Monday, September 5, 2011

25 Incredible Assistive Technologies

Editor's note:  I recently pulled together a compilation of assistive technologies here. I think this guest post from Best Colleges Online  will also be of interest to innovative educators who want to ensure their students have access to multiple learning supports. 

Learning disabilities manifest themselves in countless ways, varying in severity from the very mild to the debilitating and those that impact different elements of education. Yet they almost universally end up equally stereotyped, misunderstood and sometimes even unfairly stigmatized. The rigid traditional classroom structure rarely provides the learning disabled with the resources necessary to meet their reading, writing, math, social and mobility skills or sense impairment. Because of this, many learning disabled students feel marginalized by their peers and instructors alike, oftentimes hindered more by imposed isolation than the conditions themselves. But as technology marches on, so too do opportunities for academic success. No matter their struggle, these perfectly competent, capable individuals probably have something available to close any unfortunate, challenging gaps. It’s all a matter of finding the right answer and finding ways to pay for it — though the more financially strapped have a few options available, depending on their situation and what they require.

Please be aware that this article is not meant to take the place of legitimate medical advice. Different individuals require different solutions based on numerous factors, and only a small sample of the myriad assistive technologies available receives representation here. Take it as a brief overview rather than something even one atom definitive or professional — save diagnoses and prescriptions for the experts.

  1. Talking calculators

    Both the visually impaired and the learning disabled can greatly benefit from these simple devices, which relay mathematics via audio. For those with dyscalculia, such a gadget renders it much easier to check and double-check assignments.
  2. Electronic worksheets

    Students struggling with properly lining up words and equations using standard pencils and paper sometimes use electronic worksheets when completing assignments. Some even come with text-to-speech or speech synthesizing capabilities, depending on what assistance is necessary for academic success.
  3. Word prediction software

    iPhones and Androids haven’t won word prediction programs much mainstream favor, but for the learning disabled, it can prove an absolute godsend. Those grappling with reading and spelling, such as the dyslexic, or difficulties writing and typing use these fantastic technologies to help complete assignments to their satisfaction.
  4. Text-to-Voice

    Just like the talking calculators, text-to-voice devices and software make classwork much more tolerable for learning disabled students. They do an excellent job of assisting individuals struggling with checking their spelling and grammar in addition to improving reading and writing comprehension skills.
  5. Free-form databases

    When used along with word processing software, free-form databases organize notes for students grappling with disorganization. All they need to do is type out the necessary information and use a quick and easy search function to browse through everything.
  6. Personal FM systems

    Personal FM systems come in a few different varieties depending on student needs and school resources. Some of the most sophisticated transmit audio directly from instructors’ microphones directly into a hearing aid!
  7. Digital Pens

    Different digital pens each feature different perks, but ones equipped with audio recording and the ability to convert handwriting seem to be particularly valuable. Best of all, learning disabled students need only write on traditional paper to reap the full benefits!
  8. Variable speed recorders

    Whether the devices use tapes or some other sonic equipment, students with learning disabilities involving auditory processing issues from variable speed recorders. Depending on their needs, sound can be slowed, hastened and sometimes even pitched up or down in order to render classwork more accessible.
  9. Abbreviation expanders

    Students who find typing extremely difficult use this neat software in conjunction with word processors. Along with some possible presets, they can customize their own unique abbreviations, which automatically expand into longer specified words.
  10. Graphic organizers

    Considering so many types of graphic organizers exist out there, anyone requiring assistance will more than likely find something perfectly suitable. The one thing they do have in common, though, is their ultimate goal — helping users better sort and browse their notes and assignments.
  11. Portable word processors

    These extremely valuable gadgets usually cost less than a laptop, but still provide all the essential word processing learning disabled students need to get work done. Some even come equipped with text-to-speech capabilities, talking calculators, word prediction programs and other fantastically useful features.
  12. Alternative keyboards

