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Assistive technology as applied in education refers to devices and aids that substitute or help compensate for the learning capabilities those students with disabilities experience. The student's individualized education program (IEP) drives the needs for assistive technology devices and services. Assistive technology (AT) also enables the students to receive assistive technology service which means the equipment or product system that can help a student learn based on their disabilities (Bain & Leger, 1997). AT has undergone many improvements in the past decade. Many other students who are not disabled also use AT services to help them learn. It has helped with the application to education such has universal design methods to meet the needs of all students but not singling out students with disabilities. For instance, students who have to take standard test assessments and those who have accommodations such have reading passages and directions aloud. Some students have assistive technology accommodations such as computer speech to text programs. The assistive technology programs designed today can help all students.
Assistive technology has been around for centuries to help people with disabilities to read materials that could be challenging. One of the greatest inspirations of assistive technology was provided by Louis Braille, who developed a language for the blind in the year 1821 (Magar, 2010). The Federal government has protected students with disabilities and mandated laws to protect students who need to use assistive technology services or devices. In 1998, Congress passed P.L. 100-407 the original Technology- Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act, later referred to as the Tech Act. That law provided funding to develop statewide, consumer-responsive information and training programs designed to meet the AT needs of individuals with disabilities of all ages. Apart from the direct implications of the law in supporting statewide and national programs, the Tech Act was the first to define AT device; it is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. The Tech Act also defined AT service as any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, our use of assistive devices. These first federal definitions of AT where later adopted in other legislations, most notably the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Act also mandated that the federal government identify policies and obstacles, which placed barriers for the provision and payment for AT (Bausch et al., 2004).
Assistive technology has been mainstreamed with many people using AT devices. It has helped with universal design for all people. Many major test assessments in the public schools are computer based. Some programs have read aloud programs where students can use headphones and listen to a computerized voice read passages and directions. In the state of Virginia, students are required to take computerized Standards of Learning Tests (SOLs); in the state of Maryland there are computerized tests for students who have accommodations and all students with disabilities can take computerized tests.
A study on universal design to test delivery and the effects of computer based read-aloud programs concluded that computerized tests helped all students and all users and not those with disabilities only. In conclusion, the study asserts that testing solutions that reduce construct irrelevancy will improve the validity of decisions made upon test scores. This means, we must be willing to embrace assessment techniques that provide students with the best opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, even at the expense of presentations consistency (Dolan et al, 2005).
Assistive Technology has helped all aspects of education; many publishers who design textbooks and tests can utilize assistive technology. Publishers can design computerized books, books on compact disc, and computerized tests. All educators can play a role to determine what assistive technology programs best serves the needs of their students. As explained before, many states are now coming up with creative ways to help students learn by the use of technology programs. Based on my personal experiences as an educator, assistive technology has helped also helped the teachers and lesson instructors. Many programs help teachers present the lesson, for example, the head set microphones reduces yelling, and students that sit in the back of the room or have a hearing problems can benefit from a teacher using a headset microphone. In our school district, we allow students to take reading test by the computers. Students can have extra time to take tests. Extra time is given to all students and this eliminates the discrimination of students with disabilities (Scherer, 2002).
All students today can use assistive technology based on universal design not only any students who have IEP's and accommodations that require assistive technology. Assistive technology has helped improve their tests taking, reading, writing, and math skills. Many programs can help all students learn and help them be more productive. It is up to administrators, teachers, parents, and students to determine the assistive technology needs and how technology needs can help students be better learners. As time advances, many more programs and companies will allow school systems to try technology programs and devices and they will attend schools to conduct presentations.
Students can use assistive technology in the classroom setting and the home setting. Teachers need to help and teach students how to use assistive technology devices at home. In the past two decades, technology has improved and become explosive; it is amazing that when I was a younger, there were no computers at our homes but now almost all Americans have computers in their homes. Technology will help all people who have disabilities. Many people will have to be willing to learn and use technology to meet their needs. I believe all the technology companies will help with universal design and work towards giving general education a big turn around.