Getting to grips with assistive technology

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We can create a daring, whole-school vision says Sam McFarlane.

It’s inescapable, the digital revolution is here to stay, and the world of education is no exception! Recently, ‘digital’ education has been making headlines, with exam boards pledging to offer digital examinations, and the contentious issue of AI and what this means for education. So, it seems like a good time to think about what digital technology can do in education, and more specifically, how the use of digital ‘assistive technology,’ could enhance the learning experience of and support access for our students who may have SEND.

Let’s start at the beginning, by considering what Assistive Technology (AT) is. Simply, AT is any device, software, or service that assists the user in participating in learning activities. AT has the potential to remove barriers for users, which is particularly important when thinking about how to support and enable equitable access to learning for our students who may have SEND.

Implemented well, AT can provide a way for students with SEND to participate equally with their peers, benefit from a holistic education, and importantly develop personal, educational and social independence. Teaching which harnesses the power of AT, and blends this seamlessly with learning activities, can be transformational for students.

All teachers and students will benefit from having a good knowledge of AT, as this will support its use across the school, ultimately fostering participation in the curriculum and the wider school community for students. If AT is approached through a whole school lens, it becomes less of a bolt on for some students with SEND, but more of a flourishing inclusive approach available to all students. This is important as many students with SEND, who may benefit from using AT, prefer not to, due to the spotlighting effect, which can single them out, and cause them to feel different.

Building the use of AT across the school to ensure it becomes the ‘normal way of working,’ is the surest way of creating an inclusive environment where all can engage meaningfully in learning and benefit from the resources. Place a recording device on each table to capture peer discussions in preparation for writing. All the students on the table will benefit from replaying the discussion when writing. Teach all students how to utilise the accessibility features available to them in web browsers and software already available in school. Students can then choose when to use features such as dictate or read aloud. Remember to provide a headset for each user to support dictation and manage the noise levels of read aloud. Let the students explore AT, as they may well find creative uses for features, and preferably use live captions when presenting video clips.

Embrace the technology available and make this work for your students and setting. As the digital revolution is accelerating, you may have to consider what a whole school AT vision could look like in your setting. Implementing an AT strategy need not be costly or complicated. There are some low-cost low-tech effective AT solutions.

Sam McFarlane

Education Officer, nasen Nasen have produced a free miniguide to Assistive Technology, available from nasen.org.uk/atminiguide

X: @nasen_org

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