.

I am not sure how to go about the needing space or relieving embarrassment around assistive technology in my high school classes. Any suggestions?