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Teaching the visually or hearing impaired students has always been a challenge to educators. This is especially true for students with both of these impairments. As of 2008, about 10,000 children between the ages of 0 and 22 had both of these impairments according to the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (Miles, n.d.).
Fortunately, developments in technology have made this problem easier to deal with. The purpose of this paper is to provide a brief evaluation of the assistive technologies that are currently available and how they can be incorporated into the classroom.
There are many kinds of video magnifiers available, ranging from desktop fixed models to head-mounted magnifiers that fit over the eyes. This device enables the user to enlarge images on a printed page or a presentation.
Typically, a fixed video magnifier uses a camera and a movable table while handheld types are usually on rollers, requiring considerable space to operate (American Foundation for the Blind, 2012).
This tool is easy to incorporate into a modern classroom. Video magnifiers can be strategically placed in the front row of a classroom. This arrangement works best where there are less than five visually impaired students.
In cases where there are many visually impaired students in a single class, a group of students can share one monitor. This reduces costs and makes the class easier to manage.
The two main problems associated with video magnifiers are eye fatigue and huge costs. It is easy to get tired when using a magnifier for extended periods, and the price range for video magnifiers is from $1000 to $4000. However, a magnifier that connects to a television is much cheaper but more limited.
Another utility for the visually impaired is a speech synthesizer. It is comprised of software connected to a computer system and it includes a speech reader and synthesizer. Typically, the software is text-to-speech, and is able to convert what is written on a document into spoken words.
Since speech synthesizers can work with most desktop and notebook models, they are easily accessible and they work well for those whose visual impairment is profound.
Educators should ensure that when this technology is used in a classroom, all the software programs used are functional and up to date. These programs can be installed in class computers or even in students’ personal laptops and I-Pads.
Speech synthesizers are limited in terms of interpreting images, graphs, tables, scanned pages and other pictographic data. Most of such software is unable to provide a meaningful translation of these types of data in a manner that the student can easily understand.
Braille AT Systems
Braille AT systems are also of benefit to both the visually impaired and the deaf-blind. Braille is a code using raised dots on a flat surface and it can be “read” using fingertips.
Braille technology includes both tactile display screens and printers. The Braille display is connected to a desktop computer and can show portions of a screen in Braille code, up to 80 characters at a time.
This AT is one of the earliest that were incorporated into classrooms. The technology has also managed to advance in line with today’s technology. Using this technology, a student can make hard copies of a document by converting it into the desired type of Braille using a special software and then embossing heavy paper with it.
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Students can also use this AT for taking notes in class. Each student needs to have his/her own set of this equipment. The printer is the only equipment that can be shared.
The main problem with Braille AT is that it requires a student to be trained in Braille. Most visually impaired students are not equipped with this training. According to the National Federation of the Blind (2012), only 10% of visually impaired children in the US are taught Braille.
Another concern is that the cost of Braille technology is rather high. A Braille display has a price range of $3,500 to $15,000, a Braille printer costs between $1,800 and $80,000 depending on print volume. The software for converting text to Braille for printing costs $200 to $500.
The Hearing Aid
For students who are hearing impaired, current AT is mainly focused on enhancement and amplification. The hearing aid is by far the most efficient method of doing this. A hearing aid is a miniature amplifier placed in the ear canal. There are analog and digital versions available. An audiologist has to determine the type, position and adjustments needed for each individual.
For hearing aids to function effectively in a classroom setting, they need to be backed up with personal frequency-modulated (FM) systems. This is because they function best when the sound source is in close proximity.
In classrooms, the teacher is not always the primary source of sound. Therefore, the teacher wears a microphone while the hearing-impaired student wears a receiver. This is in scenarios where only a few students need AT.
In a class full of hearing impaired students, a single Sound Field Amplification system can be installed. This system can then be accessed by all students with hearing aids equipped with personal FM systems.
Hearing aids are limited in functionality because they can only help those with mild hearing loss. In addition, for them to function properly they require a few other enhancements.
Cochlear implants are devices that may work for children with profound hearing loss. They are designed to help pre-lingual children in language acquisition. A cochlear implant is not an amplifier such as a hearing aid, but rather a surgically implanted bypass of the ear itself to the auditory nerve.
Whenever this AT is successfully used, it becomes possible for a student to be incorporated into a standard classroom environment. A student with these implants can be able to carry out all the activities in a classroom. However, it takes time for students to finish the rehabilitation process that comes with this AT.
Teachers should therefore employ some sensitivity when dealing with students who have recently had Cochlear implants.
It would seem logical that at $40,000 each depending on the level of hearing loss and its duration, the cost of a cochlear implant, including the rehabilitation process, would be a major setback for this type of AT.
In addition, the NAD’s position on Cochlear Implants (2000) is that cochlear implants do not always eliminate deafness, and may result in further damage to those with some hearing ability.
Assistive technology has made considerable progress in the last few decades, and those with visual and hearing impairments in the school setting have benefited greatly. However, in most cases AT requires considerable resources and has other limitations.
It is important for an educator to carefully assess the advantages and disadvantages of each type of AT, the training it will require, and the specific circumstances for which it is being considered before advocating for its use in the classroom setting.
American Foundation for the Blind. (2012). Assistive Technology. Web.
Miles, B. (2012). Overview on Deaf-Blindness. In National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (Topical Publications – Deaf-Blindness). Web.
NAD Position Statement on Cochlear Implants. (2000). The Cochlear Implant. In Assistive Listening. Web.
National Federation of the Blind. (2012). How many children in America are not taught to read? In Braille Initiative. Web.