The Introduction of Technology in the sphere of Education has proved to be a turning point in the transfer of knowledge in a traditional classroom setting. Integrating Technology with teaching and learning has developed an interactive environment while also fostering creativity wherein students find themselves engaging more than in the usual lecture method classroom setting. A trend that is on a rise, the usage of technology has become more predominant; switching textbooks with tablets, assignments are turned in via online portals, and classwork and course materials can be accessed using wireless mobile devices. The incorporation of technology in education has also resulted in students being equipped with skills that helps them enter the workforce once they graduate.
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With all these developments, Technology has played a major role in creating an environment of equal opportunity by paving the way for differently-abled learners to engage and be a part of a traditional classroom setting. In the past, differently-abled students struggled to be a part of classroom program is due to accessibility and instructional issues. Through computer-based learning programs, these students are given the opportunity to manage their disability and overcome issues be able to engage, participate and have the same educational experiences as a regular student. They can perform tasks and participate in activities that would previously not be possible for them due to the limitation of their disability, be it physical or any other form. With the advent of Technology, differently abled students, have been provided with prospects that give them more flexibility, independence and access, thus enhancing their quality of life in the present and that of the future.
The aim of this research paper is to talk about how through the integration of technology, more importantly Assistive Technology, learners have been given an opportunity access education in the traditional classroom setting as any regular student. It will also talk about cons of why and how technology, though on the rise, still has limitations and drawbacks for differently-abled learners in terms of accessibility. Additionally, the aim is to also talk about creating an environment, so learners do not face any sort of exclusion based on physical abilities or mental faculties.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed Technology play a crucial role in revolutionizing classroom learning. With the advent of interactive technology, the manner of instruction has undergone a dynamic shift. There has been a transformation where classrooms are now more diverse, engaging and encourage collaborative learning that focuses on better understanding, learning, and retaining practices. Through Computer based and Online E-Learning programs, differently abled students can now access coursework, communicate thoughts and ideas and engage in educational experiences. Providing differently-abled student increased access to traditional college experiences, through technology, helps them to experience and participate in academic life. For example: through online learning differently abled students can access campus and course facilities, which in the past could pose as a possible hindrance to them.
Before going further, it is essential to understand how different technologies have been introduced and existing technology has evolved based on the various forms of disabilities that exist. The term “Disability” is an umbrella term, covering the various forms of disabilities that exist. No one form of technology will work or can be used as the only assistive method. To begin with, it is important to understand how disabilities are categorized:
In many cases, there is a possibility of a student experiencing more than one kind of disability. For the student to be able to manage their disability and also complete tasks and challenges that comes along with being a student is tough. Hence, Assistive Technology has been a powerful tool in helping students in being able to perform tasks they previously would not have been able to complete or achieve
What is Assistive Technology? According to the website of the Assistive Technology Industry Association, Assistive Technology is
“any item piece of equipment, software program or product systems that is used to increase maintain or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities. It helps people who have difficulty speaking wiring, typing remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning walking and many other things. Different disabilities require different assistive technologies.”
Therefore, Assistive Technology is any apparatus that helps differently abled students with learning and education. This was defined with the implementation of the Assistive Technology Act 1998, that was designed to make sure every disabled student is provided an equal opportunity and format to education. Introduced by former president Bill Clinton, the act defines AT 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. AT service is directly assisting an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.”
The term includes- (a) The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child’s customary environment; (b) Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities; (c) Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices; (d) Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs; (e) Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child’s family; and (f) Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of that child. (Edyburn, 2004)
It is important for caregivers and teachers to understand what particular technology or a combination, will be of most help to the student. The tools chosen and used, should help the student in optimal utilization of his capabilities, that suit his needs and are able to give him the best experience. Anytime assistive technology will be considered for a student, there needs to be an accurate and detailed assessment to determine exactly what the student needs. There are many devices available and it is imperative to choose the one that is a good fit for the student. It is often a good practice to see if there can be a trial period to try out the device before purchasing it. (Dyal, Carpenter, Wright, 2009)
The role of Assistive Technology for differently abled students is that it compensates for the skill that the student is lacking in or for their area of disability. These may act in assisting the student with the task but cannot be considered long term remedial solutions for the student’s disability. For example: A brail to text software that converts the brail for a blind student, into readable text. The function it performs is in an assistive measure, to improve the skill deficit, and not a solution to cure the disability.
