Assistive Technologies, UDL, and the Challenges

Assistive technology has the opportunity to open doors for many people. According to McMahon and Walker:

“For most people technology makes things easier. For people
with disabilities, however, technology makes things possible.”

As the Assistive Technology group explored, assistive technology can be labelled as  Low Tech, Mid Tech and High Tech.  This was a great reminder that even those things that we often dismiss as non-technology are still technology and often are very accessible to teachers in schools.

Low tech examples of assistive technology as according to AutismAdventures could include technologies such as:

  • Visual Schedules
  • Post-its
  • Pencil Grips
  • Velcro
  • Manipulatives

Mid Tech assistive technology, which AutismAdventures claims, is the “least common form of technology.”

  • word prediction software
  • screen magnifier
  • voice amplification
  • adapted switches
  • adapted keyboard

High Tech assistive technology is the most intense and expensive form of assistive technology.  It includes:

  • Computers
  • Tablets
  • Electric Wheelchair
  • AAC Devices
  • Text to Speech
  • Speech to Text

Why do you think that mid-tech seems to be a dying form of assistive technology? I believe that this is because of the increase of devices in our students’ hands often have “apps for that,” or ways to use the accessibility features on devices that now make having a screen magnifier or other electronic devices built into either tablet of computers.  Essentially becoming a Swiss Army Knife of assistive technology.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning  (UDL) provides options and ways that educators can scaffold their instruction to reach all students’ needs.

“If you design for those in the margins, the building works better for everyone.”   UDL requires a blending of the three principles, Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression.

When I am teaching assistive technology tools such as Read Write Chrome and Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, I encourage teachers to showcase to all the students in the class and not just individual students. This provides opportunities for the students to not feel singled out, and hopefully, students who benefit from the tool begin to use the tool if needed.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by great educators and co-workers that I was writing a post on UDL and Assistive Technology when I told them I was bombarded with Assistive Technology resources and some more resources to look up.  One of the resources is The New Assistive Tech: Making Learning Awesome for All by Christopher R. Bugaj.  One interesting point that I was reading about is around the engagement principle of UDL. The Engagement Principle is designed to create experiences in which the students are engaged in using multiple means.  The example given discusses, if a magician is part of your lesson and demonstrates magic, it is an example of passive learning.  However, we should be making our lessons empowering by creating, making and doing something that makes a difference by educating. Students will be more likely to take over their own learning.

Shelley Moore, a UBC doctoral student, provides a great overview of UDL and comparing it to bowling.  If you have a spare moment, I encourage you to check out the video below.

Challenges of Assistive Technologies

The Assistive Technology presentation highlighted many issues that teachers still face in regards to assistive technology.  The commercialization of assistive technology is a challenge as it continues to spread the digital divide as the access to the needed technology does become expensive.  For example, one of the students that I taught has a visual impairment.  The student had a brailler, the price of this brailler is, in my opinion, outrageous.

Another shocking discovery is the price of the app Proloque2Go; this app is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) that assists those who are unable or have difficulty communicating verbally.  This app costs $349.99.  I haven’t used this app, but this tool should not cost this much money as its infrastructure does not seem to be $300 worth of complexity.

Furthermore, there is a large gap in the implementation of assistive technology in schools. This is because teachers are overworked and simply don’t have the time to add something to their plates. What is needed are opportunities for teachers that allow teachers time and the opportunity to explore these assistive technologies and learn how to implement them to increase student success and independence.

What are some ways to support teachers in the implementation of instructional technology?

Comments (3)

  1. Reply

    I like how you said, “I encourage teachers to showcase to all the students in the class and not just individual students. This provides opportunities for the students to not feel singled out, and hopefully, students who benefit from the tool begin to use the tool if needed.” I’ve found that students are good at figuring out what tools or adaptations they need to have in the classroom. If it’s not for them, they will leave it and move on.

    The commercialization of assistive technologies is quite problematic. It makes you wonder if governments and school divisions should take more responsibility in the development of assistive technology tools and programs. When left in the hands of private companies, making a profit will often be put before the needs of our students.

    As always, thanks for the read!

  2. Melinda


    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about Assistive Technology. I love the idea of teaching all students how to use AT for a number of reasons. First of all to avoid making any student feel uncomfortable, and students who do not need them at this point in their lives, might be able to help someone down the road.
    I also enjoyed listening to Shelley Moore’s view on inclusive education. I never thought of comparing our classrooms to bowling allies, but it is so true. I definitely agree that we, teachers have to focus on meeting the needs of the hard to reach students and we can only get there if we “change our aim”.
    Thank you!

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