Assistive technology (AT) is a support system that helps a learner with disability completes an everyday task to maintain or improve the functioning of a child with disability. This can be in form a tape recorder, audio visual materials. A remote control for TV can also be an assistive technology for a physically handicapped person. For someone with a poor eyesight, glasses are used to enable him see properly all thanks to assistive technology.
Assistive Technology devices and services were first defined in federal law, ‘‘in the Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-476). These definitions remained unchanged until 2004 when an exemption to the definition of an assistive technology device was added to clarify a school system’s responsibility to provide surgically implanted technology such as cochlear implants.’’
Assistive technology for children with disabilities is a fundamental work tools that is used by children with such problem to complete educational tasks, and participate with their peers in a regular educational environment. It is sometimes difficult for families with disabled children to manage and care for them, however, it is proper for adequate plan to be made on how to provide the necessary tools needed to care for the needs of such children.
Types of Assistive Technology Tools.
It is important to provide electronic and non-electronic aids such as; magnifiers, talking calculator, screen reading software applications for the computers, adapted tape players and Braille note-taking devices that assist student with visual impairments or blindness in accessing and producing information that is present in a visual print.
Speech Synthesizers: With the help of speech synthesizers, a child can hear, write down and read text on a monitor. In order words, this tool helps them to spell words and pronounce them correctly.
Speech Recognition: This allows a child to speak to the computer through a microphone, and the spoken words is translated into texts on the computer screen. The speech recognition tool is most useful to people with oral language abilities.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR): This enables the child to type printed text to the computer and the speech synthesizer reads the text aloud for the child to hear and see the text at the same time. It can also scan and read images from a printed material to that disabled person.
Talking Calculator: are used by children with the inability to produce coherent words or sounds. Whenever a child presses the keys on the calculator, it speaks symbols, numbers and words with the help of speech synthesizers.
Tape Recorder: This tool is used by children with listening problems to hear teacher’s lesson. With the help of a tape recorders, children can process, understand and remember what they are being taught. A tape-recorder plays audio taped text while the child listens to the recorded text or printed materials rather than reading it.
Prewriting organizers: Many children have difficulty with the preparation stage, which involves brainstorming, clustering, and listing ideas or keywords. Some children with memory problems find graphic organizers helpful in mapping out ideas during the planning stage. Graphic organizers such as Inspiration, provide organizational frameworks to help children generate topics and content for writing projects.
Inspiration, shows ideas in graphic “bubbles” that can be moved and then converted into a standard outline (Male, 1997).
Free-form databases: This form of databases, allow children with memory problem to type or enter notes into the computer, which serves as a reminder for that child as he/she retrieves note typed in that computer when needed.
Selecting a Good Assistive Technology.
- A child with disability, must actively be involved in the selection of support technology, the interest of the child should be put into consideration. However, this will help the child to easily learn the usage in order to participate effectively in the teaching and learning process.
- Before selecting an assistive tool, the teacher or parent should bear in mind its usefulness or importance to the child. the strengths and weaknesses of the child should always be put into consideration. Ensure to select technology tools that are useful and important to the child’s need. Technology can be quite expensive that is why it is important to go for useful and relevant tools.
- location: before selecting a particular assistive tool always consider where it will be used, whether in school or at home. Ensure to select the proper tools that will suit the child’s environment.
Before choosing an assistive technology, always consider the child’s disability for easy operation. If a child finds a technological tool difficult to operate, they can easily lose interest in such tools, therefore an easy to use tool helps to develop the child’s interest.
Challenges of Using Assistive Technology for Children with Learning Disabilities.
Here are factors that can delay the implementation of assistive technology in homes and schools;
- Attitude towards children with disabilities: The attitude to children with disability can cause a psychological effect which can hinder there learning process, and prevent them from using assistive technology to learn. Children with disabilities are regarded as outcast, therefore people do not want to associate with them.
- Financial barrier: this can cause hinderance to the use of assistive technology because the tools used for such purposes are expensive and cannot easily be afforded by schools and some parents.
- Unqualified Teachers: because of their inability to use such devices, teachers or instructors should go through proper training specifically for this purpose in order to equip them on how to handle the assistive tools. Children with disability are not trained on how to use these tools, due to teachers lack of knowledge on how to use such assistive tools.
There is no adequate support from the government on the use of ICT for disabled children. However, all hands must be on deck in order to ensure adequate provision and proper implementation of assistive technology for disabled children.
In summary, it should however be noted that assistive technology can help fix learning difficulties and improve the lives of children with learning disabilities. Many children now have the necessary tools to be more successful in schools, and at achieving independence. This has also promoted a sense of belonging and interactive participation in the classrooms and in their personal development.