An estimated two million people live in the UK with a visual impairment, with around 1.5 million citizens also known to live with a learning disability. Focusing on just the younger generation, these figures translate to around 25,000 children living with sight loss and approximately 286,000 youngsters living with a learning disability. Due to the figures associated with children, many students across the UK are learning with a disability and often require adaptive or assistive technology to support their education.
Such technology is beneficial as it means children can enhance their learning experience in areas where they would likely otherwise face barriers because of their disability and struggle to get the most out of their time in education. When students with a learning disability have the opportunity to use their strengths to overcome their challenges, it often results in a successful education. Assistive technology is just one approach that allows students to work around their disabilities.
How assistive technology helps
There are various different types of assistive technology — otherwise known as AT. All of the devices have been designed so that they can assist in improving a child’s education, with certain pieces of technology also working to not only address a child’s learning difficulties but also improve the entire education experience for students and teachers alike. AT has tools which can be used to assist those with disabilities that struggle with listening, reading, writing, math and organisation. Whether the student is visually impaired, dyslexic or any other disabilities that cause skill deficits, AT can be implemented into the education processes to help. In fact, research has proved that AT can improve certain skill deficits, such as reading and spelling.
It’s important to note that disabled students are not given an unfair advantage in schools by making use of assistive technology. Instead, it gives them the opportunity, in some cases, to learn alongside their fellow students by giving them the independence to learn in an environment that allows them to use their strengths to overcome their challenges, whether they are learning in a public school, a special needs institution or a blind school. Adaptive devices help to increase participation, achievement and independence of the student, by improving their access to the same general curriculum as other pupils without a disability via an assistive tool that breaks down the barriers of their disability.
Examples of assistive technology
A key element of assistive technology devices is that they are set up to enable students to learn effectively in the same environment as their peers. However, there will be different types of assistive technology to support different learning disabilities. Around 20% of young people with a visual impairment, have additional special education needs or disabilities, with a further 30% having complex needs within the education system. Assistive technology offers support. Generally, the term assistive technology is applied to technology that is used to support children with learning difficulties – most commonly, electronic devices, computer hardware and digital tools that are available on the internet.
Students with visual impairments will be able to use assistive technology to gain access to assets — both digitally and in print — in a larger format. For many visually impaired students, digital technology is a way for them to learn in mainstream schools – this is because text can be enlarged, and other senses can be used to aid the learning process, such as touch and sound. Around 60% of visually impaired students are educated in mainstream schools, and AT supports their learning needs, and allows students to learn at their own rate. A qualified teacher of the visually impaired is likely to support to pupil further.
There’s also alternative keyboards with overlays, which allow users to customise the keyboard’s appearance in order to encourage productivity. Not only for students with visual impairment who might need braille, or larger keys, these customisable keyboard overlays can add graphics and colours to help students who struggle to type. And it doesn’t stop there – from electronic math work sheets and talking calculators to talking spell checkers, electronic dictionaries and braille technology, AT makes school a comfortable environment for students with a disability to learn in.
Discovering the most effective assistive technology for your students
Take note that the learning requirements of one child who is living with a learning disability or visual impairment will be entirely unique to the next child. Assistive technology allows the student to take control of their learning journey, and gain some independence in their education – but finding which assistive technology is right for the student can be difficult, as one student’s need may be very different to another. To find the right tool to support their education, establish which tools best address the child’s specific needs and challenges – which tool will help overcome the barriers? The AT tool must be used to the student’s strengths, be easy to use, reliable and preferably portable.
A student must be willing and capable to use the assistive technology tool selected too. Therefore, be aware that while one student can use a tool, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another student can use it too. Disabilities are different for each person, and whilst two pupils might both have a visual impairment, their requirements could differ significantly.