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 and the Common Core

Wordle from Howard-Winn Tech Blog

UDL App Listing by Barbara Welsford, M.Ed., ATP, ADE
Assistive Technology Specialist 

I don't know about you, but I love TED talks. (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design.) Although I have known about and preached Universal Design for Learning (UDL) since I began this blog, I could have never explain it as well as Todd Rose did in his TED Talk, "The Myth of Average". Thank you, Todd, for providing this concept so beautifully. (This is 18 minutes, but worth every one!)

With the Common Core, which is stated to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them," what a perfect time to revisit the UDL Principles!

Common Core provides us the opportunity to allow our students to use the tools that are written into their IEP as accessibility and accommodations. Those tools that we use every day are expected to be included not only in the day to day Common Core instruction but into the testing environment. 

Our curriculum resources are based on the use of Universal Design for Learning. As special educators, we need to be sure we are educated in these practices so that we can share these strategies with our general education staff.  We need to consider and break down out lessons to consider:
  1. What are the goals for the lesson?  
  2. We want the students to learn_____.  
  3. How will we teach this to our students with Mild Disabilities, Moderate Disabilities, and Severe Disabilities?  
  4. What will the outcome look like? 
With UDL, we provide 
  • multiple means of engagement (various ways of acquiring information and knowledge)
  • presentation (options for expressive skills and fluency) 
  • expression (alternative means of demonstrating knowledge)
What is Universal Design for Learning? 
UDL is a set of principles that provides all students equal opportunity to learn. It is the what, how and why of instruction.

CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) is the site dedicated to UDL and the study behind it. A nonprofit leader in education, CAST works to improve opportunities and outcomes for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning. CAST states:

"Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs."

Who is CAST? 
"CAST is an educational research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning."

The Common Core and UDL work together!
In teaching the Common Core Standards, educators should provide multiple ways to access resources and content so learners are given the opportunity to take charge of their own learning.

Curricula (goals, methods, materials, and assessments) designed using UDL put an emphasis on creating effective, flexible goals. The Common Core Standards provide an important framework for thinking about what goals should be taught.

UDL and AT work together. AT is  an application of a range of tools, electronic and other, to provide access to otherwise inaccessible learning tasks or environments. With UDL we create products and/or environments that are designed, from the outset, to accommodate individuals with a range of abilities and disabilities.

What is the difference between UDL and AT?
As CAST explains:
  • AT: Tools employed to assist individuals to overcome existing barriers in the learning environment. 
  • UDL: Design learning environments that from the beginning do not contain barriers.
Both AT and UDL are essential. Relying on AT alone is limiting as it is for individual students; UDL increases usability for everyone.

This is a 4:36 minute video, explaining the basic principles of UDL.

What does UDL look like? 
UDL provides a blueprint for creating flexible goals, methods materials, and assessments that accommodate learner differences.

As stated on the Region 4 Educational Solutions UDL site: 
  • WHO -- ALL students including Special Ed, 504, ELL, disadvantaged, gifted/talented, struggling learners, educators -- to name a few categories
  • WHAT -- UDL is the process of designing and delivering curricula, materials, and environments in a manner that makes them accessible and usable to all students.
  • WHERE -- Learning happens in a variety of environments, not just in the classroom. e.g. on the bus, at home, lunchroom, place of worship, gym, dinnertime...
  • WHEN -- Learning can happen now, later, beforehand, afterward, synchronously, asynchronously, in real-time, online time... etc.
  • WHY -- Education is changing; Working environments are changing; society is changing -- our students have changed and are digital natives.
  • HOW -- Hopefully this post will give you some exploring ways to utilize Universal Design for Learning.
The National Center on UDL provides various resources worth looking at that are broken down (links included under each section) into the UDL Principles (as does CAST):
Principle I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation
  • Provide options for perception
  • Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
  • Provide options for comprehension
Principle II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression 
  • Provide options for physical action
  • Provide options for expression and communication
  • Provide options for executive functions
Principle III. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
  • Provide options for recruiting interest
  • Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
  • Provide options for self-regulation  
Why UDL?
If all schools used an UDL approach, AT would be needed much less and students achievement would be so much greater. For those requiring the use of AT, in order to have an equal access to the curriculum, would they not only blend in with all their peers in an UDL rich classroom? Imagine a classroom where students could all have access to the tools and the instruction in the way that they learn best. Why not? With the Common Core, what a great time it is for us to integrate the UDL Principles. (Reminder: Even in classrooms that are well equipped with UDL materials and methods, their assistive technology neither precludes nor replaces the need for UDL overall.)

What are some UDL tools? 
Please take some time to go to the WiKI, UDLTechToolKit and explore some FREE technologies available for use in your classroom today, broken down by category. Also, please continue to explore this blog, as this has been my goal since I began this blog: to provide you with resources and information to make your teaching easier and your students' lives richer. 

Common Core allows us as special educators the opportunity to help general educators with the knowledge and tools to help all students. It's an excuse to get in there and help them to see how it can be done. We hone our skills and share what we know. If nothing else, this can make Common Core worthwhile!