What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL prompts you to look at flexible and multiple methods of representation, action and expression and engagement. Technology tools can help provide these means, but they are certainly not the only means of achieving this.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education developed a Tool Kit on Teaching and Assessing Students with Disabilities (Tool Kit) to support the Department’s initiative to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework (a philosophy) for designing educational environments that enable all learners to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. It encompasses learning models, methods and products to enhance the educational experience of diverse learners, whether or not they have an IEP does not matter. This is accomplished by simultaneously reducing barriers to the curriculum and providing rich supports for learning.

UDL uses computer technology to create an educational environment that allows all students, including those with learning disabilities, to succeed in general education classrooms with minimal use of assistive technology (AT)
as AT is often built into educational materials and can be customized to help students with disabilities be successful with the general curriculum.

CAST shares:
"In today's schools, the mix of students is more diverse than ever. Educators are challenged to teach all kinds of learners to high standards, yet a single classroom may include students who struggle to learn for any number of reasons, such as the following:
  • Learning disabilities such as dyslexia
  • English language barriers
  • Emotional or behavioral problems
  • Lack of interest or engagement
  • Sensory and physical disabilities
Teachers want their students to succeed, but a one-size-fits-all approach to education simply does not work. How can teachers respond to individual differences?"
By offering
  • Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of action and expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know,
  • Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation we provide embedded features that help those with disabilities that will eventually benefit everyone.
UDL adopts the concept of improved access for everyone and applies it to curriculum materials and teaching methods. Rather than rely on AT to bridge the gap between the material and the student's learning needs, materials designed using UDL concepts have built-in accommodations. Add-on technology is less often needed to translate the material into a mode that enables learning.

UDL can incorporate the use of digital materials and be implemented in a broad range of educational settings. Research has shown that digital materials, such as automated speech to text, provide powerful learning supports in the universally designed classroom. Well-designed, digital materials can sometimes be more flexible than conventional classroom tools such as printed text, printed images, and lectures.

To learn more and to help you begin your UDL adventure, here are a few resources worth exploring:
  • Accessible Text: Guidelines for Good Practice, is a new, down-loadable, publication  from CALL Scotland on 'how to' produce accessible resources. Making your learning materials accessible to pupils with disabilities or additional support needs is not only good practice but is also necessary to meet equality legislation.
  • UDL Tech Toolkit is a wonderful site offering numerous links to free technology to support students in the classroom. Being organized by topics making it easy to maneuver to find what is needed quickly and easily. 
  • CAST UDL Book Builder "to create, share, publish, and read digital books that engage and support diverse learners according to their individual needs, interests, and skills." 
  • UDL templates from the appendices of "Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age" (David Rose, Anne Meyer). 
  • Don Johnston has put together a field guide about AIM with ideas to jumpstart your important UDL endeavor.  
  • A great UDL checklist by Rhode Island  helps you to analyze a lesson or unit for UDL features, use this checklist to identify which components are
    present (Y), not present (N), or not sure (?). 
  • Smart Inclusion is a Wiki that provides thoughts and ideas for pulling in tools, including Assistive Technology, into the environment to help develop an inclusive model.