Assistive Technology (AT)


"AT is any kind of technology (low-tech or high-tech) that can be used to enhance the functional independence and quality of life for a person with a disability. If you think about it, we all use AT every day, whether we have a disability or not." - Autism Community

Reading glasses, step stools and garage door openers are all examples of technology that makes our lives easier.


Low-Tech Assistive Technology

Low tech solutions can often be the most effective for students with learning disabilities. Utilizing colors via highlighters, colored paper, or color coding systems for different subjects can help to organize information in a manner that is easier understood by students who have difficulty with organization.

For students with dysgraphia there are options such as pencil grips and raised line paper. These can help a student lacking fine motor skills properly hold a pencil to write or can guide the student's writing by allowing them to feel when they have crossed a line on their paper. (Overview of AT applications)

'Free-stationery-vector' accessed from vecteezy.com

Voice Recognition

Voice recognition, speech recognition or speech-to-text technology acts by allowing a user to speak into a microphone, with their voice input recognised by the computer software. This may then be used to activate commands or perform functions on the computer without the use of a keyboard or mouse, or may be used to dictate text into a word-processing or text editing package.

Voice recognition software may be an appropriate compensatory technology for learners such as those with dyslexia who have severe difficulties with writing.

'Voice Control' accessed by Shutterstock

Mobile Devices

The idea of using mobile devices to support learning in general is not a new one. They potentially impact on the cognitive dimension of learning, for example by providing new means of lessening the cognitive load for learners associated with not having to commit information to memory in order to have it readily available at any given moment (“always on”). "The ability to store digital data locally and access it instantaneously on a portable device, or to access remote data through the internet, frees the learner from the constraints of place that are inherent in data access through libraries or desktop computers” (Pachler, 2009).

'Mobile-devices' accessed from 123rf.com

Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs)

Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) involve representation of digital information through physical objects (Ishii & Ullmer, 1997). This incorporates the concept of 'graspable interfaces', where users can physically manipulate objects in order to interact with the electronic information.

There are other functions which tangible technologies are well placed to perform. First, they can provide a way of conveying AT functions that TUIs are well placed to perform are - way of conveying information to children with limited language abilities, assisting with teaching the concept of sequencing – the ability to physically manipulate the component parts may assist with comprehension of this and finally, the physical nature of the tangible items appears to support collaboration, perhaps due to the potential for collective interaction and the fact they can be easily shared especially for people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

TUI Example accessed from Bertrand Schneider's blog.bertrantschineider.com - The Ear Explorer Project

Surface Technology

Tabletop or surface interaction is another new area of development that is attracting interest as an assistive technology. This form of technology takes the form of large interactive panels, similar to the 'boards' described in Mark Weiser's vision for ubiquitous technology (Weiser, 1991), which can be hung on a wall or embedded into a table.

Well-known examples include the DiamondTouch table (Dietz & Leigh, 2001), the SMART table20 or the Microsoft PixelSense (previously known as the Microsoft Surface)

Microsoft Surface accessed from Microsoft's product page

Symbol-based Learning

The most commonly used low tech strategy for students with learning disabilities is a symbol based learning system. For students who have trouble reading due dyslexia, the use of symbols in place of or to augment written directions, questions, or readings can help these students access the same information as those without learning disabilities. If used as a means of augmenting written language, it can also help students with learning disabilities to learn and recognize words that are associated with these symbols.

Another example is Widget symbols which are used on SymbolWorld, and Makaton symbols. Makaton symbols are intended for signing and cued speech.

‘Project-based learning icon’ accessed from gettingsmart.com

Virtual Reality Technology (VR)

Virtual reality is being tried as a way to help people with disabilities explore the world that might be difficult or impossible in real life. And it’s happening at a price that’s well within reach. The ability to enter make-believe environments could be useful in education by allowing students to study distant or bygone places. (Disability and Virtual Reality)

The idea behind this is that visual exploration via technology such will help students to better understand a range of subjects as part of the curriculum. Students have a range of options with this technology which include explore, manipulate, interpret, select or change in order to acquire knowledge and understanding. Plus it helps with social and communication skills as well.

‘Thin line VR icon’ accessed from Shutterstock

Augmented Reality Technology (AR)

Augmented reality technology may provide opportunities to create novel assistive technologies which blend physical real-world objects with virtual information. Gaukrodger & Lintott (2007) discuss the possibilities made available by the technology, for example proposing that benefits may particularly be gained for rehabilitation tools, by assigning engaging game-based actions to repetitive physiotherapy tasks that must be performed.

A level of augmented reality can be achieved through modern smart-phones using vision recognition software and a phone camera, or through game technologies such as the Microsoft Kinect28, so it is possible that more education innovations will emerge in this domain in the near future.

Generic placeholder image

Robotics

Robotics have been researched quite widely for their use in aiding rehabilitation, but they may also have uses in education as virtual tutors, companions or other interactive characters (e.g. Saerbeck et al., 2010).

While reasearch shows great usage of this technology for kids (especially with cognitive disabilities) in early learning, it will be interesting to observe for older students can benefit from it.

Robotic-arm design vector created by Freepik