Assistive Technology in Special Education
Assistive technology in special education is becoming increasingly important as our learning environment changes, both at home and in educational institutions. As education evolves, we see accessible and functional distance learning solutions being asked for. One part of the solution, especially for special education settings, is the use of blended learning.
The introduction of hybrid learning in simultaneous teaching for students who are present in class and for those who study online is increasingly important. Assistive educational technology becomes an option for teachers and parents to ensure that their students with special needs, impairments or disabilities can progress and achieve greater inclusion in all classes.
Read on to learn how assistive technology in special education can help you accommodate and adapt the learning environment for students with special needs. Or, if you’re not sure technology is the answer, check out our full guide to 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 to accept it and adapt. Distance learning is a useful solution for this. Technology is the easiest way to help spread the word, offer quick and simple solutions, and help create adequate yearly progress.
Inclusive classrooms have shown that they not only help to generate this Adequate Yearly Progress, but also have great social implications for people, whether or not they have special needs. People with special needs become more productive, happy, and independent within their communities, workplaces, and more.
However, it is our job to ensure that these environments are created and offered equitably to our communities. Assistive technology can help us do that.
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology in special education, as mentioned earlier, is not a new concept or practice. Assistive technology, in essence, is a very broad term. Assistive technology (AT) is defined as a device, piece of equipment, or system that helps improve people’s lives and that accommodates people with special needs, impairments, or disabilities. Although very broad, it can be divided into more traditional types of technology and a more modern version of the term.
Let’s first look at the more traditional means of assistive technology so we can understand the term and why it’s so broad.
Assistive technology (AT) is defined as a device, piece of equipment, or system that helps improve people’s lives and that accommodates people with special needs, impairments, or disabilities.
Traditional Types of Assistive Technology
Assistive technologies in the traditional sense can refer to physical objects or modifications that do not involve the use of high-tech devices. They are also called “low-tech equipment” or “low-tech devices.” We have all seen some variant of traditional assistive technologies in our daily lives.
Here is a short list of common assistive technologies you may have seen:
- Subtitles on television.
- A wheelchair.
- Ramps, grab bars and automatic doors.
- Kitchen utensils made for people with physical injuries.
If you’re interested in learning more about the traditional context of the term, the US Department of Health and Human Services has created a detailed list of the different types of assistive technologies and how to use them.
Today, assistive technologies have been expanded to include, for example, software and programming. This can result in better medical equipment, alternative forms of communication, automation, and much more. However, with this improvement in technology comes the problem of finding the right solution for your students.
- mobility devices.
- Hearing and speech devices.
- Cognitive assistive devices.
- Physical modifications.
- Tools, mechanisms and devices.
- Software and devices of high level of technology.
Modern Use of Assistive Technologies
Although most modern use of assistive technologies leans toward medical devices, it can also refer to educational tools, such as educational technology. Educational technology is a form of assistive technology. The biggest benefit of educational technology for students with special needs is that it is easier for students, parents and teachers to create a personalized, inclusive and engaging environment.
Students with special needs, handicaps, or disabilities sometimes need different strategies. However, it can be difficult for teachers and parents to get the information, due to lack of support or other factors. This is especially true in 2020 with the rise of distance learning and the health emergency around the world.
Many parents and teachers are not comfortable with the state of educational institutes and opportunities in education. They fear that students will regress, as they do not have the resources or training to help them. Many teachers are also fearful as they work to make environments more inclusive for their students with special needs who may have health complications. Change and the creation of new environments is the perfect opportunity to deal with these problems.
Fortunately, at ViewSonic, we want to help make this transition a smooth one for all parties involved. You can check out How to Overcome the Challenges of Distance Learning for some ideas.
Why is Assistive Technology Important?
Addressing educational technology as a form of assistive technology in today’s learning environments is important in hybrid learning situations. Hybrid learning is one of the key solutions to help students with special needs in different ways.
