As we discussed assistive technologies this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on my experiences throughout my career in the classroom but also when I attended school as a student.  I vividly remember seeing students around me in elementary school with these things on their pencils.  Man did I want an orange one like my friend had so bad, and I remember asking, ultimately being told no.  Obviously I know now, that was there as an assistive technology and I didn’t need a pencil grip….sigh.

The presentation this week had us learning the history of assistive technologies and the current uses of such technology in today’s classrooms.  With that, we were shown many different options and tools that can be used in schools today.  Areej Ahmed’s study discusses many reasons that assistive technology helps students in a multitude of classrooms with differing needs being addressed.  

Assistive technology in the classroom is one of the most important accommodations that educational agencies have to provide; moreover, teachers should be aware of their students’ needs.

In Ahmed’s study reference is given to the different levels of assistive technology.  These levels can further be divided into 3 categories.

Low-Tech Assistive Technology:

  • Non-electronic tools or devices
  • Examples include pencil grips, therabands on desks, glasses, large print books, wobble chairs
  • Advantages- More affordable, no specific training needed for the teacher or student in most cases, provide direct support to the students without the large price tag of others, easy to use.

Mid-Tech Assistive Technology:

  • Electronic or battery operated that offer more functions than low-tech options
  • Examples include audiobooks, FM Systems in classrooms, PCS (Picture Communication Symbols) story generators, other communication devices.
  • Advantages- Can supply a more specialized support system for a group or individual, can be customized, require minimal training generally and are user-friendly

High-Tech Assistive Technology:

  • Electronic or battery powered involve more complicated computer operating systems.
  • Examples include- speech generating devices (speech to text), reading programs or electronic readers such as a C-Pen, motorized equipment for increased mobility, advanced prosthetics, computer aids and programs (Siri)
  • Advantages- Can be highly individualized, can address more complex or severe disabilities
  • Disadvantages- Cost can be quite a bit higher, may require training for the user and teacher, programing may need to often be updated (training as well)

Young and MacCormack refer to assistive technology as, “the devices and services that are used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of a student with a disability.”  In our classrooms we have a wide range of learners and within those learners, different students can struggle with tasks depending on their own learning disabilities.  Assistive technologies allow these students to help bypass or aid in the area of difficulty such as using speech to text where handwriting might be challenging.  As we discussed in class, assistive technologies create equity and opportunity for all of our students to succeed on a level playing field.  Each student’s needs can be met with their own unique assistive technology.

In my own experiences, I use assistive technologies most days within my classroom.  Students use Google Read and Write for their assignments or speech to text within Google Docs.  Audiobooks are often used with ELA classes across our school as well.  FM speakers for those students hard of hearing, iPads with talk boards built in for students who are unable to verbalize their communications, to motorized lifts, storyboards,  rifton chairs for those who need them, the list and ways teachers are providing assistive technologies to their students is amazing.  With advancements in AI as well, it will be interesting to see how far assistive technology can go.  The only downfall I experience and hear concerns with is the cost of some of the assistive technology available and the training needed for some of it.  Not all assistive technology is the same either, do you know much difference a cheap or expensive pencil grip can actually make?  What types of assistive technologies do you find yourself using in your classrooms?