Assistive Technology

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1 Assistive technology

Ellen Hicks, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Current educational definitions of assistive technology are broad in nature; they can include any device that is used to enhance learning for individuals (Maushak, Kelley & Blodgett, 2001). Assistive technology is used with students with disabilities to overcome barriers due to reading, attention, organizational, memory and the physical demands of curriculum related tasks (Dolan, Hall, Banerjee, Chun & Strangman, 2005). Examples of assistive technology tools include screen readers, speech to text, spell check and concept mapping (Bouck, Flanagan, Okolo & Englert, 2011). Software applications such as the internet, word processors, multimedia and drill type programs can also be considered assistive technology (Celik, 2013).

As inclusionary policies were adopted by school districts and provinces in the 1990’s, an awareness of instructional practices and assistive technology developed that would help students with disabilities succeed in the regular classroom environment (Maushak et al., 2001).Legislation, such as the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States, requires students with disabilities to have access to assistive technology tools that will help them participate and make progress with the regular curriculum (Puckett, 2005).

2 Affordances

Assistive technology provides affordances to students with disabilities such as access to text through screen reading and text to speech program, by varying levels of instruction to suit individuals, augmenting the curriculum with visuals and multimedia and by increasing the interest and motivation of students (Bouck et al., 2011). Puckett (2005) concluded that assistive technology allows students to read, understand and expand on textual information that they may not have been able to read or understand on their own. It enables students to complete writing tasks and editing though speech to text and spell check software where these tasks may have been blocked by physical, emotional, expressive, mental or cognitive limitations. As well, assistive technology can help with attention and organizational skills and can provide access to content and process in the curriculum.

One study of the effectiveness of assistive technology using computer-based read-aloud (text to speech option) versus paper/pencil multiple choice tests with grade 11 and 12 students with learning disabilities, concluded that performance improved significantly with passages of more than 100 words (Dolan et al., 2005). Further, this study determined that students preferred the text to speech option, liked the autonomy and control and appreciated the ability to reread questions online and not inconvenience someone else to reread passages for them.

Flores, Faclane, Edwards, Tapley & Dowling (2014) observed that assistive technology devices can impart desirable changes in behaviors of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This same study found that iPads could be used to create story-based interventions following the social story model, by producing video stories that used self and peers to model appropriate behavior. Results of this study in one area of behavior found an improvement of no shared play to 80-127.5 seconds of shared play post intervention. According to Dolan et al. (2005) assistive technology supports the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework of inclusive education by acting as a “key enabler due to is inherent flexibility, which make an individualized approach more feasible” (p.7). As well, Elias (2010) conducted a study of online courses and outlined eight principles of UDL that make learning accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.

Assistive technology can provide the least restrictive and most socially acceptable method to increase independence and autonomy (Hughes et al., 2011). One study found participants’ impressions of assistive technology were positive in that it was easier to use and promoted independence and flexibility (Dolan et al., 2005).

3 Constraints

Although teachers, administrators and students report the effectiveness of assistive technology, constraints such as funding, access and availability, time to learn about and implement the technology inhibit its use (Bouck & Joshi, 2012). In fact, Bryant (2012) observed in his study that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities were not using assistive technology due to the confusion in the process for obtaining funding for the devices. He also found that lack of training contributed to whether the devices were used correctly or used at all. Another study of the process for assistive technology considerations supported findings that extensive training is required (Watts, O’Brian & Wojcik, 2004). This study also determined that legal mandates are not clearly defined for assistive technology for the special needs population.

Effective selection and continued use of assistive technology is highly dependent on the training of classroom teachers, special education teachers and students (Van Laarhoven et al., 2008). A study conducted about the development of an assistive technology toolkit, revealed that teachers had “extremely low levels of knowledge and use of assistive technology” (Puckett, 2005, p. 114). Further, Bouck et al. (2011) reported that initial support provided as a result of the study, allowed teachers to effectively start using assistive technology. However, the lack of support after startup had an impact on its continued use. In this same study, the authors recognized the benefits of using the technology, but indicated that planning for its use takes more time, distracts from overall planning and many teachers could not justify its use. Training of students for use of the device is important to ensure that they have the skills to operate it, know how to use the device to benefit certain tasks, when to use the device and how to use it around other people(Hughes et al., 2011).

