Call It What You Want – A Look At Assistive Technology

Call It What You Want – A Look At Assistive Technology

What technology and/or methods have you used/could you use to make your instruction (whether Face-to-Face, blended, or online) more accessible to your students?

As seems to be a common theme this course, I have a lot more experience with the weekly topic than I thought! Assistive technology is not as narrow-focused as I initially believed, including many thing I’ve used in the classroom over my 10+ years as an educator. FM systems, translator apps, word processors, graphic organizers, and calculators are all types of assistive technology that I truly would not have thought of as such prior to this week’s lesson. For this blog post I want to focus on the “could you use” part of the prompt and spend a bit more time unpacking the technologies touched on this week’s presentation (thanks Ilda and Cailen!) and do some exploring of my own.

Immersive Reader

Prior to class, I hadn’t really thought of Immersive Reading Software as much more than the option to have the words on the screen be read to you. Some online texts even have this function built in, such as KidsHealth articles (see example here). I haven’t explored this technology too much, which is a built in feature of a program I use all the time in teaching – Microsoft Word! This article from RRC Polytech summarizes the many features and opportunities of immersive reading software, including some of the things that this week’s presenters showcased for us (text preferences such as font size, picture dictionary). Aside from what I feel is the obvious function of Immersive Reader (reading text aloud for a student who otherwise might struggle to decode and comprehend it) I wondered how I could incorporate it into my teaching in ways that could benefit the whole class. That led me to this article by Tech & Learning. Two of the several ways they suggested use of immersive reader that could benefit the whole class are:

  • helping students learn pronunciation of higher level (or tricky) vocabulary as the words can be correctly read aloud to them
  • using the highlighting specific parts of speech tool to have students quiz themselves (the example in the article was having student first embolden the words from a piece of text they believed to be verbs, and then use the immersive reader to highlight the verbs as it reads the text)

Something I really find useful about the second point here is that traditionally, teaching and learning about parts of speech can be rather… unexciting. This tool adds an element of engagement and interactivity as opposed to pencil and paper work that typically dominates this subject area.


This one is ridiculously easy for me to get on board with since I am quite the audiobook junkie myself. As a middle years teacher, I always tell my students,  of which the majority are largely uninterested in reading, that I was once just like them. I think I read two or three books for pleasure between grade 7 and 12. I simply had no interest, and this was even before the smartphone era. Now it feels like teachers and parents hardly have a fighting chance when reading a book is stacked up against social media, online games, and other smartphone applications. I tell students that now, I look forward to ending my day reading a bit of a novel and often put my headphones in while doing chores around the house and listen to audiobooks. Read alouds and listening to audiobooks are definitely part of my ELA teaching. I was curious about the research behind audiobooks and reading improvement, particularly in middle years. I found this blog post which highlights many reasons why listening to audiobooks can benefit students. Some of the most notable reasons include:

  • They’re portable. Students can listen to them on the go (also why I, a mom of two young children with a never ending messy house, love them)
  • They function similarly to reading text! This study shows that “reading and listening stimulate the same cognitive and emotional areas of the brain and that comprehension differences are minimal
  • They level the playing field. When I’m reading aloud to students who often range greatly in reading levels, a greater population can participate, unlike handing each of them the same paper novel.

Thinking back to myself as a grade 7 student, I did try to take to reading. I had a sister who loved reading and spent all her time in her room with the door closed and her nose in a book. I was on the other side of that door begging her to come play outside with me. I think it’s really common for students at this age to simply just not love reading. And while of course I think it’s important for students to still read and independently decode physical and digital texts, I wonder if sparking and fostering an enjoyment of books is more valuable than trying to force novels on students that many might not get much out of anyway.

Eyes Flirting GIF by Bounce on Giphy

In my search for other assistive tech and my reflection on how I have or could use it in the classroom, I stumbled upon this Wired article by Sara Hendren, and it’s a doozy! Check out this quote:

“Honestly — what technology are you using that’s not assistive? Your smartphone? Your eyeglasses? Headphones? And those three examples alone are assisting you in multiple registers: They’re enabling or augmenting a sensory experience, say, or providing navigational information. But they’re also allowing you to decide whether to be available for approach in public, or not; to check out or in on a conversation or meeting in a bunch of subtle ways; to identify, by your choice of brand or look, with one culture group and not another… [A]re you sure your phone isn’t a crutch, as it were, for a whole lot of unexamined needs?”

In short, the article challenges the whole idea of disability and encourages readers to think about “cultural assumptions” about what the ideal human form is. It suggests that altering collective thinking about assistive technology as more universal is key to developing the best tools and technology for society and claims that “All Technology is Assistive”, which is the title of the article.

Cant Hear You Nick Offerman GIF by Gunpowder & Sky on Giphy

Assistive technology offers the opportunity for people to be successful who otherwise might not be able to be. When I return to teaching in the fall, I hope to approach the idea of assistive tech not just for students with disabilities, but with the mindset that all technology is assistive in some way and making informed choices about its implementation so it benefits as many students in the best possible way.

2 thoughts on “Call It What You Want – A Look At Assistive Technology

  1. Thanks for the post! I like the point you made when you started well what really is not assistive technology and I completely agree. We live in a digital age where we constantly have support at our fingertips whether it be using a calculator or checking how to spell a word!

    Great thoughts!

  2. Thank you for your thoughts! I was struck by your comments regarding the “cultural assumptions” of disabilities and assistive technology. While I had already considered this regarding disabilities, I never thought of assistive tech in this way. It hits the nail right on the head. Our phones are not crutches (although they seem surgically attached to certain hands) and yet, they are a form of assistive tech. Thank you for the food for thought!

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