How Assistive Technology Can Benefit Students both in the Classroom and at Home

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When we discuss assistive technology in schools and at home, we might think first about children with special needs. However, assistive tech can help both students with special needs like those with difficulty speaking or students without special needs but who have difficulty with reading, communicating or typing.

The best assistive tech is built into computers, tablets and other mobile devices that can help teachers to accommodate all students in one setting. Including students with different learning styles and different learning speeds.

Here are four key ways I have experienced assistive tech (AT) helping children in classrooms and at home:

Ease of use. Touch vs. keyboard and mouse makes it a lot easier for students with fine motor skills, among others. Microsoft Windows 8 includes features that make it possible to use the computer without a mouse or keyboard.

Windows Speech Recognition lets you use voice commands to navigate your computer screen. On-Screen Keyboard, lets you enter text by selecting keys on a visual keyboard displayed on the computer screen. Touchscreen-enabled Windows 8 computers and tablets also let the student navigate the screen without using a mouse or keyboard.

Microsoft is one of the leading edge companies developing “sip-and-puff systems” to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. This type of AT will aid many special needs children and adults.

Increased student engagement. A survey conducted by the Education Technology Center among students who take a “technology in the classroom” course at the University of Iowa showed that handheld technology, which students use during and after class, increases student engagement.

As a dad, I experienced the increased engagement of AT with my twin sons who are autistic when they were six years old. It was when a therapist conducted a session for them for the first time on a laptop computer. I was amazed by how much more engaged the boys were when she used opened a program on a laptop! That was a major turning point: in my sons’ development and for me as an entrepreneur because I later founded The Language Express.

Mobility makes it “on demand”. Teachers and parents can’t always predict when special needs students will have a meltdown or want to perform a specific task. Having a mobile app or tablet—equipped with the right app—available nearby gives the opportunity for the teacher or parent to immediately have an intervention for a teachable moment.

Affordability. This new trend is when the functionality of two devices is accomplished with one. For example, therapeutic programs can be combined with apps that help with story telling or help the children learn math.

Among the thousands of apps that are being created for use by children on tablets, some are purely for fun, some designed to teach new skills and others are in the form of games or webisodes—making learning a specific skill interactive and engaging for the student.

I suggest that teachers and parents look for the most engaging apps to help the child achieve his or her goals.

Resources for choosing apps to be used in education:

Apps as Assistive Technology http://www.mainecite.org/index.php/apps-as-assistive-technology-at , a website created by the Maine Department of Education’s assistive technology program.

Georgia’s assistive technology program offers a searchable database of apps for both Apple and Android devices, called Our Favorite Apps, http://www.gatfl.org/

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