Assistive Technology: Putting A Stop To ‘Other’ing in Society

I have not had many experiences with assistive technology over the years but I will attempt to share my thoughts regarding the role of technology in levelling the playing field for students with disabilities or to enhance learning.  I have taught 2 students with hearing impairments over the years and they each required a microphone in order to hear what was going on in the classroom.  The 2 students approached this difficulty in differing ways however.  One student needed a sound system used in the classroom and thus students and teachers would talk into the microphone in order for her to hear.  The other student had a system that transmitted directly to his hearing aids and was therefore able to hear without the need for an amplifier.assistive-technology-1  It was interesting to see the other students’ reactions to the different systems.  In the first case, many of the students loved using the microphone for presentations and class discussions.  The microphone became similar to a talking stone that indicated when others should listen.  It became a bit more cumbersome at times but overall, it was a very positive experience.  I have also taught a student who had a personal laptop with Kursweil in order to help him take notes and complete assignments.  Students in all cases were very supportive and understanding.  I think one aspect that is often forgotten is the teaching around equity and what it means for student success.  I often hear the argument about fidgets from students that they believe it’s unfair if certain students receive special tools to use in class.  This is due to the fact that before any teaching is done on metacognition, students tend to see fidgets or even assistive technology as something that they should all have access to. When I first begin these conversations with Middle Years students I often give students a learning styles type of personal evaluation to start the conversation.  Then we talk about how each of us learns best.  Finally I have the kids do some writing about how they like to learn.  Photo Credit

The key here is to remember that the same solutions do not apply to all cases.  That is why pre-teaching around metacognition and student success is crucial.  The meaning of what success looks like for each student must be considered by both parents, students and teachers alike.  It may also mean that it is not simply those with physical or mental disabilities that have need of assistance.  These assistive technologies may mean something as simple as a pair of glasses for someone with poor vision or as complex as speech to text software for those who cannot speak.  Students often want to try some of the technologies to see if they fit with their needs.  However, I always make it clear that a person doesn’t wear glasses or hearing aids if they weren’t needed.  In the same way, evaluation of needs for learning supports is critical.  As we seek to help evaluate which students are in need of which specific aids, it is paramount that we keep in mind that not only should we as teachers seek to find tools but also to break down unjust barriers to enhance student success.    equity

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For example, it is not possible to remove someone’s inability to walk, however, we can remove barriers that keep that student from achieving.  Whereas equality provides the same supports for everyone, equity is much more fluid.  It encompasses anyone and everyone who may need a little help.  As Naomi states, the biggest barriers to successful AT integration are access and training.  Natalie also points out the need for PD on this subject as many teachers have little or no training and LRT’s are stretched thin.  In the video below, Sam is able to attend college classes and even take his own notes using his Ipad and computer.  Were Sam to have been born in another century, he would certainly not have access to these sorts of opportunities.  The world has been opened in an unprecedented way and the future will surely only continue to give freedom to those in need of some sort of assistance.  Sam can now feel like he can contribute and manage his own learning.

Those with extreme disabilities are in no way different from others.  As is mentioned by Henry Evans in the video below, if we both want to go 60 kph, we will both need a piece of assistive technology called a car.  Therefore it is also important to remember that assistive technology is not a sign of weakness or a problem.  Those who struggle to complete certain tasks have been ‘othered’ by society for long enough and by constantly keeping them down, we reassign power to those in the centre.  Unfortunately, it is often because of assistive technologies that students are viewed as different, strange or weird.  Because they are often very visible, it is crucial to have meaningful conversations with students at the outset about how we each learn in different ways and what equity looks like in the classroom.  I usually begin each year with these types of discussions for that very reason.  Not only does it help each student to take part in some self-reflection about their own learning style, it also allows us to discuss the ways in which we support one another as a learning community.

It will be an exciting time for students in the coming years.  Technology will allow those who have been previously marginalized to not only participate but also to thrive in our classrooms and in society.  I often have to repeatedly reevaluate my practice keeping in mind the various needs that exist in my classroom.  I still struggle with this and I wonder what tech tools or practices exist that allow teachers to plan with student success in mind?  What is the best way to implement these strategies?  Should we still be considering learning styles when we talk about AT?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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12 thoughts on “Assistive Technology: Putting A Stop To ‘Other’ing in Society

  1. Excellent post Luke! I really enjoyed your statement about someone not wearing glasses if they didn’t need them. It’s important to understand our student needs and see if there are technologies that can help them. Students may not know that they are struggling until they are exposed to something that makes a difference for them and their learning. Just like many young children who get glasses don’t realize how bad their eyes are until they put the glasses on and can finally see clearly. The point about equity vs equality is really relevant in this discussion. Thanks for sharing

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    • This part of your blog post also resonated with me, Luke. I think it is so important that we have conversations about what “fair” means and that students require different supports to be successful. I feel that if more of these conversations happened and if we considered things like glasses or even diabetic insulin pumps as “assistive tech”, or a tool that someone needs to be successful or well, we could eliminate some of the stigmas associated with using “assistive tech”.

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  2. Well said! Sometimes parents think another student is gaining an advantage over their own child when that student is provided with some type of assistive technology. The eyeglass analogy offers an excellent explanation to parents (and occasionally staff) as to why everybody doesn’t always have the tools.

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  3. Great post Luke!
    All students have different needs in all classroom settings. Tools that are helpful for one student can be helpful for other students too. Thanks for including the equality versus equity discussion as not all parents understand this perspective.
    Merci for sharing!

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  4. Pingback: Assistance for All – Allison's Blog

    • Thanks Allison. I think you you made a good point when you mentioned that teachers need to be exploring these questions consistently throughout the year. I often have my students do learning styles surveys so both I and they have an idea of how they learn best.

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  5. Pingback: Assistive Technologies – Erin Benjamin's E-Portfolio

  6. Great post, Luke! I love the image for equity vs equality; I’ve used it with my students before as well. While I feel that many of our undiagnosed kids need more than they get, there is a life lesson in helping kids understand that people need different things (tools) to be successful. Thanks for making me think about AT from a different angle.

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