Assistive Technology bringing accessibility into the classroom 👏👏👏

As the World Health Organization mentions, assistive technology “enables and promotes inclusion and participation, especially of persons with disability, aging populations, and people with non-communicable diseases. The primary purpose of assistive products is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. They [also] enable people to live healthy, productive, independent, and dignified lives, and to participate in education, the labour market and civic life”. When we refer to assistive technology in education it is considered to be “the use of devices and software to improve the experience of learning or going about daily life. Assistive technology can range from Braille displays and books to text-to-speech software or wheelchairs. [Furthermore,] assistive technology can be anything that improves life and learning” (Rice, 2022). Moreover, what we should consider is that when we enlist the use of assistive technology we are not only “improving accessibility for one group, [but also improving accessibility for all], in ways we can’t always predict (Rice, 2022).

One of my first experiences with assistive technology that I can recall was during the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree and working as an educational assistant at the same time. While working as an educational assistant I got the chance to work at different schools with different children of varying age groups. As a student, preparing to enter the teaching field, I was provided with new insight regarding the diverse needs of our students in the classroom and all the different assistive technology that was available to improve their learning experience at school. The first assistive technology tool I encountered while working as an educational assistant was a Braille display that a student with vision impairments would use to complete their work and participate in learning activities. It was complicated to use, but I was taken aback by the level of enthusiasm this student showed when she had the opportunity to teach me how to use the Braille display to help her with her assignments. Additionally, I had the opportunity to work with tablets and different applications that were available to help students be independent and complete their work in the classroom. The most common software I came into contact with on tablets was voice-over applications, screen readers, typing applications, and visual aid applications.

Once, I started working as a French Immersion teacher in a dual track school that also housed a Jr. FIAP and Sr. FIAP program, I became more familiar with other assistive technology that was available to students so that they could maximize on their experience as well as their learning while at school. It was the first time where I started to consider wheelchairs, accessibility ramps, and adaptive bikes as being educational assistive technology. The numerous assistive technology tools that our FIAP teachers would acquire for their students were indeed many, but whenever they would discuss their students with me, there was a common goal to bring assistive technology into the classroom to help students become independent (as much as possible) and to improve accessibility while they were at school. Most importantly, FIAP teachers, just like most teachers, were wanting their students to experience success in the classroom and have a favourable learning experience while they were at school.

As educators, I truly believe that we are open-minded when incorporating whatever technology, we can into our teaching that will help our students have a more enjoyable and fuller experience at school. We want our students to be independent and we strive to ensure all our students can engage with the whole school experience and get the fullest out of their education.

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