    The learning disabled with specific visual, ergonomic, spatial and/or other requirements have plenty of viable options available. Whether they have to have larger keys or an arrangement other than QWERTY, technology has them pretty well covered.
  13. Alternative mice

    As with alternative keyboards, different styles of mice have been developed to help learning disabled students complete their assignments. Joysticks, head mice, touchpads, rollerballs and other options address a plethora of different movement, spatial and/or cognitive impairments.
  14. Speech recognition

    If alternative keyboards still prove unwieldy or otherwise unviable, speech recognition software might prove the better fit. Like the name says, these technologies convert talking into typing, making them ideal for the learning disabled struggling with movement or visual conditions rendering it very tough to click at the keyboard.
  15. Switches

    Usually attached to the head or a hand, switches allow users remote access to various computers and other devices with far more ease than a mouse or keyboard. Like many other wondrous assistive technologies, they come in a staggering variety of structures in order to address the widest number of needs possible.
  16. Optical character recognition

    Learning disabled students requiring assistive technology to help them with reading, grammar and spelling can turn towards these seriously cool devices, which come in a variety of forms. All of them, though, allow users to scan different documents and convert text into something more digital and interactive; some even provide text-to-speech capabilities as well!
  17. Communication Access Realtime Translation

    Also referred to as CART, this technology is meant to reach an audience rather than a single student, making it a perfect fit for classrooms with multiple learning disabled individuals — provided they have similar requirements, of course. A swift-fingered typist inputs what’s being said, which in turn ends up displayed on a screen for easy reading; it’s essentially real-time subtitling benefiting the hearing-impaired.
  18. Outlining software

    Students struggling with organizational issues might want to look into software that automatically generates outlines and allows them to play around with them. Similarly, mind-mapping and brainstorming programs provide them with other opportunities to turn great ideas into great assignments.
  19. Personal data managers

    Whether carried around as a PDA or installed onto a laptop, the learning disabled needing memory assistance have some excellent options open to them when it comes to finding the right personal data manager. Even some of the simpler varieties available offer up plenty of amazing ways to better sort through thoughts, schedules and classwork alike.
  20. Phonetic spelling software

    Dyslexics and others with learning disabilities disrupting reading and writing assignments might want to consider this very useful assistive technology. Some with the condition find anything other than phonetic spelling a challenge, and tools designed to automatically convert their typing into the proper words will undoubtedly render their lives easier.
  21. Visual systems

    Although not used exclusively for students on the autism spectrum, such an arrangement is most often used when assisting them. Visual systems, as one can probably assume, use effective images (obviously customized to the individual’s unique requirements) to relay information about schedules, instructions and plenty more.
  22. Videotaped social skills

    Another very useful tool for autistic students comes in the form of prerecorded social interactions, meant to help them better absorb necessary life skills without inadvertently acting inappropriately. Such a concept, however, extends beyond improving interpersonal skills — videos are also used to address linguistic, emotional, academic and self-help issues.
  23. Scholastic keys

    Many common classroom software programs come with scholastic keys administrators, teachers and parents can implement to simplify their interface. This allows learning disabled students easier access to Microsoft Office and other tools; as an added bonus, many of them work fine with other assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech.
  24. Audiobooks

    They’re nothing new, obviously, but audiobooks will always remain a staple of assistive technology — even if their formats change over time. With so many free and low-cost works available on a staggering variety of platforms, it’s never been easier to bring great literature to learning disabled students.
  25. Low-tech solutions

    Just because so many assistive technologies embody digital, emerging and advanced mechanics doesn’t mean simpler, more low-key solutions should go entirely ignored. Learning disability experts can and have rendered education more accessible to students using resources as simple as highlighters, note cards, construction paper and anything else imaginable. Viable solutions, no matter what form they come in, should never be dismissed because they lack slick, shiny digital pizazz.

1 comment:

  1. Alternate Mice and keyboard links don't work