Currently, various different types of Assistive Technology are available for differently-abled students based on their disability. As mentioned before, the kind of assistive technology to be used, or a combination of a few, will depend on firstly the need of the student, and second how best it would suit them. Some of the few, commonly used assistive technologies used to help differently abled students are: Recognition Software, Conversion Software, Assistive Listening Software, Visual/Audio Aids, Physical Mobility Aid etc.
Assistive technology devices and services—from such high-tech innovations as computer screen— readers for people with visual impairments to lower-tech products, such as head pointers or pencil grips—have aided learning for many students with physical impairments. Positioning devices have enabled students with physical disabilities to join their classmates at tables; auditory trainers have helped those with hearing impairments comprehend instruction in the regular classroom; and portable text-reading devices have enabled learners with sight problems to access information from libraries (Bauche and Hasselbring, 2005).
With all these measures in place, there are still factors that pose as challenges for the differently-abled learners that technology is yet to catch up to. There are certain obstacles that have not yet been accounted for and found solutions to. There are several limitations to assistive technology, such as;
- High Costs: Most of the technology and equipment available are specialized devices and are also customized to suit the learner’s requirements. This can result in an increase in the cost of acquiring the technology. Hence, it is one of the major reasons why there is a lack of availability of technology/devices to those who require it, as financially, this is not a feasible options for them and their families.
- Development and Implementation is Time Consuming: Much of the technology that has now evolved, has been a result of decades long research and development. It cannot be produced overnight as it requires great amounts of trial and error and testing to the if the product, produced, works efficiently. Also, for many software, it needs to be user friendly and manageable so it acts as an assistance not as a hindrance for the user.
- Possibility of Malfunctioning: The devices produced do undergo long research and development and quality testing before it is released, but at the end of the day it is machinery and a piece of equipment, the possibility of malfunctioning for which is always there. This could require the re-call or re-development of a technological product.
- Training is needed for the Operation: Those handling and operating the equipment, need to be trained for its usage and need to get accustomed because there devices can require a specialized handling. Be it teachers, nurses or caregivers, training is an important part of handing assistive technology. Equipment could be bulky, and also space restrictive
- Complex: In conjunction with the previous point, complex pieces of machinery, that have several different parts to an equipment, can be cumbersome in the beginning to work with and therefore, this can cause inconvenience to those using or handling it. This is something developers of assistive technological need to keep in mind, that this is supposed to act additional help and not end up being complex to cause problems.
Through the research, we have tried to provide an insight on how differently-abled the education systems have been able to create an inclusive environment, for differently abled students. This is important not only for the students in terms of opportunity, it uplifts them and also gives them the confidence and motivation. This endeavor should be an ongoing effort to create equality in educational opportunities for the differently- abled.
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As assistive technologies have advanced over the years, they have delivered instructions in new ways. But simply improving access and delivery will not necessarily improve instruction. On the contrary, improved learning for all students depends on the quality of instruction—not on the medium with which it is delivered. (Bauche and Hasselbring, 2005)
- Dyal, A., Carpenter, L. B., & V. Wright, J. (2009). Assistive Technology: What Every School Leader Should Know. Education, 129(3), 556–560.
- Citation: Edyburn, D.L. (2004). Rethinking assistive technology. Special Education Technology Practice, 5(4), 16-23
- Ref: Hasselbring, T., & Bausch, M. (2005). Assistive technologies for reading. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 72-75.
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