Redefining Assistive Tech

This week’s group presentation focused on assistive technology and prior to the presentation, I would have said that my experience with assistive tech was limited. However, the group shared a chart showing varying degrees of assistive technology from “no tech” to “low tech” to “high tech”. I have used many of the items on their “no tech” list such as pencil grips, raised line paper, slanted surfaces, communication boards, scribes, number lines, graphic organizers and some of which have been used in whole class settings. Additionally, I have used a number of the items on their “low tech” list such as visual timers, FM systems, audio books, spell checkers and so on. Following the presentation, I would say that my experience with assertive tech has been varied but that my experience with “high tech” assistive technology has been the most limited. Additionally, reading one of the related articles this week allowed me to reexamine my definition of assistive technology. The article stated that assistive technology refers to

“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 individuals with disabilities” (Alkahtani, 2013, p. 68)

Some of the “high tech” assistive technology I have used includes RAZ Kids and Clicker Connect. RAZ Kids is an e-reading tool that I use with my entire class during Daily 5. Not only is RAZ Kids an assistive tool as it allows for students to listen to reading, but it is also an assessment technology that uses a variety of means to assess student decoding and comprehension.

Clicker Connect is a writing support tool that I have recently started to learn about. I have some students in my classroom who have tried it out but are waiting devices and approval of the app to see if they will have access throughout the year. I think this tool would be very helpful for beginning writers and struggling writers to help improve organization, writing ease and writing skills.

Some of the benefits of assistive technology that I have experienced have been through the lens of the universal design model. Universal design for learning (UDL) calls for mainstreaming of assistive technology and creation of an environment that can be accessed by all students regardless of their ability. In one of the videos that the group presented this week, the speaker discussed how assistive tech tools can be taught to all students and eventually those who do not need it will stop using it while those who it remains critical for will continue and not feel as if they have been singled out because the tool was presented with equal access for all students. All students can benefit from Universal Design for learning. In fact, the UDL states that accommodations are “necessary for some, and good for all” (Sider & Maich, 2014).  The benefits I have experienced with my students (many of which are discussed in this article) include but are not limited to:

  • ability for students to become more deeply involved in the classroom community and greater school community
  • inspires a deeper love of learning and more positive experience at school
  • decreases undesired behaviour
  • opportunities for student independence
  • improved self-esteem and confidence in abilities
  • increased organization and classroom management

Alternatively, there are always limitations with each technology that we introduce. Some of the limitations, that I or my students have experienced include:

  • cost barriers – lack of funding
  • waiting time for approval of devices/apps
  • lack of professional development for usage of new tools
  • limited number of devices for access
  • tech related issues such as wifi connectivitiy issues

This week, I was able to redefine what assistive technology means to me and to reexamine the ways in which I have experienced and used assistive technology. I am eager to read my fellow EC&I classmates’ blog posts this week to learn about some of the assistive technology tools that they use!

 

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