Even though arguments can be made that assistive technology supports inclusion, Maushak et al. (2001) determined that it does not necessarily promote inclusion. Their attitudinal survey showed no changes in attitudes toward learning disabilities as a result of the assistive technology workshop given to pre-service teachers. In addition, Dolan (2005) recognized that assistive technology can create new accessibility barriers including having to read text on a computer screen and computer interface, mispronunciations and tone of a synthesized voice and that the novelty effect of using the device may wear off over time.

4 Links

Snow: Education, Access and You

Easter Seals New Brunswick Assistive Technology program

Assistive Technology : National Center for Learning Disabilities

LD @School: Assistive Technology

LD Online: Technology

5 Works Cited

Bouck, E.C., Flanagan, S., Heutsche, A., Okolo, C.M., & Englert, C.S. (2011). Teacher's initial and sustained use of an instructional assistive technology tool: Exploring the mitigating factors. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 20(3), 247-266.

Bouck, E.C. & Joshi, G.S. (2012). Assistive technology and mathematics education: Reports from the field. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 31(2), 115-138.

Bryant, B. (2012). Assistive technology and support provision for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities: Introduction to the topical issue. Journal of Special Education Technology, 27(2), 1-2.

Celik, S. (2013). Internet-assisted technologies for English language teaching in Turkish universities. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 26:5, 468-483. DOI:10.1080/09588221.2012.692385

Dolan, R. P., Hall, T.E., Banerjee, M., Chun, E., & Strangman, N. (2005). Applying principles of universal design to test delivery: The effect of computer-based read-aloud on test performance of high school students with learning disabilities. Journal of Technology, Learning & Assessment, 3(7), 1–32.

Elias, T.(2010). Universal instructional design principles for Moodle. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(2), 110-124.

Flores, M. M., Faclane, L.B., Edwards, M.A., Tapley, S.C., & Dowling, S.J. (2014). The Apple iPad as assistive technology for story-based interventions. Journal of Special Education Technology, 29(2), 27-38.

Grohnlund, A., Lim. N., & Larsson, H. (2010). Effective use of assistive technologies for inclusive education in developing countries: Issues and challenges from two case studies. International Journal of Education and Development Using Information and Communication Technology. 6(4), 5-26.

Hughes, E., Ryan, J., & Green, J. (2011). The use of assistive technology to improve time management skills of a young adult with an intellectual disability. Journal of Special Education Technology, 26(3), 13-20.

Maushak, N.J., Kelley, P., & Blodgett, T. (2001). Preparing teachers for the inclusive classroom: A preliminary study of attitudes and knowledge of assistive technology. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. 9(3), 419-431.

Puckett, K.(2005). An assistive technology toolkit: Type II applications for students with mild disabilities. Computers in the Schools. 22(3/4), 107-117. doi: 10.1300/J025v22n03_09

Quinn, B., Behrmann, M., Mastropieri, M., & Yoosun, C. (2009). Who is using assistive technology in schools?. Journal of Special Education Technology, 24(1), 1-13.

Sze, S. (2009). The effects of assistive technology on students with disabilities. Journal of Educational Technology Systems. 37(4), 419-429. doi: 10.2190/ET.37.4.f

Van Laarhoven, T., Munk, D., Zurita, L., Lynch, K., Zurita, B., Smith, T., & Chandler, L. (2008). The effectiveness of video tutorials for teaching preservice educators to use assistive technologies. Journal of Special Education Technology, 23(4), 31-45.

Watts, E.H., O'Brian, M., & Wojcik, B. W. (2004). Four models of assistive technology consideration: How do they compare to recommended educational assessment practices?. Journal of Special Education Technology, 19(1), 43-56.