Distance learning is not a negative concept at all. In fact, it is something that education must embrace as technology continues to change. Students with special needs, impairments, or disabilities face numerous challenges in education. Therefore, it is important to use solution-based strategies and develop a personalized curriculum.
Immunocompromised and Physically Injured Students
Students with certain special needs can often be high risk students due to health complications. A high-risk student is defined as a student whose immune system is weakened. The 2020 pandemic showed us that it can be impossible to include these students in learning environments that only take place in classrooms.
Good technological support education, such as tablets, portable monitors and cell phones, can be a great alternative for these students to continue learning actively, despite the distance. These assistive educational technology solutions often offer multipurpose features such as entertainment, education, and documentation. This means that students can fully participate in education without being in danger.
Another important factor in implementing a blended learning environment is for those students who have physical injuries. Most places in the United States are required by law to ensure that areas and buildings are accessible to people with special needs, but this is often overlooked. Especially in more rural areas or those facing poverty. This gives students the ability to participate without the difficulty of having to travel. They can even participate during your treatment meetings or other appointments.
Connectivity between Parents and Teachers
The digital whiteboard is one of the most common assistive educational technology developments. The digital whiteboard uses any type of interactive display, such as interactive flat-panel displays, in addition to your traditional teaching methods. Not only that, but digital whiteboards have also been an important factor in improving student engagement and active learning.
The lack of communication between parents and teachers is one of the possible causes for regression. Using interactive whiteboards as assistive educational technology allows teachers to connect with students at home simply and quickly. With virtual classroom options with programs like myViewBoard Classroom , Microsoft Teams or Zoom , teachers can easily share assignments and track each student’s progress.
Progress requires communication and understanding. Fear and uncertainty during these times can be difficult to manage, so it’s important to have reliable solutions to ensure student needs are met. Hybrid learning and blended learning ensure this by encouraging teachers and parents, and showing them that it’s really not that hard.
Student Behavior Support Plans (BSP)
Students who need to participate in Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) may also benefit from assistive educational technology and blended learning techniques. Due to improvements in communication, students with special needs have a broader choice of using their Argumentative and Alternative Communications (AAC). Argumentative and alternative communications is a term used to describe different methods of communication for people who cannot produce oral speech or who need help to do so.
Fortunately, all of the technologies mentioned above have features that enable AACs, whether it’s voice recordings, text-to-speech, communications applications, or other features, and most interactive displays are compatible. It is important that you, as a parent or teacher, ensure that you choose devices that contain the appropriate software, are easy to use and reliable.
Many times, students with special needs cannot express themselves clearly and may suffer from emotional disturbances. This can be misconstrued as behavior problems, but instead it is normal behavior. Ensuring those students can talk to you is important to the BIP. Assistive educational technology also gives students the opportunity to stimulate human interactions with animals or friendly-looking characters to help with anxiety caused by emotional disturbances.
The Advantages of Using Assistive Technology in Special Education
Outside of the classroom, assistive educational technology can offer some benefits to students receiving special education. Student engagement, supplemental learning, and accelerated learning have been and will continue to be specific areas of education. Assistive educational technology makes this much easier and offers different ways to update your curricula.
Students with special needs, impairments or disabilities often have a unique and valid perception of the world. Sometimes they enjoy bright colors, louder or quieter speakers, different reading speeds, and so on. It is important to discover the type of learning of the student. Assistive educational technology can facilitate this in an inclusive classroom.
Active learning is at the heart of student engagement. Active learning occurs when the student is active or participating in her learning experience. This can happen through games, answering questions, creating things, and other types of student-focused activities.
These learners may experience their senses differently. A good example is that of color blind students. One student may see something red, but others see it as pink or even a completely different color. The ability to share this is important for mental, social and educational development.
Technology should not and cannot replace traditional teaching. Human interaction is extremely important, especially for those with unique needs. There are certain expectations and experiences that technology cannot provide us. But not everyone is trained in the same way to handle these cases. Assistive educational technology offers us a quick and easy solution to discover the best way to help these personal relationships.
