Assistive technology in special education is becoming increasingly more important as our learning environment changes both at home and in educational institutes. As education evolves, we are seeing demands for functional and accessible distance learning solutions. One part of the solution, especially for special ed environments, is the use of blended learning.
The introduction of hybrid learning for simultaneous teaching for both in-class and online students becomes even more important. Assistive EdTech becomes an option for both teachers and parents to ensure their students with special needs, impairments, or disabilities can progress and create more inclusivity for all classrooms.
Continue reading on to find out how assistive technology in special education can help you accommodate and adapt the learning environment for students with special needs. Or, if you are unsure if technology is the answer, check out our complete guide on Technology in the Classroom here!
Assistive technology in special education is not a new practice. However, as government policies and social movements strive to create more positive and inclusive environments for our communities with special needs, impairments, and disabilities, it is important to help all parents, teachers, and even students learn how to accept and adapt. Distance learning is a helpful solution for this. Technology is the easiest way to help spread information, offer simple and fast solutions, and help create adequate yearly progress.
Inclusive classrooms have been shown to not only help create this adequate yearly progress but has great social implications on individuals both with and without special needs. People with special certain needs become productive, happy, and independent people within communities, workplaces, and so much more.
However, it is our job to ensure that these environments are created and offered equally to our communities and assistive technology can help us do just that!
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology in special education, as mentioned before, is not a new concept or practice. Assistive technology at its core is very broad terminology. Assistive technology (AT) is defined as any device, piece of equipment, or system that helps to enhance lives and accommodate people with special needs, impairments, or disabilities. While its very broad, it can be broken down into more traditional types of technology and a more modern take on the term.
First let’s look at more traditional means of assistive technology to help better establish understanding of the term and why it is so broad.
Traditional Types of Assistive Technologies
Assistive technologies in the traditional sense can refer to physical objects or modifications that don’t involve high-tech devices. These are also called low-tech equipment or devices. We have all seen some variation of these traditional assistive technologies in our day-to-day lives.
Here is a short list of common assistive techs you may have seen:
- TV subtitles
- A wheelchair
- Ramps, grab bars, and automatic doorways
- Kitchen utensils made for physical injuries
If you are interested in a more in-depth understanding of the traditional context of the term, The United States Department of Health and Human Services created a detailed list of the types and how they are used.
Nowadays, assistive technologies have broadened to include things like software and programming. This can result in better medical equipment, alternative forms of communication, automation, and so much more. But of course, with this improvement in technology then comes the burden of finding the correct solution to best accommodate your students.
Modern Usage of Assistive Technologies
While most modern usage of assistive tech leans more towards medical devices, it can also refer to educational tools such as Educational Technology. EdTech is a form of assistive technology. The biggest benefit of EdTech for students with certain needs is that it makes it easier for students, parents, and teachers to create an engaging, inclusive, and personalized environment.
Students with special needs, impairments, or disabilities sometimes need different strategies. But it can be hard for teachers and parents to get the information due to lack of support or other factors. This is particularly true in 2020 with the rise of distance learning and heath urgencies around the world.
Many parents and teachers already feel uneasy about the state of education institutes and opportunities. They have fears about regression since they do not have the resources or training to help students. Many teachers also have fears as they work to make more inclusive environments for their students with certain needs who may experience health complications. The shift and creation of new environments is the perfect opportunity to tackle these issues head on.
Thankfully, we here at ViewSonic want to help make this transition flawless for all parties involved. You can check out How to Overcome the Challenges of Distance Learning to start getting some more ideas.
Why is Assistive Technology Important?
Addressing EdTech as a form of assistive tech in current learning environments is important in hybrid learning situations. Hybrid Learning is one of the key solutions to helping students with special needs in a variety of ways.
Distance learning is not a negative concept by any means. In fact, it is something education should embrace as technology continues to change. Students with special needs, impairments, or disability face a lot of challenges in education. Therefore, it is important to use solution-based strategies and development into their personalized curriculum.
Students with Immunocompromised Systems and Physical Injury
Students with certain needs often can be high-risk students due to health complications. A high-risk student is defined as any student with immunocompromised situations. The 2020 global pandemic showed us that it can be impossible for these students to be included in in-class only environments.
Solid assistive EdTech such as tablets, portable monitors, and cellphones can be great alternatives for these students to be active learners despite being distanced. These assistive EdTech solutions often have multi-purpose functions such as entertainment, education, and documentation. This means that students can have full participation in education without being in danger.
Another important factor of implementing a blended learning environment is for those with physical injuries. Most places in the United States are legally required to make sure that areas and buildings are accessible for those with certain needs, but it often goes overlooked. Especially in areas that may be more rural or facing poverty. This gives these students the chance to participate without the difficulty of travel. They can even participate during therapy meetings or other appointments.
Connectivity Between Parents and Teachers
Digital Whiteboarding is one of the more common assistive EdTech developments. Digital whiteboarding is using any type of interactive display such as interactive flat panel displays in addition to your traditional teaching methods. Not only that, but digital whiteboarding has been a major factor in improving student engagement and active learning.
The lack of communication between parents and teachers is one of the potential causes for regression. Using interactive displays as assistive EdTech can allow teachers to connect to students at home simply and fast. With virtual classroom options with programs like myViewBoard Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, teachers can easily share assignments and keep track of progress for each student.
Progression requires communication and understanding. Fear and uncertainty during this time can be difficult to manage so having reliable solutions to make sure the student’s needs are met is important. Hybrid learning and blended learning both ensure this by encouraging teachers and parents that it is not actually that difficult at all.
Student Behavior Support Plans (BSP)
Students who need to participate in Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP) can also benefit from assistive EdTech and blended learning techniques as well. Because of improved communication, students with certain needs have a wider option to use their Augmentative and Alternative Communications (AAC). Augmentative and alternative communication is a term used to describe various methods of communication for people that are either unable or need help producing verbal speech.
