My Experiences with Assistive Tech
When thinking about assistive technologies, my mind often goes immediately to electronic technologies that help students learn. But, like in the early stages of this class, when we were asked to define technology which helped me change my personal definition from one that is electronic based, to one that is any piece of new technology that enables the user to complete a task easier. This new understanding and definition of technology is crucial when it comes to understanding assistive technologies and ensuring we are thinking outside of the electronic technology box when it comes to assisting our students. These can fall on a continuum of No Tech to High Tech as illustrated in the image to the left. These technologies can range from pencil grips and post-it-notes to e-readers and text to speech capable electronics. They are essentially anything that allows our students to be successful in their learning.
Personally, I did not require assistive technology during my schooling years, but one of my closest friends did. When he was in grade 9 or 10 he began having a lot of issues with his vision out of the blue and there was no definitive answer or reason to why this was happening. With that said his schooling experiences needed to be adapted. This was an area of contention and embarrassment for him as he was now needing assistive technology to help him with his schooling.
One thing that I can vividly recall is that he had this computer looking magnifying piece of tech that he had at his house to help with his schoolwork. Essentially, you placed the material which needed to be read/magnified on a bottom platform and an enhanced image was displayed on the monitor. This made it extremely difficult to complete work in an efficient and timely manner. At the time, it was considered to be state of the art technology.
The picture to the left was the original piece of technology that he had set up in his house. It was very big, bulky and took up a ton of desk space. The pictures to the right are the same machine, but have received some upgrades over the years! This machine can be purchased through the CNIB for roughly $3500,which I am confident not all families would be able to afford!
I also recall him have to use a magnifying glass during classes to be able to read the information that was required of us to engage with which thinking back was a wild occurrence and can’t imagine recommending that tool to a current student in today’s age of technology.
Professionally, I have had students who I thought could use assistive technology in some manner, but have very rarely been successful in gaining access to it for them. The main piece of technology that I see in my classrooms when students need assistance is their own personal Chromebook, to specifically use Google Read and Write. This is an outstanding program, but a lot of the time requires constant adult intervention to use with students. This does help the students but it is not the be all and end all for their needs.
I have also experienced that many of these students who I have tried to get the technology do not fit the criteria that is set out by the division. Another aspect that is extremely frustrating is the hoops that are needed to jump through to get these students the equipment they require. I often hear the mantra “What’s best for students” thrown around the education world but all too often this is just lip service as very rarely do our students get what is best for their learning… a very frustrating and defeating mindset to have.
Challenges and Limitations
When thinking about the challenges and limitations to assistive technology and being able to get students the support they need, three areas come to my mind: cost & accessibility, lack of PD and cultural beliefs.
Cost & Accessibility
These supports cost money…. Some more than others and in a sector that is already hit with funding cuts or lack of funding to enhance education for all students, getting your hands on some of these technologies poses to be quite a difficult task. I can think of many occasions where I have worked with our LRT to get a solid application in place for a student who requires or would benefit from having their own personal tech only to have very few of these applications accepted. When these applications are rejected or not successful, I often ask why, and the common answer is there isn’t enough funds available to be able to fulfill these applications which makes it difficult to access to help the student succeed – what’s best for students, right?!?
Lack of PD
My sister is in a student support teacher role and I asked her what were some of the challenges and limitations that she sees. She too mentioned the lack of PD for teachers and staff. She mentioned that she has made many of these different technologies to help her students, but she does not feel comfortable enough to educate the teachers that she supports in how to properly use these tools, citing that the PD needs to come from a specific specialists such as SLP, OT, etc. to properly display how these tools best help support students and how to properly use them.
This is another challenge that I feel many teachers now face is how these types of technologies are perceived within specific cultural beliefs. I have had many conversations over my 8 years of teaching with newcomer families surrounding learning difficulties that their child has and some possible interventions that could help, specifically assistive technologies. A lot of times, these interventions are met with resistance as they feel that their child does not require these supports and they will be able to overcome these hurdles with extra tutoring, homework or that they will eventually grow out of it.
There is a significant amount of available technology out there for students to use who may need that little extra support to succeed in school, but there seems to be so many roadblocks that make accessing them seem almost impossible.