Assistive technology (AT) is the technology that helps disabled individuals in various ways. The disability could be cognitive or physical in nature. This article focuses on the assistive technology and how students or teachers working with learners with disabilities can use it. I will examine how technology can be used to enhance learning for disabled students. This essay will also show how learners with disabilities can benefit from the assistive technology and the effectiveness of this approach to learning.
Research has shown that when learners with disabilities are encouraged to use their strengths or abilities in working around their challenges or inabilities, they report greater success. The assistive technology helps learners to maximize their abilities and work around the challenges they face as a result of disabilities. This essay also examines the role that parents can play in the use of the assistive technology (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Parents play a big role in helping children who have learning disabilities, especially while using the assistive technology.
Parents should, therefore, be well informed about the use of assistive technology, so that they know what they ought to do to help their children with learning disabilities. Children with learning disabilities are able to benefit from the assistive technology since early childhood, during recreational activities, and even later on in life when they start working. Children with learning disabilities require moral support from people around them, especially from parents and guardians who give them strength.
The assistive technology that is used by students with learning disabilities can be defined as any sort of equipment, device, or system that assist students with learning disabilities to overcome, bypass, compensate, or work around their deficits (Dyck, N., & Pemberton, 2002). For many years now, the assistive technology has helped many children with learning disabilities to go through life with more ease. It must be understood that the assistive technology helps a child with learning disabilities only to reach his or her potential by allowing him or her to focus on his/her strengths rather than his/her inabilities and does not in any way eliminates difficulties that the child faces.
The assistive technology has also been defined as any device, product, or system that helps a child with disabilities in increasing, maintaining, and improving his/her functional capabilities. The device does not have to be high-tech. Sometimes, a device as simple as a pencil that is wrapped with a tape in order to make it easier to hold may also be an example of an assistive technology device. These assistive technology tools are quite numerous and this essay will only discuss a few of them. There are, however, more assistive technology devices available that can help with mobility or sensory challenges than there are for cognitive impairments. Thus, many schools that take care of the children with special needs only select a number of these assistive technology devices (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).
The assistive technology is therefore a means for the child to bypass the areas that are challenging and to become the best that he or she can possibly become. A good example of a learning disability that can be bypassed with the help of the assistive technology is an eyesight problem. A child who has problems with reading and yet is able to listen keenly can be helped by using audio books. In this regard, the assistive technology will help the child to compensate for the deficit he or she has in reading by focusing on his/her strengths in listening.
Children who enlist the help of the assistive technology should not stop receiving other remedial instructions that are aimed at helping to alleviate his or her deficits. Such remedial instructions include computer software that could help the child improve his or her phonic skills (Smith, 2000). The extra-reading software and audio books will help the child to get around his or her inability to read. Other learning disabilities that the assistive technology could help to compensate for include reading and spelling.
When a child has a disability of sorts, he or she tends to rely on people around him or her to perform normal duties. The assistive technology is a way through which a child with learning disabilities is able to become self-reliant and independent. When a child is disabled, he or she tends to struggle through life and depends on parents, friends, siblings, and even teachers to do his or her assignments. The assistive technology gives such children the opportunity to work as independent individuals who can perform usual tasks.
There are many learning disabilities that can be addressed by the assistive technology including the art of listening, solving mathematical problems, organizing tasks, memorizing, reading, and writing. The assistive technology can help a child who has problems with writing a simple essay like a school report. The child can dictate the essay and the software then writes it down on his or her behalf. There is the special software that is able to turn spoken words into the written one so that a child who has problems with writing can still organize his or her thoughts in writing.
There are also those children who have problems with solving mathematical assignments who could use the assistive technology. Equipment such as a calculator that is hand-held could be useful in helping the child to keep track of the scores while playing video games. The assistive technology may also help teenagers who suffer from dyslexia and need to read training manuals that are available online. “Assistive technology” is a term that is used in referring to the computer software and hardware as well as other electronic gadgets that help students with learning disabilities to overcome these challenges.
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Many tools of the assistive technology can be readily obtained online. Some of them that assist children with learning disabilities include alternative keyboards, freedom database software, abbreviation expanders, graphic outlining and organizers, and optical character recognition. Other software that help children with learning disabilities are talking calculators, programs that predict words, spell checkers that speak out, and variable speed tape recorders.
Those children who have problems with listening could use particular tools designed to help them to remember and process spoken words. Whether a student needs them in a lecture hall, in a meeting or in everyday life, these tools can be very helpful. There are children with learning disabilities who find it very hard to compute, organize, align, or even copy mathematical problems in a book or on a piece of paper. Such learners can be helped with solving mathematical problems through the use of audio and visual support.
Children with learning disabilities often find it difficult to organize and keep track of their daily activities, calendar, to-do-lists, schedules, and contact information as well as other notes. There are available tools that will help such a child with managing, storing, and retrieving this kind of information. When it comes to writing, there are available tools that help to check spelling, grammar, and punctuation of those children who have problems with writing.
Like I have mentioned earlier in this essay, there are many assistive technology tools at the disposal of the caregivers of children who suffer from learning disabilities. A tool such an abbreviation expander can be used in conjunction with a word processor in assisting the user in creating, storing, and even re-using abbreviations for phrases or words that are commonly used. It will help to ensure that the user makes the use of the proper spelling of words.
Just as it has been mentioned in the beginning, another useful tool is an alternative keyboard. These alternative keyboards unlike the usual keyboards are customized to help learners with disabilities who may have troubles with typing on a normal keyboard. The keyboard may be laid out in such a way that is easy for learners with disabilities to recognize a particular color or shape of certain words. All this is done in order to make it easier for the user to comprehend information.
