Assistive technology in special education can bring much-needed help to teachers who have students with disabilities or who provide special education services. Implementing assistive technology cannot fix all the issues students may have, but it can help students cope with their impairments and aid teachers in providing the best learning experience they can for all students.
Interactive displays can easily adapt to be an assistive technology that creates a more inclusive learning environment. Below we explore a number of strategies to best reach and engage students of all abilities in the classroom, both with and without an interactive display.
Understanding Special Education and Assistive Technology
The National Center for Education Statistics found that 6.7 million students between 3 to 21 years of age are receiving special education services – this makes up 13% of all public school students. Of the 6.7 million students receiving special education services, 34% have specific learning disabilities:
- 20% have speech or language impairments
- 14% have other health impairments (including limited strength, vitality, or alertness)
- 5% – 9% of students have autism, intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, or emotional disturbances
Special education students are supported under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which specify that schools must provide students with disabilities the appropriate services and accommodation for their educational needs. Assistive technologies like interactive displays fall under educational accommodations.
According to Understood.org, “special education today is still focused on helping children with disabilities learn.” This is not only a special classroom for certain students but accommodating special needs and providing additional services to students so they can learn alongside non-disabled peers.
From the perspective of a teacher, looking for technologies to assist students with disabilities would require them to find assistive technology that would be used for:
- Only students with disabilities (for example, a vision-impaired student may have a special device to read out text for them)
- All students including students with disabilities and non-disabled (for example, all students would have a personal device that has the capability of text-to-speech among other functionality)
The role of assistive technology in special education for both cases is to support students who have special needs with tools that have the most impact on their learning outcomes.
Four Strategies to Assist Students with Their Disabilities
There are four major categories to help students overcome or assist them with their disability in special or general education settings. These would include variations and combinations of the below:
- General assistive technology: Providing tools and technologies to help students with disabilities
- Additional accommodations: Allowing students extra or special options, services, or help, such as additional time or special assistance
- Adjustment: Changing the regular lesson plans specifically for the students with disabilities such as different grading scales
- Additional paraprofessionals: Offering help from teachers’ aides, teaching assistants, or caretakers on various tasks
Six Ways Interactive Displays Assist Students with Physical Disabilities and Impairments
Interactive displays can be utilized as a tool for all the strategies explained above. Below are six examples of impairments and how interactive displays can be used as an assistive technology:
Visual impairment can include blindness, dyslexia, or other visual impairment that impedes the ability to see or read. Interactive displays can be used in different ways to help students with sight impairment. For example:
- Zooming or enlarging text and images to make it larger or easier to see
- Interactive display’s built-in speakers in combination with text-to-speech (TTS) software can help broadcast materials aloud
Audio impairment affects students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Interactive displays can be used as assistive listening systems. For example:
- Interactive display in combination with microphones and built-in speakers to enhance the speaking volume
- Interactive display in combination with recording software enables recording of presentations for students to review if the teachers speaking speed is too fast or the learning environment is too noisy
- Interactive display in combination with speech-to-text software and microphones can help transform the presenter’s voice into readable text on the screen for students
Extremity function impairments include the limited motor performance of the upper and lower body. Interactive displays can be connected to other hardware or devices that would allow students to input information such as special keyboards, touch panels, writing instruments, and pointing tools.
Mobility impairment includes any limits to lower body motor performance. An interactive display has several functionalities that may help limited mobility students including:
- Casting & Throw: allows students to send information from their device to the interactive display
- Adjustable stand mounts: Adjustable stands can also be used with an interactive display to lower or maneuver the screen to best fit the students’ needs
Speech impairment can range from mild such as mispronouncing or lack of volume, to severe as not being able to produce any speech sounds. An interactive display can help speech impairment on different levels:
- From using microphones and built-in speakers to allow students to increase a student’s speaking volume
- Using Text-to-Speech (TTS) software to vocalize student typed messages
Attention impairments are any disorder of cognitive functions including attention deficit and hyperactivity. Interactive displays can help teachers overcome challenges with attention impairments by:
- Allowing teachers to integrate multimedia into lessons and presentations to give students more aspects to focus on such as visuals, videos, and animations
- Allowing teachers to eliminate distractions by using only one screen to display materials
- Allowing teachers to save presentations, notes and annotations for students who need to review, alternate, or divide their attention
- Allowing teachers and students to actively participate in their lesson with live annotation
Although interactive displays were not designed specifically as an assistive technology in special education, many features already used by teachers now can be applied and adapted to use in special education. Interactive displays can help teachers provide better services to their students by offering them tools to enhance the learning experiences of both their special needs and non-disabled students. Being a flexible technology, many interactive displays can be customized with special software and hardware to match the needs of many special education requirements.
Identifying Your Need for Assistive Technology
Like any other purchase, you’ll want to do your due diligence and research what technologies are available to be integrated into your classroom as an assistive technology. Once you’ve identified technologies that may work for your student’s situation, it’s important to evaluate the assistive technology on four criteria:
How can you use this technology in your current lessons?
Will there be a need for much adaptation of current lesson plans to integrate the use of this technology?
To be able to use the technology successfully, how much training will be needed for both teachers and students to understand the functionality of the technology?
Who will conduct the training?
- Student Adoption
Will students accept the use of technology in the classroom?
Will the technology interfere or be beneficial to other students both non-disabled and impaired in the classroom?
- Classroom Access
How much access will students have to the technology?
Will the technology go with the student or stay in certain classrooms?
These four criteria will help you to think about assistive technology when it is in use. If the technology only offers a limited benefit or too many restrictions, it may be better to look for different options. Great assistive technology for special education should not only solve a specific need very well but also easily integrated into how your classroom currently functions.