The Role of Assistive Technology in Supporting Students with Learning Differences

In today's rapidly changing world, technology has become an integral part of our daily lives and it is no different for those with learning differences. These supports come in various forms such as devices, tools, and software, and they play a critical role in helping struggling learners reach their goals.

Keep reading to learn more about the role of assistive technology in supporting students with learning differences.

What is Assistive Technology?

The term assistive technology refers to a range of supports designed to help those with learning differences achieve their maximum potential in the classroom, at home, and in life. These supports can include devices, tools, and software that are developed so that struggling learners can realize their academic, personal, and professional goals.

Assistive technology can help to increase engagement, confidence, and motivation by providing the students with the support they need to be successful, often in the form of software designed to help with reading, writing, and organization.

In order for teachers to effectively incorporate assistive technology into the classroom it is crucial to identify and understand the specific needs of each of their students. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation and with the plethora of tools available, it is important to drill down to the individual challenges and learning style of the child.

It’s important to keep in mind that assistive technology components should be integrated into the classroom curriculum and lessons in a meaningful way. Many of our children are “wowed” by the bells and whistles that technology offers so we have to be careful to create experiences and opportunities beyond that so they can overcome their challenges and complete their work to the best of their ability.

Both teachers and their students should spend time learning about and practicing with the technology so that they can use it most effectively. Regular assessment and feedback are helpful to ensure that the resource continues to meet the needs of students.

We want our students to feel comfortable with the technology tools we offer and to empower them to seek out ways to facilitate their learning and maximize the benefits of the tools that are available to them.

What Assistive Technologies Are Available?

There are an overwhelming number of assistive technology tools out there and we have found several that have proven successful for our students.

An app called Learning Ally is designed to offer students human-read audiobooks coupled with highlighted text. Within the app, there are annotating tools, a dictionary, and customizable settings for the displayed text.

Google Read&Write is a Chrome extension that offers support tools to help students with reading, writing, studying, and research. Students can use Read&Write on a Google Doc, website, or PDF to have the text read aloud.

A built-in dictionary and highlighting tools aid in comprehension and organization. Students can highlight the main ideas and details of the text and Read&Write will organize those highlights into an outline form. Vocabulary lists can be generated with definitions and visuals.

Voice typing, which is built directly into Google Docs, and the Co:Writer extension help students who struggle to write and spell get their ideas down without the burden of the pencil and paper task.

Similarly, text-to-speech capability can enable students to have math word problems or comprehension questions read aloud to them, increasing their overall understanding and accuracy.

Finally, within the Google Suite is Google Keep, which allows students to create and customize digital sticky notes, set timers, and set up checklists or to-do lists.

How to Effectively Integrate Assistive Technology with Classroom Learning?

Successful integration of technology into the classroom is not without challenges. Some of these programs and tools are complex and require a high degree of technical proficiency. The learning curve can be steep for both teachers and students so it is important to provide support and training so that the tools can be used effectively.

Lesson plans, instructional materials, and methods might need to be adjusted or reworked completely which takes a lot of time and energy on the part of our educators. And, as we all know, glitches happen and it’s important for teachers to have an alternate plan or method for delivering instruction to all learners when those glitches occur.

Accessibility issues and cost are two other factors that many students, families, and school districts face as they work to level the playing field for their children who learn differently.

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Enhancing the Classroom Environment for All Learners

Ideally, educators and parents should work together to support the use of assistive technology for our students with learning differences. Our teachers continually seek out professional development opportunities related to technology and use me, the school’s Educational Technology Integrator, as a resource and collaborator both in their lesson planning and in their classrooms.

Parents should feel comfortable asking about assistive technology tools that the school offers or that their child is already using. Often, districts will write directly into formal education plans (IEPs) language related to specific programs or software that has proven successful with children. Caregivers should be well-versed on accessibility limitations their child may have and relate these to the teachers and administrators at school.

By providing students with learning differences the support and tools they need to succeed, assistive technology can foster greater independence and self-sufficiency. This, in addition to enhancing the overall classroom environment, makes learning more accessible and inclusive to all students.

Topics: Learning Differences, Assistive Technology, Accommodations