Saturday, February 20, 2010

Almost Nothing Is Perfect

Although assistive technology has many benefits for helping students in school, like everything is also has its drawbacks. One of the important challenges posed by the growing use of assistive technology is the need for public school educators to stay abreast of the various new technologies and developments. There is also the issue of the various legal mandates that are necessary in order for assistive technology to be used in schools. The fact that this technology is quite expensive poses a problem for schools that are already struggling to meet other needs. I feel it is important for resources to be put in place and utilized so that educators can receive the help they need in order to plan and implement assistive technology programs.

A few years ago, I met a young man by the name of Kenny. Kenny was very charismatic and loved to shake people's hands and dance. He however, had cerebral palsy and was non-verbal. His doctors had diagnosed him at a one-year-old level of functioning. He was placed in a self-constrained program in his school and recently he obtained a computer with text-to-speech capabilities and a touch screen. This piece of technology finally allowed Kenny to communicate more easily with others and it helped him to stay in his home community rather than being admitted into an institution, which would have been his plight just a few years ago. Today, Kenny can compose short sentences and loves to play video games on his computer. His new found ability has allowed him to focus on his strengths and to be included in more regular classes with his peers.

Some students who have physical disabilities may not be able to use a computer because of their impairments. Other students may have no problem reading a computer screen but they may not be able to type of input information without some type of adaptive hardware. Currently there are expanded keyboards, where the keys are much larger and further apart, joysticks instead of a mouse, keyboards adapted to be used with just one hand, and input through the blinking of an eye or blowing on a switch. For students who are blind, Braille input and output devices are also available. Since it would be difficult for a student who is blind to use a computer that is text-only, it is possible for them to use text-to-speech software. Some question whether assistive technology is distracting to other students who do not have a disability. I feel that this is simply an excuse because it is the responsibility of the educators to implement a method in which to allow students with disabilities to partake with their other classmates while still keeping in mind the needs of all the students. For example, earphones for students using voice output can eliminate any distractions for other students. Students with milder vision problems may also benefit from computer software that can enlarge various sections of the computer screen.

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