To keep communication and progress going, you may want to consider having a virtual parent-teacher collaboration. With this alternative, your student may be able to participate in shorter classes or have individual classes that might be available in traditional settings. This is not to say that you shouldn’t allow inclusion, but that you should set aside time to address any concerns or issues the student may be facing.
Accelerated learning is important for students with special needs. With their unique insights, understand that it can be difficult for these types of learners to maintain interest in topics that they find boring. Giving them a different kind of learning tool can help speed up their learning so they can catch up with students who don’t have these needs. This gives them a tool to make their own that is customized to their specific needs or wants.
Assistive Tech – Supplemented Learned
Teachers and parents are often faced with challenges and tight schedules, so having the option to give them extra homework in a fun way on assistive educational technology tools like a tablet can help make up for lost time. This can help keep the student moving forward and help those who are not in inclusive classes attend them.
- Student participation
- accelerated learning
- Complementary learning
The Challenges of Using Assistive Technology in Special Education
Assistive educational technology can also pose challenges. This must be taken into account when trying to adapt your specific learning environment. Let’s take a look at some of the challenges you need to be aware of in order to make a smooth transition:
Switching to a blended learning environment can be expensive. Especially if your school district or family is in rural areas or dealing with poverty. Luckily, fundraisers, crowdfunding, and grants can help achieve an ideal situation. Even parents and teachers can come up with a plan together.
It is important to take notes and be clear about what the students’ needs are in order to have a convincing argument. Once you have that, you can start getting money. Help Teaching has a great list of other websites and resources to raise money. You can also check teach.com to find out what kinds of grants are available to you.
- Share study plans.
- Initiatives of parents or students.
- Events to raise money.
One of the biggest challenges in special education is the shifting 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 useful tool. Applied behavior analysis boils down to positive reinforcement.
However, with the rise of assistive educational technology, they are mixed in with what are called “smart toys.” Smart toys are technological toys that are also often educational dolls. Because of this, the responsibility to ensure proper conduct analysis can be dismissed. Some put it down to lazy parenting, a bad teacher, or the child is dealing with an addiction. However, it is nothing like that. It is the impossibility of creating a solid strategy and of finding a balance between communication and expectations for the student. It is important to guide your students so that they know the difference between toys and tools.
Like a student, a parent or teacher may need to learn how to use certain assistive educational technologies. This technology may also have performance issues from time to time if you do not choose it correctly. Overcoming these limitations can be exhausting and difficult for some. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you have high-quality products that are easy to use, yet packed with functionality.
Luckily, here are 5 Reasons Teachers Hate Interactive Whiteboards and How to Avoid Them . With this information in hand, you can start creating a better environment for your students and avoid the stress that comes with implementing new strategies.
How to Implement Assistive Educational Technology
Now that you understand why you need assistive educational technology in your learning environments, you can start brainstorming.
First and foremost is knowing the needs of your students. Talk to doctors and therapists to better understand their unique experiences and to find out what you can do to help them. If you don’t know how to proceed, you can consult the AbleData database to search for specific conditions and to get an idea of the need for assistive technology.
After you have established what your basic goals are, you can begin to think about what kind of assistive educational technology might work for you. Also remember that students with special needs, impairments, or disabilities have needs that change over time, just like other people, so always consider a long-term solution rather than a short-term one.
Final Considerations on Assistive Technology in Special Education
Assistive technology in special education continues to be a relatively new topic. People with special needs or disabilities do not lead the same life or have the same privileges all over the world, due to prejudice and misinformation. However, with technologies such as educational and other assistive technologies, we can create a stable and thriving learning environment to ensure that our goals and yours are met.
If you want to use assistive technology and assistive educational technology in your classes and at home, check out our product lines here and make the best choice for you, your class, and your students.