Audio books are other tools that make learning easier for children with learning disabilities. Many libraries stalk recorded books that can be listened to. These audio books are also available in numerous formats. They can be in the form of CDs, audiocassettes, or MP3s. These audio books are set in a manner that allows readers to search for the book, read it, and even bookmark it if necessary. There are some electronic book libraries that even allow users to subscribe to these audio book services.
There are software programs known as electronic math worksheets that help children with learning disabilities to solve math problems. The child will be able to solve mathematical problems on a computer screen. It is especially useful in helping children who find it hard to solve math problems on paper. There are children who have problems with understanding and producing speech. Such children can be helped through using augmentative communication tools that aid in understanding people around them and in expressing themselves. Parents can help such a child to come up with a board full of pictures that helps them to manage their daily activities and schedules.
Such a child can also be helped by using an electronic speech synthesizer. It shows that assistive technology devices can be quite hi-tech, but they do not necessarily have to be as they can be simple and still work just fine. There are also devices that can store the prerecorded speech and play the recordings. There are speech synthesizers that are more complicated and can use the segments of words to produce sentences. Augmentative communication devices are very effective and can help children with such speech impairments as cerebral palsy to speak and express their thoughts.
Furthermore, children who have problems with writing and cannot write correctly, with proper punctuation, spelling, or grammar and are not able to construct proper sentences can be assisted by using the proofreading software. Word processor software can scan documents and alert the child in case of possible errors. The computer software that recognizes speech can also be available for learners with speech disabilities. Children can talk into a microphone. The computer then recognizes words spoken by the user that afterwards appear on the computer screen (Lesar, 1998).
Another assistive technology tool is adaptive computing. Adaptive computing is designed to help those children who are physically challenged or have sensory impairments and are therefore not in a position to use a computer. Just the fact that these students have mobility issues and may not be able to input information into the computer by means of typing does not mean that they are not able to read whatever is written on a computer screen. They will need adaptive hardware to help them with using the computer to perform certain tasks. An example of such a device is an expanded keyboard that has larger keys that are placed further apart from each other.
Children who suffer from sensory disabilities may use joy sticks instead of a regular mouse. They may even have their computers set in such a way that they can input data by blinking an eye or even blowing a switch on and off. There are those students who are vision impaired and should be allowed to use the Braille output and input devices (Dyck & Pemberton, 2002). Blind students are simply unable to use computers that are text-only. Therefore, they should be provided with the software that turns text into speech. When students need to use voice inputs on their commuters, they should be given quality earphones in order not to distract others. There are those whose vision impairments are a bit milder. They should be allowed to use the computer software that enlarges items on the screen for them.
Stakeholders in the educational sector have often emphasized that learning, especially for children with learning disabilities, needs to be student-centered. Most children do not come to school with the clear-cut needs. It means that they cannot be necessarily be grouped into sub-categories. One student could need a collection of devices and not just one in order to learn effectively. It means that for a child with learning disabilities to reach his or her full potential, collaborations and joint effort will be required on behalf of various agencies (Dunhaney & Dunhaney, 2000).
Children with learning disabilities who have been introduced to the assistive technology have been reported to be more independent and able to manage their schedules and activities. However, critiques have argued that sometimes these devices only serve to make children with disabilities more dependent as other people have to assist them. Nonetheless, the reality is that children who use some of these assistive technology tools do not require to be constantly supervised. Caregivers, parents, and teachers are left free to attend to other matters (Smith, 2000).
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No single child with any learning disability has the same needs. Thus, he/she requires different sets of assistive technology devices. There are factors that must be considered when examining the assistive technology tools for a learner with disabilities. A parent, a guardian, or a teacher needs to examine particular challenges or needs of the child with learning disabilities. The type of the assistive technology device chosen for the learner should also correspond to the particular academic area with which the student is struggling.
Not just the weaknesses, but also the strengths of the student with learning disabilities should also be taken into account. An assistive technology tool should be the one that makes the best use of the student’s abilities in order to help with compensating for his or her disabilities. Equally important are skills, interests, and experience that the child has concerning the use of technology (Welch, 2000). The settings in which the child with learning disabilities will use an assistive technology device should also be considered. A good assistive device is the one that is versatile and can be used in various settings, for instance, at school, at home, or at social gatherings.
A child with learning disabilities can also be encouraged to use an assistive technology device such as the personal FM listening system. The personal FM listening system is normally able to transmit voice from a speaker directly to the ear of a student with a learning disability. The learner is then able to listen to what the speaker is saying. The speaker in this case can be a teacher, a peer, or some pre recorded instructions. The device normally consists of wireless transmitters and it sometimes contains an in-built microphone. Therefore, the speaker wears the microphone while the listener uses the earphone.
Portable word processors have also been known to be handy for students with learning disabilities. Such a word processor can be carried from one place to another because it is portable. It means that the student with learning disabilities can use the device both at home and at school. It helps those children who find it hard to write using their hands and would rather use a keyboard. The child will be able to correct or edit work that he or she has already written and it is easier done using the keyboard for children who find it challenging to write by hand (Edyburn, 2007).
This essay has focused on the definition of the assistive technology, various types of the available assistive technology, and how they can be used to improve the lives of children with learning disabilities. The assistive technology is specifically aimed at making hard and seemingly impossible tasks doable for children with learning disabilities. Simple as it may seem, writing can be a real challenge for a disabled child. The assistive technology comes to the rescue of such a child making his or her life much easier (Edyburn, 2007). Assistive technology tools should not however replace the care that a disabled child ought to get from his or her parents. The assistive technology tools should only be used as a means of making the lives of children easier and of allowing their caregivers to focus on some other daily activities.