In classrooms across America, teachers are being confronted with challenges to accommodate all students. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average primary education classroom has more than 21 students. In recent years, the aid of assistive technologies has been brought into the classroom to ensure that all students can keep the same pace—specifically, students with disabilities.
Kevin O’Brien, a seventh grader at Charlotte Wood Middle School in California, has benefitted from assistive technology by using an eye-gaze device created by Tobii Technology. With this device, people like Kevin can use their eyes to control a mouse pointer and select certain actions, enabling them to interact with others and actively participate in the learning process. Until recently, Kevin’s disability separated him from his peers by keeping him in another classroom where he had access to the device. With the help of a new wireless version, however, he has been able to join classmates without any restraints. Wendy Burkhardt, the assistive technology coordinator for the school district where Kevin attends school, explains: “Kevin can be far more involved in group activities. . . . This has increased his ability to be an independent member of the school and the community.”
But Kevin isn’t the only student who has benefited from the use of assistive technology. Special education has radically transformed over the past few years through devices such as tablets and smartphones that have universal functionality. More and more, technology has allowed students with special needs to have mobility they otherwise might never have had. Both student and teacher have become challenged to think outside the bounds of the traditional classroom and to approach assignments abstractly. In many cases, new technology allows students to complete tasks in a more creative way that also complies with a student’s academic needs. For example, a tablet can help students with dexterity issues turn a page or assist them in answering prompts with speech-to-text technology.
But what about activities like art or music?
Adam Goldberg, a music teacher in Queens, New York, uses assistive technology to include all of his students. Through different music apps on tablets, he has created the PS 177 Technology Band. Goldberg feels that these technologies allow a flexibility in the classroom that otherwise couldn’t be reached. Educators are unsure about what makes devices like the digital tablet appeal to students with disabilities, but some believe that it is the bright, big and clear visual cues that they provide. Furthermore, tablets allow the student to use an app easily—and all through the simple motion of tapping a button or speaking to the screen. Educators like Goldberg are moving toward using these assistive technologies to make their classrooms more integrative—one app at a time.
Did You Know?
There’s a wide range of education apps out there, featured in both Google Play and the Apple App Store. One of the most popular is the Let’s Create Pottery app. With only the swipe of a finger, you can mold, paint and craft your own 3D pottery.