As I continue on the path of teacher competencies and support with assistive technology (AT) for students with disabilities, I recently conducted an interview with a colleague of mine. A Learning Specialist at a center for students with disabilities at a public institution of higher education, “Shelby” has provided some great feedback and insight to the issue. I summarized her major points to give you a glimpse of what we discussed.
1) What do you believe are the benefits of AT use in classrooms?
Definitely accessibility. Students with disabilities may not be able to access materials the same way that a student without a disability may. Where we’re at with technology overall is access. It equals the playing field. It allows for students with disabilities received the same information that’s presented and, hopefully, perform at the same level as their peers.
2) In your opinion, what does an ideal classroom outfitted with assistive technology look like?
There is no ideal classroom because person A and person B could have the same disability, but it could impact them differently. For example, with my blind students, one may use a cane to mobilize, another may not. That said, we need to be proactive with our faculty so that they are developing their courses and curriculum in a way that supports students with disabilities. Also, I think this type of classroom would consider different learning styles as well and different methods to deliver the content.
3) How would you describe the teacher’s role in this classroom?
They have to be open to differences and new methods to serving their students. With the technology we have today, such as iPads in the classroom, they have to be a bit more flexible than in the past. They also need to have a basic willingness to support students with disabilities.
4) What about parents? Where do they fit in?
At home, parents don’t always have the same access across the board. It’s different in K-12. Parents definitely have to be that voice for their student especially if their student has trouble speaking up.
5) Research indicates that teachers feel incompetent and under-prepared for using AT with their students. How does that make you feel?
You know I could see that. It’s virtually impossible to keep track of everything and know about all types of technology. I think at some point, it’s up to the teachers to seek out help and training to learn more about the types of assistive technology they’re using with their students. There are a lot of great resources through Google, Android, even Apple and social media that can be helpful to teachers. You can’t keep track of everything without patching in to a greater community.
6) Do you believe that we need to change our approach to teacher support? Why or why not?
They definitely need support from administration. That needs to remain in place. I think the return is so huge in narrowing the gap, especially in K-12, for students to get access to assistive technology in terms of how well they learn and stay within their grade level. I think there’s more than enough reasons for them [teachers] to have the support, they just don’t always get it.