The emerging technologies have become very important in the education sector. According to Rosenfield and Berninger, the field of education has benefited a lot due to the development of assistive technologies (98). Assistive technologies have become very important in supporting children suffering from various forms of impairments. In the past, learners with hearing, sight, or cognitive impairments found it difficult to learn because they could not depend on conventional teaching methods that were designed for normal students. However, this has changed with the emergence of assistive technologies which makes learning for these physically and mentally challenged learners.
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They can now interact with their teachers and amongst themselves thanks to the emerging assistive technologies in the field of education. Teachers also find it easy teaching these physically and mentally challenged students using these modern technologies. They no longer have to acquire special skills to handle these students because technology bridges the gap that existed before. In this paper, the researcher will discuss how various assistive technologies are used to enhance learning processes among students with various physical and mental impairments.
Assistive technologies have become critically important in the field of education. Teachers and students with impairments now rely on these technologies to bridge the gap created by the impairments. In this section, the researcher will look at some of the specific technologies used to address various physical and mental impairments.
AT Auditory Skills
According to Blackman, learners with hearing impairment are those who find it difficult to comprehend information and instruction given in class under normal circumstances (2). Auditory problem may be caused by a number of impairments, as Rosenfield and Berninger observe (87).
However, the researcher will specifically focus on learners with limited ability to hear. Some learners may require higher sounds than what is considered normal to listen to the instructions and information presented to them. One of their common characteristics is inability to hear instructions or information delivered in class under normal circumstances. When they speak, they tend to be louder than usual, making their fellow students with normal hearing capacity very uncomfortable.
They will always struggle to communicate with their normal colleagues, especially when these fellow students fail to appreciate their impairments. In many cases, such learners are forced to be lonely because some of their colleagues may shun them. They tend to withdraw to themselves as they realize that they have a unique condition that is making them unique from other students. In classroom, they would try to sit as close to the teacher as possible, and would always try to maintain constant eye contact with the instructor as a way of supporting their auditory impairment. Some may resign to their condition and avoid asking questions as a way of staying away from negative focus because they are aware their voices may be considered abnormal by other students.
Children with auditory problems can be assisted using Laureate Learning System to improve their auditory skills. This special software helps in addressing a number of problems among learners, including those with hearing problems. The software can be installed in personal computers or iMac to help the learner in auditory processing. The figure below shows a learner using this software to assist in the learning process.
It is clear from the figure above that this assistive technology aims at improving the capacity of the learner to listen to instructions delivered under normal circumstances. According to Blackman, this software may help improve auditory skills of the learners over time, and may enable them to survive in normal classrooms without the need for special instructions from the tutor (4). With this software, a student will learn to speak normally without shouting. They may slowly gain their lost confidence and respect from their colleagues. This may in turn, improve their grades in class, making them more successful in their academics.
AT Reading Skills
Some learners may have problems with their reading skills. According to Haché, poor reading skills may be caused by language or visual impairments (7). Visual impairment is a situation where a learner cannot read properly because of the incapacitated eye-sight. Such a learner will always strain reading texts that their normal colleagues find no challenge at all when reading. Another characteristic of these learners is that they are slow when reading.
They lack fluency and command whenever they are assigned a task of reading, especially if this has to be done in a classroom setting or places where there are masses of people. In other cases, the reading problem may be caused by language impairments. Such students may dread experiences where they have to read aloud in classroom because of their lost self-esteem. They tend to feel they are of lesser value if measures are not taken to address psychological problems related to their condition. In most of the cases, they may fail in exams because of their inability to read instructions and articulate their answers as expected of them. These learners need assistive technologies to make them lead normal academic lives.
ReadPlease 2003 is one of the software that has become popular in the field of education to help learners improve their reading skills. The software that works well in personal computers reads texts through its Windows clipboard. It allows the user to adjust the speed of voice to rates they find comfortable. Readers can also customize their background color and font while reading to suit their personal needs. According to Weisen et al., this assistive technology has become specifically useful to learners with reading problems because it enables them to have an additional strength when reading (12). The sight impairment is addressed by making the learner to use his hearing skills.
