How can assistive technology support a student’s education?

Whilst there are many different types of disability in the UK, ‘people with disabilities’ are often referred to as a single population. In the UK, that ‘single population’ is approximately 3.5 million – 1.5 million people living in the UK with a learning disability, and almost 2 million people living with a visual impairment. However, of those figures, there are around 25,000 children living with sight loss, and 286,000 children who have a learning disability. With those figures in mind, students learning with a disability often require adaptive or assistive technology to support their education.

Technology has either been developed or is in development to support people who suffer with a disability – in particular children who have previously been unable to get the most out of their 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 (AT) is just one approach that allows students to work around their disabilities.

Offering support through AT

You’ll be surprised at how many different types of AT is available to enhance a child’s education – with technology able to address a child’s learning difficulties and make the education experience better for the student, and teacher. 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.

AT tools can be used to support a disabled child so that they can experience an education as close to the same as other children as possible. The use of assistive technology in schools does not give disabled students an unfair advantage but instead give 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.

Which AT tools are available?

With so many different tools available, many can be used to address certain disabilities so that students can effectively work around their peers. 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.

Visual impairment is common among children, with over 2.5 million children suffering from some degree of sight loss. For this, AT provides students with access to educational assets in a larger format, both in print and digital. 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.

Quite often, the barriers which children face because of their disability can cause a lack in enthusiasm – however, alternative keyboards have overlays which customise the appearance of the keyboard to encourage production and engagement. Not only 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.

No two students are the same

No two disabilities are the same, meaning the needs of every disabled student are unique and individual to them. 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.

Every child’s abilities differ as well. So, you must also make sure that your student is capable and willing to use the tool – and be aware that while a tool can be used by one student, 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.