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In a time where technology is at our fingertips and plays a part in almost everything we do, we continue to ask, “What impact does technology have in the world of education?” For me, the more relevant question is “How does technology provide access to the learning environment and curriculum for students impacted by a skills deficit or disability?” Students with communication, cognitive, behavioral, or physical delays receive special education services and support in the school setting; these services and supports are designed to ensure equal access to the learning environment. Often the same technology their typical peers use throughout the day as convenience is a necessary tool for their success.
How many text messages do you send throughout the day? What about a typical teenager? Do you use a note-taking app for your grocery list? Have you ever been in a situation where you and a friend were speaking different languages? For a student who is deaf, a text message or note-taking app on a cell phone becomes a way to communicate with a group of peers or community members who do not know American Sign Language. It is a way to ask a teacher a question or make a comment on an assignment without having to rely solely on an interpreter or personal assistant.
Imagine knowing what you want as a snack, what you want to get off the shelf, wanting to introduce yourself to someone, or just saying no to a non-preferred activity. Now imagine not having the voice to do any of those things. For students without a voice, limited communication skills, or significant cognitive delays a new world opens up by using symbol-supported communication or text-to-speech. Watching students go from a point of frustration because no one can understand their wants and needs to having the ability to communicate clearly with a few clicks on an iPad, tablet, or phone is amazing. Proloquo2Go© has become a go-to for students in the school district; it allows us to streamline communication efforts from preschool to high school. Speech-language pathologists work with teachers, families, and peer groups when using technology for communication to ensure the student gains all of the available benefits of effective communication.
C-Pen® Readers, audible text, and voice recording options allow students who struggle with written text to access assignments, books, and full course content without having a human reader in the seat beside them or pulling them out of a classroom. For a middle or high school student, being able to wear a pair of earbuds and listen to text takes away the social stigma often referenced when someone has to read-aloud to them. Speech-to-text extensions on devices can provide students access to a different mode of writing. Often students with deficits in decoding, fluency, and written expression think faster than they write and become frustrated when asked to put “pencil to paper” or “fingers to keyboard.” Adaptive technology options have provided students with an alternate way of expressing thoughts, summarizing reading, and answering written response questions. Providing students with the option to use a speech-to-text extension on a laptop or app on their phone/tablet allows them to share knowledge and understanding they may otherwise keep hidden away. This option also decreases frustration levels that more often than not result in negative behavior.
Written checklists and step-by-step task instructions are difficult to keep in your pocket at all times. Students who are working on daily living skills, learning a new job skill as part of the transition from school-to-work, or who may just need a reminder of how to complete a task do not want to rely on a piece of paper as a reference. Accessing a cell phone or tablet gives educators other choices for providing support. Recording options like Screencast-O-Matic, YouTube, and Google™ Extensions replace written checklists and instructions with the cell phones students already carry in their pockets. Teachers and therapists record instructional videos, often with students in the lead roles, to continue learning outside of the classroom. These videos can also be added to the list of virtual learning and teletherapy platforms proven essential over the past six months. In a time when schools were forced to close, school systems had to be creative when providing instruction and related services (i.e. speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy) for students at home. Being able to record lessons, interact in virtual meetings and classrooms, and provide teletherapy for students with disabilities continues to be the expectation for schools and their special education departments.
If we were not living in a world where technology continues to be seen as innovative in the classroom, we would be living in a world where student potential would not be reached and a world of limitless possibilities would remain untapped.