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.


The Tools to Support Differentiating Instruction

I saw this posted on interest and fell in love!!! This is it. Let's get the focus off the tool and put it back where it belongs: what is it we want them to learn?

Alan Levin says it beautifully:

"But It’s Not About the Tools...I can buy all the best tools at Home Depot and still not be able to build anything well; what is more important is the craft of creating a powerful message. These tools may just be a way to unlock your creative potential."

way to
In our classrooms today, we want to create strong connections with students, reach out to all learning styles, and produce an interactive and engaging classroom that includes all students no matter what their challenge might be. This is what Universal Design for Learning (UDL) centers on and what the Elements of Differentiating Instruction (DI) should be.

When readiness levels differ, so should the complexity of instruction provided. In a classroom that uses UDL strategies or is conscious of differentiated instruction, instruction is customized to match students’ readiness levels and enable all students to experience continuous learning. While focusing on important concepts and skills, teachers design the instruction to the learners’ needs by:
  1. Content – what the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;
  2. Process – activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content;
  3. Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit; and
  4. Learning environment – the way the classroom works and feels.
Differentiated instruction recognizes and then responds to the fact that we all learn differently. It is not a question of good or bad classrooms or which teachers are working harder but about providing instruction in a way that is fair, just and complementary to all learning styles. It is about providing instruction that begins where students are and trying to take them as far as they can go in their learning. How wonderful is that!?! And what better tool is there to help us on this journey than technology?

"One of the benefits of using technology in the classroom is the ability to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of every student in every lesson. Just as every student grows and develops at different rates, they learn in different ways and at different speeds. Technology makes it possible to pace lessons appropriate for each student’s learning level and can be used to promote learning in the multiple intelligences." Tools For Success Notes.

In the past, we felt the need to "teach" technology. It was new. It was foreign. It was a huge change in our society. Those days are over! Now we can just teach the topic/subject and pull in the technology, as appropriate, when needed. Past are the days of computer labs where we go to another room at the time that we signed up, to do a specific task. Now we have computers and/or tablets and smart phones in the classroom and go to them throughout the day as the need arises. I don't know about you, but my computer is on at home from when I get up to when I go to bed and I find myself and others in the family going to it (or my tablet or my smart phone) throughout the day. Answers are at our fingertips. It is an exciting time. But we are familiar with the tools now so we no longer have to teach to them, instead we can integrate them. 

Technology plays an ever-increasing role in society, and students are the first individuals to learn about and adapt to new products. Therefore, it only seems natural to integrate it into the classroom. Technology has numerous uses and benefits that can help enhance your classroom, and thus, improve the learning experience. Technology helps us to provide universal tools for learning and differentiated instruction seamlessly. What a wonderful time in which we live! This abundance of technology is unlocking a whole new world of possibilities for teaching and enhancing the learning experience for every student in our classroom.

So, how do we use technology in the classroom today?

Strong ways for students to use technology are (please visit this powerful matrix tool by Arizona Technology Integration):

  • to create (some examples include an original infographic making sense of data or a message; or putting together thoughts from various sources and comparing themes in a presentation or blog post)
  • to communicate with remote groups that could not typically happen due to time or space barriers (for example, students conversing with an expert across the country/globe)
  • to collaborate with others (such as students in Australia sharing thoughts/feedback with students in the USA)
  • to discover and inquire
  • to critically and creatively think
  • to problem solve
  • to contribute healthily to the globe (creating positive digital footprints and sharing something valuable to others around the globe)
  • to reflect and share their reflections (via Skype, a blog post, a digital story, etc.)

DI/UDL and Assistive Technology (AT): Teachers often find it difficult to differentiate instruction for 30+ students in one class, all with different needs and abilities, “assistive technology” (devices and software to assist students with disabilities access the curriculum) can often help teachers personalize the lessons.  As Beth Knittle puts it: "AT provides tools to allow students access to the curriculum, if the curriculum is inflexible and cannot be adapted to learner. For example a blind student who cannot read printed text uses Braille books. Or the student who cannot move their hands will need a switch to operate a computer. AT is very specific to an individual. AT is used when UDL does not provide alternative ways to meet the learning objectives."

Differentiating With Technology

Resources to Explore Further: 

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