A learner will be able to see the words and hear the sounds to back what they are seeing. With time, Haché says that these students will learn to master the words and be able to read them without the assistance of sounds provided by the software (5). They get to master what they see in computers while reading and can then use their new skills to read books just as their normal counterparts. The figure below shows a learner using ReadPlease 2003.
AT Verbal Skills
Learners with verbal impairments may find it difficult to cope with normal classroom environment where they are expected to speak before the rest of the class. Verbal impairment may present itself in form of limited ability speak fluently or give clear pronunciation to certain words. As Goetz says, learning cannot be considered complete if a learner cannot have a command of the language and speak fluently before others (2).
Verbal impairment is a common problem among learners and sometimes it is associated with some medical conditions such as Aphasia, Autism, Apraxia, Down syndrome, PDD, Language Delay, or Cerebral Palsy. When verbal impairment is caused by any of the above medical conditions, it may be necessary to find medical solutions to address such problems. However, Goetz says that even after treatment of the medical condition, learners may find it difficult to be fluent in their speech, especially because of language delay (3). The main characteristic of these learners is that they will always stammer or give wrong pronunciations when reading. They may have abnormal sounds for various words, making it almost impossible to listen to what they are saying.
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Learners with verbal impairment may need assistive tools that can help in improving their condition. Therapy for Expressive Naming Disorders is one of the most reliable software that can be used to enhance verbal skills of such students. The application can be installed in a personal computer or iPad.
The application comes with a series of pictures accompanied by words to guide the learner on how to pronounce some words. It uses objects commonly found in the environment to help the learner to understand how to pronounce some of these words articulately. The software is very popular among children below 8 years, but sometimes it is used among teenagers and adults with serious verbal impairment. It also has the option of gaming. As the learner enjoys the game, he is able to master how some specific words are pronounced in standard spoken English. The figure below shows a learner using this application.
Cognitive Learning and Memory
According to Timm, learners with cognitive or memory impairments have always been ignored (6). In the past, these learners were considered underachievers because they would easily forget what they are taught soon afterwards. However, recent studies have confirmed that this is an impairment that can be addressed through the use of assistive technologies. The main characteristic of such learners is that they always forget what they have been taught soon after the end of the lesions.
They lack the capacity to remember most of the concepts unless it is repeated to them several times. Their academic performance is always below average. Some of them who are keen on excelling academically may become addicted to books as they try to grasp concepts taught in class. In most of the cases, this impairment is associated with mental problems.
These learners need to be assisted with some of the emerging technologies in the field of education to boost their memory. Apple’s iCal is one of the best applications that can be used to help learners in this category. It can be installed in iPhone, iPad, or PDA. This application sharpens cognitive and memory skills of the learners using various strategies. For instance, it has the option of creating multiple calendars.
While creating the calendars, the learner will be forced to remember the past, present, and future dates. This constant mental exercise improves the memory skills. Sometimes the user is allowed to develop invitation cards using full names and address of their friends or family members. This also jogs their memory, sharpening their ability to retain information in the mind for long. The figure below shows iCal application in use
Assistive technologies have become very important in the education sector. Educationists have realized that children suffering from different impairments can lead normal academic lives if they are provided with relevant assistive technologies. In this paper, the researcher has identified some of the common assistive technologies that can be used to address various learning impairments.
Blackman, Malorie 2013, The Children’s Laureate says education needs relevance, but is ‘identifying’ really so important. Web.
Goetz, Jacky 2005, Coping with Expressive Language Disorders. Web.
Haché, Cindy 2005, Compendium of Adaptive Technologies: A resource guide for adult educators. Web.
Rosenfield, Sylvia, and Virginia Berninger. Implementing Evidence-Based Academic Interventions in School Settings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Weisen, Marcus, Helen Petrie, Neil King, and Fraser Hamilton. Web Accessibility Revealed: The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council Audit. Web.