Importance of Assistive Technology in the Classroom
The 1997 amendments on the (IDEA)Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that assistive technology includes “any product system, item or piece of equipment, whether modified, acquired commercially or customized, and which is used to maintain, increase and/or improve a disabled child’s functional capability” (Craddock, 2003). Therefore, as the name suggests assistive technology includes an array of technological equipment’s and gadgetry designed to enhance the functional capability of any individual with certain forms of impairment. There is a wide array of such technological equipment’s applied to various disabilities in aiding the process of learning at schools.
Specific students requirements on support and guidance within any classroom may vary to a great extent depending on their type of learning disabilities and its gravity in impairing their learning process. Students may need various forms of assistance such as visual, physical and verbal prompts or even high-tech services and devices in order to effectively learn. These assistive technologies need not be high-tech; there are low technology equipment’s and gadgetry that are also used and these are readily available, require simpler accommodation and they are very cost effective. On the other hand, high-tech equipment’s may be costly and they may need costly high-tech maintenance. Larger categories of these technologies may include assistive technology for communication (augmentative technology), vision, hearing, access and studying and learning processes.
A re-authorization of IDEA in 1997 stipulated that disabled children should be evaluated alongside their able peers in what is termed as an all inclusive classroom. This was further emphasized by the No child left behind (NCLB) during the President Bush administration. However, good this sounds it could not have gone down without challenges. Firstly, disabled students had to be assisted in order to acquire an educational experience level akin to their normal peers. Secondly, teachers had to be trained on how to use assistive technology not only within all inclusive classrooms, but also within classes of disabled students in order to enhance their learning process in a manner that will enable them to be at par with their peers in the same age and school levels.
The use of assistive technology has had profound effect in all classrooms (inclusive classrooms as well as classes designated for the disabled), but more so on the classes with disabled students. The main benefit of assistive technology is its ability to integrate disabled students into an inclusive classroom (Hicks, Glasgow & McNary, 2005). For example students with visual or hearing impairment could be offered glasses or hearing aids that can enable them to see and hear just like any other students and thus participate effectively in normal classroom sessions without difficulties (Gerard, 2009). This is highly beneficial in some set ups because it avoids the necessity of having to set up different classes for the disabled students. Thus cutting costs related with the creation of separate disabled students classes.
A 1993 survey by the National Council on Disability showed that the use of assistive technology had reduced the number of disabled students that needed to be sent to exclusively disabled students classrooms, and about 75% percent of the disabled students were comfortably retained within the all-inclusive classrooms. Additionally, the same survey showed that 45% percent of the disabled students were now able to reduce their usage of services related to schooling (Gerard, 2009). These improvements have opened an opportunity for most disabled students to gain access to the general curriculum that is basic to all students.
The assistive technologies also promote independence among the disabled students. As a result, students do not have to ask their peers to read for them any writings that they may be unable to see or repeat out loud what they did not hear. If they can carry out these activities on their own then their learning processes become more independent and freer. Another perfect example would be the physically impaired students making use of adapted handles and book page turners in order to perform their writing and reading activities. Without these assistive technologies such students may be unable to write or read, simply because they may be unable to handle their pens or even turn pages on a book. This reduces their learning independence because they may need someone to carry out these activities on their behalf because they are unable to do so, thus increasing their dependence on others-a dependence that may greatly hamper the learning process in a classroom of disabled students (Hicks et al. 2005).
The use of assistive technology in a classroom of disabled students helps in building their self-esteem and confidence, through assisting them carry out their activities in a manner that is simple and easier. The mere thought of knowing that one is disabled and unable to carry out a certain task as effectively as the rest is demoralizing and this may not only hamper the learning process, but also lead to the development of a low self-esteem and lack of confidence in the learning set up. However, with the introduction of assistive technology such students are able to handle most learning activities averagely well if not as well as their normal peers. The confidence that is built from this process goes along way in psychologically helping the students learn in a better way (Hall & Enders, 1990).
Participation in learning activities is also greatly improved through the use of assistive technology. Students with various difficulties, especially; communication and hearing impairment may be excluded from participating in activities such as discussions, debates and answering or asking of questions because they are either unable to properly hear whatever is said or they are unable to effectively communicate about what they have in mind. In such cases the use of assistive technologies such as static communication devices with pictures and hearing aids may facilitate the active participation such students. Active participation in learning activities is basic to better academic performance-not only in classes of the disabled students, but also in the classes of the well able students. Therefore, by actively enhancing their participation these assistive technologies will have improved their learning.
Assistive technology also benefits the teachers just as well as it benefits the students. Teachers can now spend less time and effort on the disabled students because they develop more independence through the aid of assistive technological tools. In turn, this allows the teachers to spare more time for the rest of the students in the classroom, and this establishes a balance in the learning environment. It is good to note that this specific highlight had been a point of contention for opponents of all-inclusive classrooms. These opponents noted that all inclusive classrooms may not favor â€œnormal students, because the teacher is bound to spend more time on trying to assist the disabled students to reach the level of the rest at the expense of the other students. However, with assistive technology it is noted that this time is greatly reduced, thus making the teacher more efficient. Teachers are also able to effectively instruct students using differing styles of learning through instructions generated by the computer, which actually provide feedback immediately and can thus increase motivation (Hall & Enders, 1990).
The use of assistive technologies such as tracks balls and key guards may enable students to type and therefore, avoid the need for Para-educators, and this simply implies that earlier costs associated with special education classrooms can now be cut down through introduction of assistive technology.
Toreno (2010) notes that assistive technology is another important solution for the enhancement of faster and normal learning in students who do not share a common native language. Non-native English speakers particularly have difficulties in learning within classrooms of native English speakers, and the use assistive technologies such as online dictionaries enables these students to overcome this temporary disability by translating their work from their native language to English and thus enhancing their learning.
According to Craddock (2003), the use of assistive technology in itself also allows the introduction of technology in to the classrooms of the disabled students. Some disabled students may be unable to use the conventional personal computer (PC), and as such there is a need to have adapted computers that can be accessible to disabled students as a way to introduce technology tools to their learning and curricula. This may make use of alternative keyboards or â€œvoice command software.
Learning amongst the disabled students may prove to be a difficult process especially to students that may have greater levels of disability. This greatly hampers the ability of such students to be included in classrooms that contain normal students because the attention they require may destruct the teachers attention and s/he may not be able to attend to the whole class equally. This may also be the situation even in exclusively disabled classes. However, the use of assistive technology reduces this work and makes it easier for the teachers to attend to all students equally because the technological tools enhance independence, active participation, self-esteem, confidence, communication ability and help cut down costs associated with offering special education.
Craddock, M. G. (2003),. Assistive technology: shaping the future: AAATE’03, IOS Press
Gerard, D. (2009),. What are the benefits of assistive technology? Retrieved on 24th February, 2011 from http://www.rehabtool.com/forum/discussions/2.html
Hall, M. and Enders, A. (1990),. Assistive technology sourcebook, Resna Press
Hicks, D. C. Glasgow, A. N. and McNary, J. S. (2005),. What successful teachers do in inclusive classrooms: 60 research-based teaching strategies that help special learners succeed, Corwin Press
Torreno, S. (2010),. The benefits of assistive technology in schools, retrieved on 24thhttp://www.brighthub.com/education/special/articles/73643.aspx February, 2011 from
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