Integrating Technology In K12/Adaptive Technology
What is Adaptive Technology and Who Does It Help?
Adaptive Technology consists of a variety of tools that can help people with disabilities to perform functions in life or school that may otherwise be challenging or nearly impossible without the help from these tools. Adaptive Technology can also be referred as assistive technology. It often helps people with special cognitive or physical needs to make them feel more confident and comfortable with their disability and high functioning in the world around them. With the assistance from technology, children and adults can use computers without their hands or vision. Other forms allow those without a voice to be heard by others. Adaptive technology can assist in other ways as well such as those who are unable to walk can be lifted by mechanical equipment. According to The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), “any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” is defined as adaptive technology. In addition, those with learning disabilities may also benefit by having technology assist the weaknesses and allowing the student to use their strengths. Adaptive technology can be used to help improve the lives of so many different people with varying needs with many benefits so it is important to consider the cost and possible drawbacks, the training needed to use such equipment, and various ways to use it in today’s classrooms.
Disabilities Adaptive Technology is used For
Adaptive technology can be used for a variety of people with physical, cognitive or learning impairments to help the student become more independent. These may include children with learning disabilities in math, reading, writing, listening or organization skills. Adaptive technology allows students to reach their full potential because it provides assistance in the child’s area of weakness. For example, a child who has difficulty writing ideas on paper may use a special software program that allows the child to speak their ideas and it is converted into writing. Again this could also be used with a child with physical limitations who may not be able to use their hands to write. A dyslexic child benefits from opportunities to have a computer program read material to him or her for better comprehension or a blind child who cannot see the written words.
Adaptive technology can also help students with physical limitations. A child who cannot walk has several options such as walkers, wheel chairs or powered bikes or scooters. A lift may assist transitions from a wheel chair to bed or a bathtub. Students that may have other disabilities may not be able to provide self-care, but with the use of robotics such as electric feeding tools, students can become more independent.
Some examples of specific adaptive technology used in classrooms today for students with:
Screen magnification software is available for students with low vision. The program comes with a monitor; enhanced tool bars, menus, and images; screen readers that will read to the student if necessary; and typing echo—whatever key is typed is automatically spoken to make the student sure of what they are typing. Large button or large print keyboards will be especially helpful for students with visual impairments. They are in inexpensive way to convert normal keyboards into larger text keyboards so they will be much easier to see and many of them have one-touch internet and media buttons.
For students who have visual impairments Braille Displays are available. The Braille Display is hooked up to a computer so the student with visual impairments is able to read a computer screen. The information on the screen is transferred to the Braille Display and displayed in Braille print.
Braille embossers are a type of a printer you could say. A Braille embosser creates the series of dots that create Braille writing. Some of these embossers are portable so the student can take them to where every they need the embosser.
There are devices for students who are unable to tell certain colors apart or who are fully color blind. These little machines are able to recognize up to one thousand seven hundred different colors. Once the device has scanned the color it announces it loud and in a clear voice what the color it.
For those students with hearing loss, sound amplifiers use Bluetooth technology to soften background noise going into hearing aides. They are very useful for lectures or one-on-one conversations and can fit into students’ pockets or backpacks.
A head-mounted or hands-free mouse is useful for those students who have mobility limitations and are unable to use a regular mouse. This light-weight headset goes on the student’s head like a baseball cap and the direction in which they move their head controls where on the screen the mouse goes.
Text to Speech Software/Speech Synthesizers can be very helpful to those students that are unable to speak for themselves or have difficulty speaking. These products convert words that are typed in Microsoft Word documents into digital talking books, which are synchronized audio and text that can be heard aloud. The student(s) can type in words or phrases and have them read by the program, so they can answer questions and carry on conversations in their own words.
Speech Recognition software is very useful for students with mobility impairments. If a student is not able to work their upper body well enough to control a mouse or keyboard, they are able to say commands to the computer and the computer will do the actions for them. With this technology, students with limited mobility can actively participate in computer games and programs with no extra assistance—all they need is their voice.
