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There are many students in the US with different forms of disability. The presence of such learners in any learning environment shows the need for educators and other stakeholders to accommodate diverse requirements of such students through adaptive hardware and assistive technology in the classroom.
Previous studies have established that the best approach for the education of learners with a disability involves integrating them with other students in the mainstream education system.
However, this evidence-based recommendation is the source of the problem for teachers because many of them do not have formal training on handling learners with disabilities in regular classrooms.
An inclusion approach requires teachers to offer the same learning classroom experience for all learners irrespective of their disabilities (Roblyer, 2009).
Learners with disabilities are often disadvantaged when integrated in normal classrooms because they receive and transform information in a different manner relative to other learners.
In addition, offering such extra support to learners with disabilities may be difficult because of time constraints and a lack of knowledge on adaptive hardware and assistive devices.
There are several devices and resources, which can help educators to provide support to their disabled learners in the mainstream classroom (Jennings, Caldwell & Lerner, 2014).
Such devices may assist learners to overcome their handicaps and learn like other normal students. Below are few adaptive hardware and assistive technology devices for different forms of disabilities, which may assist students.
There are adaptive hardware and Assistive Technology for Cognition (ATC) for learners with cognitive barriers. Such devices and technologies help learners to enhance their attention, memory, plan, self-management and recognition, emotion and navigation processes among others.
Today, there are many ATC devices for learners with disabilities. However, many developers have concentrated on memory and planning devices because they enhance a learner’s efficacy.
Examples of ATC hardware include a reading pen, a keyboard mouse emulating interface, a head-controlled mouse and an alternative mouse.
Assistive systems include text to speech, Morse code and optical character recognition among others. The portable scanning and reading pen allows learners with cognitive barriers to read and use texts in classrooms.
These devices and technologies may be integrated in reading, writing and mathematics lessons. Such devices and technologies include text to speech, software and interactive books.
In writing, they facilitate voice recognition and word prediction while in mathematics such devices assist learners in graphing, practicing, drilling and tutorial processes.
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Learners with hearing and speech challenges may not have difficulties with the usage of computers. However, they need to interact with other students and instructors effectively. Consequently, such learners require hearing aid and other devices to improve learning.
Amplification of adaptive devices such as Assistive Listening Device provides technologies and tools to improve residual hearing among learners. Such devices allow students to hear sounds they would not detect otherwise. Some of these devices require students to be close to the source of the sound.
Some devices create connections between the student and the teacher or the microphone. The method eliminates a background noise and allows the instructor to walk from one student to another in the classroom.
The ease of portability and versatility allows the device to serve learners in different environments. Audio loops lessen the background noise and amplify the sound to the hearing aid.
There are also emerging technologies based on the infrared systems to aid learners with hearing barriers. The system sends the sound in an invisible manner to learners with hearing challenges. The device lacks any cords and wires. Such features have resulted in its popularity among users.
Cochlear implants offer hearing capabilities to learners with deep hearing challenges. The device allows learners to hear sounds they could not distinguish previously. It works by passing the impaired part of the ear and arousing in healthy nerves in the ear for the sound detection.
Learners with visual challenges or blindness have difficulties in seeing visual materials used in classrooms or presented on the computer screen. Such learners may have standard keyboards, but there are Braille options to assist them with keyboard difficulties.
Other adaptive devices for visually impaired learners include a braille translator, a screen reader, a refreshable braille display, an optical character recognition software and a braille embosser among others.
Speech output devices read screen texts for learners. Such software programs have speech synthesizers, which read and speak texts to learners (Grabe & Grabe, 2007). Additional earphone devices may eliminate the noise and the distraction from other sources.
A specialized braille display performs a consistent translation of the text from the screen to the display. Learners with advanced skills in braille reading are able to read the texts fast. In addition, the adaptive hardware allows for detailed editing of contents. Learners do not disrupt others and may obtain printed copies from the attached braille printer.
Optical character recognition allows students to read and store their learning materials in soft forms. Once stored in the computer, they can use speech synthesis assistive technologies (ORCCA Technology, 2008) or print the document through braille programs and printer.
Visually impaired learners are able to gain access to journals, homework and syllabus materials through assistive technology. Moreover, they may rely on electronic versions of learning materials in computers with relevant software but only if the instructor provides such contents in an accessible way.
Students with physical disabilities require devices and technologies that would enhance movement or create ease of use and independence. The alternative keyboards, mouse devices or monitors limit barriers related to physical impairment.
Adaptive technologies should promote optimal learners’ concentration and participation, but without imposing excessive physical demands on them.
A quadriplegic learner may experience multiple barriers due to damages to the nerve systems of the limbs, which result in the loss of sensation and paralysis (Grabe & Grabe, 2007). Learners with such disabilities require performance enhancement tools for adapting and gaining access to instructional materials.
For students with advanced cases of mobility barriers, there are keyboard devices with a scanner and Morse code inputs. These devices enhance the use of muscles by voluntarily controlling fingers, a mouth, a knee and a head among others.
In scanning mode, the scanner selects symbols or letters as shown on the screen or any other device. The learner may choose any letters by moving their heads, feet and fingers through augmented switches.
There are many devices, which may require adjustments to meet specific needs of individual learners. Students may use Morse code through different input devices.
Specific assistive software and adaptive hardware convert materials into a program language, which the computer can comprehend and decipher for other standard tools. There are also speech input devices, particularly speech recognition systems, which allow students to use their learning devices by speaking.
Learners with physical barriers may see the output displayed on the screen. However, they may not have opportunities to move and obtain outputs from printers. Therefore, an on-screen display provides effective means of gaining access to learning materials for such learners.
Students with language barriers could show challenges in using and comprehending spoken words, written words or other symbols used in language. The roots of language barriers may originate from the form, function and content elements of language.
Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices will enhance communication difficulties among learners. AAC systems may vary in their capabilities, but the nature of their complexity depends on the language barrier of the learner.
Generally, users may find simple or low-tech devices as the most useful and the easiest to interact with during the course. They offer affordability and simplicity in learning.
Students may use abbreviation expansion and other word recognition or prediction solutions to lessen their workload and facilitate the input speed. Such software and technologies may anticipate the required words after few keystrokes.
Different organizations offer different educational and technical adaptive hardware and assistive devices to aid students with disabilities in classrooms. Such devices and technologies account for various forms of disabilities. They include complete lines of physical, language, vision, hearing and cognitive aids.
Moreover, the complexity of adaptive hardware and assistive technology may differ based on the specific needs of a learner. Overall, they promote and assist learners to progress with other students in integrated classrooms.
Learners may function successfully and overcome their difficulties in different subjects like math calculation, speech, writing and reading.
Therefore, it is imperative for educators to consider adaptive hardware and assistive technology for all learners with specific learning needs and challenges for meaningful learning (Grabe & Grabe, 2007).
Educators, parents and learners should assess devices and software that may offer benefits to learners. The process must include services of various therapists to provide the professional account of specific learning barriers.
Grabe, M., & Grabe, C. (2007). Integrating technology for meaningful learning (5th ed.). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Jennings, J., Caldwell, J., & Lerner, J. (2014). Reading problems: Assessment and teaching strategies (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon / Longman.
ORCCA Technology. (2008). The Assistive Technology Exploration and Training Center. Web.
Roblyer, M. D. (2009). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (4th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.