Technology Makes Life Easier for Kids with Special Needs
For children living with a disability, access to assistive technology (AT) can mean the vast difference between a life of exclusion and isolation to receiving an education and reaching their full potential. While AT cannot eliminate learning problems entirely, they can help students to capitalize on their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Over the past decade, traditional assistive technologies have converged with consumer technologies to give birth to innovative technologies to help educate special-needs children. Studies show that dropout rates for special education students are on the decline – at least partially because the technology exists to keep these kids comfortable and in class longer than in the past.
AT can increase a special needs child’s self-reliance and sense of independence. Kids who struggle in school are often overly dependent on parents, siblings, friends, and teachers for help with assignments. By using AT, these kids can reach their potential and gain a sense of independence. AT also allows a special needs child to capitalize on her strengths and bypass areas of difficulty.
Top Tech For Children Living With Disability
Assistive technologies ranging from special readers and tablets to lightweight and inexpensive wheelchairs, to brain-computer interface technology are tools that support children with disabilities in order for them to gain more independence, attend school and blend well into their communities.
Assistive Technology for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Computers, laptops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones have been adapted for children with visual impairments through special programs and AT equipment to help these special children overcome the challenges of their disabilities.
Desktops offer larger storage capabilities and faster operating systems than laptops. They often come with accessibility programs such as screen reader software and the ability to enlarge fonts and contrast colours and backgrounds (to aid colour blind). Larger monitors can be used on desktops with braille stickers for the keyboard. There are also attachable screen magnifiers available for desktop computers.
There are tablets specifically designed for the blind and visually impaired like BLITAB®, the first tablet to integrate a refreshable braille display directly on the screen.
Voice over technologies can be used with tablets and other mobile devices to make it easier to message friends and family, read eBooks, and navigate social media.
There’s also the voice activated Artificial Intelligence of Siri (for Apple) and Cortana (for Android) that can make smartphones accessible for people with visual impairments.
Technology for Communication
For children with a disability in speech or the ability to form words well, it is extremely challenging to express their needs and emotions, to learn in school, and to socialize. Special education teachers and speech therapists often use such AT:
Electronic communication boards. These devices are much like a tablet or may even be a tablet using a special app or program. A communication board presents the child with a choice of letters, words, numbers, and pictures which the child can select to communicate with others. Depending on a child’s ability, they may need instruction from a speech/language therapist to use a communication board successfully.
Speech-generating devices. The child types or taps words and sentences, and the device formulates it into speech that others can understand clearly.
Eye-tracking devices. This type of device is best used with children who are unable to use their arms, hands, or fingers to tap at images on a communication board. These individuals can benefit from an eye-tracking device, which follows the movements of the eyes. When the child looks at a specific word or image on the communication board, it is selected without the need to actively tap on the surface.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
AAC includes all forms of communication (with the exception of oral speech) that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. Text-to-speech apps like SayIt! are essential tools for non-verbal students to feel comfortable communicating with those outside of their inner circle early on in their lives. However, children with barriers to communication who are too young to type sentences on a keyboard can also take advantage of assistive technologies that use images and symbols to help them convey their message.
Does Assistive Technology Help A Child To Be Successful Later In Life?
Yes, most definitely. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Some of the prominent personalities with disabilities include Dr Stephen Hawking, Nick Vujicic, Helen Keller, Christopher Reeve, Rory Cooper and Stevie Wonder.
The late Dr. Stephen Hawking received assistance for most of his movements and was unable to speak without the aid of a computer. This presented a problem because as a researcher and scientist, Dr. Hawking was regularly asked to speak at meetings and conferences and had to develop and publish new ideas to maintain a place in the forefront of academia.
Dr. Hawking used assistive technology to compensate for mobility and speech difficulties. He used a thumb switch and a blink-switch attached to his glasses to control his computer.
By squeezing his cheek muscles and “blinking” an infra-red switch was activated and he was able to scan and select characters on the screen in order to compose speeches, surf the Internet, send e-mail and “speak” through a voice synthesizer.
Dr. Hawking’s experiences have proven to the world that
1. Assistive technology can compensate for limitations relative to mobility and speech.
2. Having a disability does not exclude people from discovering and pursuing their passions in life.
A Brighter Future With Assistive Technology
Children living with disabilities brought on by conditions such as cerebral palsy, accidents and congenital anomalies can benefit greatly from having access to a range of assistive technology in the form of toys, apps, and assistive devices.
Decades ago, people living with such disabilities were considered unemployable. Today, technology has broken through to a point where people with severe disabilities, such as severe cerebral palsy, can not only get a good education and a job but can even become future research leaders.
Whether you are a parent with a special needs child or a teacher who incorporates technology in the classroom, assistive technologies revolutionize how students with disabilities function in the classroom and help prepare them for their future in this digital world.
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