Common household devices can be found in modified forms such as telephones. Telephones can be purchases with large number buttons to aid in the teacher of how to use a telephone, for students who have limited mobility and limited fine motor skills in the arms and hands.
Students who are confined to a wheelchair and have to use a head mounted mouse could benefit from a mounting system for their computer. A mounting system would bring the computer to eye level for the student. This would make it easier for the student to read the computer screen and easier for the computer to track the students head movements. Portable workspaces are also available for students who are confined to a wheelchair. These workspaces are able to attach right onto the wheelchair.
Sensory stimulators are very good to have for students who have autism. Having these sensory stimulators in a classroom preferably in a separated room from the classroom will allow for the student to have a place to relax when stressed and unable to focus.
There are devices that can hook on to a computer screen to make them a touch screen. These screens can be mounted on any type of screen to make it a touch screen. They are able to any function on the computer that you would be able to do with a mouse. These touch screens are also scratch resistant.
Devices exist that hold multiple recordings. The recordings are programmed to go off at a certain time on a daily basis, for example everyday at 11:30 the recorder will say, “It is time to eat lunch.” This device will relieve stress and anxiety for students with autism are set into a daily routine that they worry constantly about what the time is.
Many students who are labeled as having a cognitive disability have troubles with everyday skills that everyone else takes for granted and assume everyone else knows. There are programs and resources to help students learn these life skills, and to help teachers and parents teach their students and children the life skills they will need to be successful in life.
There are programs and games that teach students the meanings of road signs, and give strategies to help the students remember what the meaning of the signs are. There are resources that teach students with cognitive disabilities how to tell time, and also resources to teach an important home life skill of cooking.
There are resources and programs available to teach students money skills. There is a calculator available that allows students to add up and subtract money. You are able to add or remove one-dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. A system called touch money exists. This system has coins with dots on each coin that will stand for either one or five. The students will use the dots to count the amount of money they have.
Picture books are a useful tool in the classroom for a student who is non-verbal. With the picture book the student has most everything that could be said during a school day. The student must flip to the page with the picture of what they are trying to communicate and how the teacher.
Reading Pens are assistive reading tools that are designed for students who have reading difficulties or dyslexia. They provide immediate word support to students and help them read troublesome or new words effectively and understand meanings independently. They can provide translations or definitions of unknown words and help students read with flow without giving them all the answers.
Quick Talkers are gender-neutral solutions for students struggling with communication. There are common sense pictures located on all typed and this device can be easily carried in students’ pockets or backpacks.
Communication is key when it comes to learning. Some students with disabilities are not able to communicate the way their non-disabled classmates are, which makes for a frustrated student and teacher and a difficult situation. While many schools have been victims to budget cuts and less and less money, every student deserves as best a learning experience as possible. While some adaptive technology can be very expensive, there are many options for teachers and schools to give more resources to their students with disabilities. There are a wide range of adaptations that can be made to technology that is most likely already in the classroom, and many of these are simple changes. There are a variety of different companies and brand names that offer similar products, so shopping around to find the best deal is a huge advantage, especially with all the budget cuts. Many of these programs can be brought up in grants, not to mention active parents that are willing to do what they can to help their children and their schools. Not all adaptations need to be purchased—many physical therapists in the school district have the tools, knowledge, and ability necessary to create simple adaptations for their students, for no more than the cost of basic materials. Inclusive schools will benefit greatly with adaptive technology, because it is just one more way to integrate their students with disabilities with their regular education classmates. No student likes being left out of a lesson or activity, especially because of their disability. Using adaptive technology is extremely beneficial to all students in the classroom, as well as the teachers. The students can be included in the lesson with the rest of their class, and their teachers can spend less time planning adapted lessons and more time with their students.