Thankfully, all the above technologies have functions that allow for AAC, whether it be voice recordings, text-to-speech, communication apps, or other functions, most interactive displays have the compatibility. What is important is making sure you as a parent or teacher choose the devices that contain applicable software, are easy use, and are reliable.
Oftentimes, students with these certain needs cannot express themselves clearly and they may experience emotional disturbances. This can be easily misinterpreted as behavior issues but instead its normal behavior. Assuring that students can talk to you is important for BIP. Assistive EdTech also gives the opportunity for students to simulate human interactions with animals or friendly-looking characters to help with anxiety based emotional disturbances.
Advantages of Using Assistive Technology in Special Education
Outside of having a fancy classroom, assistive EdTech can provide some advantages to students receiving special education. Student engagement, supplemented learning, and accelerated learning have been and still are continuously targeted areas of education. Assistive EdTech makes this all much easier and provides a variety of ways to freshen up your lesson plans.
Students with special needs, impairments, or disabilities tend to have a unique and valid perception of the world. Sometimes they will enjoy brighter colors, louder or quieter speakers, different reading speeds, and so on. It is important to find out what the student’s learning type is. Assistive EdTech can make this easier in an inclusive classroom.
Active learning is the focus of student engagement. Active learning means that the student is active, or participating, in their learning experience. This can be by playing games, answering questions, creation, and other types of student focused activities.
These students can experience their senses differently. A good example of this is students with color blindness. One student may see red, but the other sees pink or even a completely different color. The ability to share this is important for both mental, social, and educational development.
Technology should not and can never replace traditional teaching. Human interaction is extremely important, especially for those with certain needs. There are some expectations and experiences that technology cannot give us. But not everyone is trained the same way to handle these cases. Assistive EdTech can give us a quick and easy solution to figure out how we can better help in these personal relationships.
To help maintain communication and progress, you can consider virtual collaboration between parents and teachers. With this option, maybe your student can participate in shorter lectures, or have more one-on-one sessions than what might be available in traditional environments. That isn’t to say you should not allow inclusivity but instead allow time to help address any potential concerns or issue the student may face.
Accelerated learning is important for students with certain needs. With their unique perceptions, it is important to understand that it can be difficult for students with certain needs to maintain interest in topics they find boring. Giving them a different type of learning tool can help accelerate their learning to keep them on pace with students who do not have these needs. This gives them a tool that can become theirs and is personalized to their specific needs or desires.
Teachers and parents often are faced with difficult and tight schedules, so having the option to give extra assignments in a fun way on assistive EdTech tools like a tablet can help supplement the lost time. This can help the student stay on progression time and even help students not currently in inclusive classrooms be placed into them.
Challenges of Using Assistive Technology in Special Education
Assistive EdTech can also provide challenges as well. And these are something to be highly aware of when trying to make the adaptation in your specific learning environment. Let’s take a look of some of the challenges you should be aware of to make your transition smooth:
Switching cost to a blended learning environment can be expensive. Especially if your school district or family is in a rural area or facing poverty. Thankfully, things like fundraisers, crowdfunding, and grants can help you achieve an ideal situation. Even parents and teachers can get together to create a plan.
It is important to take good notes and come with a solid understanding of student needs to make a convincing argument. Once you have that you can begin sourcing money. Help Teaching has a great comprehensive list of other websites and resources to collect money. You can also check out teach.com to find out what kind of grants may be available for you as well.
Displacement of Responsibilities
One of the biggest challenges in the special education environment is the displacement of responsibilities when it comes to assistive technology in the classroom. When teaching a student with special needs, impairments, or disabilities, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an extremely helpful tool. Applied behavior analysis boils down to positive reinforcement.
However, with the rise of assistive EdTech comes the blending of what are called smart toys. Smart toys are technology-based toys that are often educational toys are well. Because of this, responsibility to ensure appropriate behavior analysis can be displaced. Some argue that it is lazy parenting, a bad teacher, or that the child is facing an addiction. However, it is none of these. It is the failure to create a solid strategy and balance communication and expectation for the student. It is important to give your student guidance, so they know the difference between toys and tools.
Much like a student, a parent or teacher may need to learn how to use certain assistive EdTech. This technology could also face malfunctions from time to time if you do not choose wisely. Overcoming these boundaries can be tiresome and difficult for some. So, it is important to ensure you get high quality products catered for simple use but high functionality.
Luckily, here are 5 Reasons Why Teachers Hate Interactive Whiteboards and How to Avoid Them! With this knowledge in hand, you can begin creating a better environment for your students and avoid the stress that comes with new strategies.
Implementing Assistive EdTech
Now that you understand why you need assistive EdTech as a form of assistive technology in your learning environments you can begin brainstorming.
First and most importantly is to get to know your student’s needs. Talk to doctors and therapists to better understand their unique experience and find out what you can do to help them. If you are really stuck, you can check out AbleData’s database to search specific conditions and get an idea of the needed assistive tech.
After you have established what the baseline goals are, you can begin considering what kind of assistive EdTech can help. Also remember that students with special needs, impairments, or disabilities have needs that change like those without, so always consider a long-term solution rather than short-term.
Final Considerations on Assistive Technology in Special Education
Assistive Technology in Special Education is still a relatively new topic. People with special needs or disability do not share the same life and privileges globally due to bias and misinformation. But with technology like EdTech and other high-tech assistive technologies, we can build a stable and thriving learning environment to ensure that our goals, as well as theirs are met.
If you are ready to introduce assistive technology and assistive EdTech into your classroom and at home, check out our product lines here and make the best decision for you, your classroom, and your student today.