Adaptive technology can be very beneficial for those in need, however there are also drawbacks including price, options, time and emotional investments. Adaptive technologies have a vast range in prices. Some are covered by insurance or schools while others come from the family’s own financial state which can be very expensive and therefore, a difficult decision to make. There are also so many varieties and different types of adaptive technology available today that it can often be overwhelming for families to decide which type of equipment will best meet the child’s needs. There is also a lot of time invested into researching which type of equipment to use for the child, training parents, teachers, peers and most importantly the child how to use the technology. In addition to these challenges, there are also emotional challenges with adaptive technology. It can be challenging, frustrating, exciting or overwhelming just to see how many options are available, the struggles the family or child may experience while adapting to the new technology or finding that it isn’t benefiting the child in ways originally expected. When using adaptive or assistive technology there is always the risk of the technology breaking. If this piece of technology breaks the student will have to do their day with out the aid of technology until their equipment is fixed. Every student who uses adaptive or assistive technology runs the risk of becoming depended on the technology. By becoming dependent on these technologies the student may not be developing their own skills to the best ability. All of these drawbacks should be considered and presented when informing families about adaptive technology to help prevent struggles along the way so that the child and family can receive the benefits of adaptive technology.
Teachers will need to know how to help their students perform to their full potential, and for some students, this will mean teachers assess their students for the need of assistive tools and technology. In order for students to receive assistive technology, school records need to be documented and monitored, along with completing diagnostic assessments and meetings with parents, other teachers, doctors or therapists to help find the best adaptive technology available. Teachers will need to also re-evaluate the students progress with the new technology to be sure that the child is still benefiting from its use. In addition to teachers knowing how to properly assess a child, they also must know what types of technology are available. There are several online programs that offer information about adaptive technology, which teachers should continue to evaluate to know which options are available for each student. In-services are a great way for teachers to become familiar with various topics regarding adaptive technology including legal issues, how to serve the individual student, how to evaluate the child, how the technology works and is maintained including transportation, programming, unexpected malfunctions, and how to incorporate it into the lifestyle of the student. Teachers may also need to inform the child’s classmates about the technology and provide basic training about the technology to the class for greater approval, elimination of fears, and increased socialization in the classroom community.
Whether the technology is being purchased by a school or family, income and cost are big factors to consider. While much of the technology available to schools today can be used for people with disabilities, like Smartboards, there are many things students need to use in school that need adaptation. Computers, for example, are vital in many classrooms today, but many students with disabilities are unable to use them. A hands-free, head-mounted mouse with a large button keyboard, for example can cost thousands. The mouse and the keyboard can cost up to ten and five times what a normal computer mouse and keyboard would cost, respectively. If a magnified screen were to be added to that, $2,000 would need to be added to the price. Machines used to create Braille for students with vision impairments can cost approximately $3,000, which is one of the reasons one would be hard-pressed to find them in many schools. Every day things like reading pens and Quick Talkers can range anywhere from $150.00 to $250.00, depending on the brand. Text to Speech software, which is becoming very popular in many schools as well as outside of schools, is less expensive, ranging from $30.00 to $3,000.00 and some websites offer free downloads.
While there are many companies that specialize in creating these adaptations for technology, which can be very expensive, many Physical Therapists can create adaptation for their student for no more than the cost of the materials needed. Many factors can affect the cost of these adaptations. Things like brand name, amount of extra technology needed, and quality make up most of the differences. Not all adaptive technology has to be expensive—sometimes all it takes is a creative Physical Therapist.
Although adaptive technology can be very costly there are ways to reduce this cost for your students or your child. There is federal aid available and there are grants that can be applied for. The challenge will be the process of finding these financial aids.
Adaptive Technology and Early Childhood
The best time for children to learn how to use their adaptive technology is to introduce the child at an early age when the impairment or disability is diagnosed or noticed. Often times, children are placed into early intervention settings in a pre-k classroom, and according to IDEA, these students should be evaluated for assistive technological needs for their free, public education which they are entitled to. Therefore, teachers must know how to assess their students and help parents find the equipment that will meet the needs of the individual child. Since early childhood classrooms include any age from infancy to pre-k, there is a wide range of possible needs with adaptive technology. Adaptive technology may be used to improve interactions such as crawling, seeing or hearing, which will help the child grow at an early age into their school years for improved educational performances.
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