One of my relatives is an elementary educator in a public school. The town she teaches in is well-known locally for having heavily integrated classrooms and offering a lot of help to students with differing abilities. Many families move to that particular town because they know this, but the huge diversity in the classrooms can sometimes pose problems for the teachers. Reaching a room full of students whose abilities may vary widely can be a huge challenge.
Luckily, one of the amazing things about technology is that it can do some of the work to bridge the gap between students. There are a ton of amazing technologies out there that help students who are hearing, visually, or physically impaired. Unfortunately, many of these technologies come with a huge price tag – that schools or districts may not always be able to afford.
Luckily, the more widespread (education and non-education alike) market has seen the development of many new technologies that can be used as assistive technologies in your classroom, and many of them are low-cost or even free. Many of them can even be used in online as well as traditional classrooms. We’ve put together a list of a few of our favorites for you to check out!
There are a number of different adaptive mousing tools out there to aid those who are mobility impaired. While most mouse actions can be easily performed with keyboard shortcuts, those can also be difficult or impossible for someone who is mobility impaired. Tools like Face Mouse and EPOC from Emotiv allow users to control their computers using facial expressions and head movements instead of mouse movements and keyboard strokes. Not only extremely useful for those who really need it, but a really cool technology to check out just because.
For hearing impaired students, courses that heavily rely on audio/video multimedia can be tough. Services like those offered by CPC (like you often see on TV) enable these students to watch and ‘listen’ to the same video material as their peers. Useful for traditional classes, but exceptionally helpful to hearing impaired students in online courses. Students can easily participate in video lectures and create their own videos with subtitles or closed captioning.
Online courses and video material presents a challenge for students with low vision, but tools like these video magnifiers enable these students to read their course materials, research materials, and other web-based information more easily. Some of these fall on the more expensive end of the scale, but there are overall a very wide variety of types and price points available to suit each student’s needs.
Screen readers are software programs that allow blind and visually impaired users to read text on a computer screen via the use of a speech synthesizer. The American Foundation for the Blind states that these types of devices that offer speech output make work more productive for blind and visually impaired users than trying to struggle through reading the text on the screen. The AFB offers what seems to be a pretty comprehensive list of product options, ranging in price from around $250-$1500.
Word Talk is a free text-to-speech plugin for Microsoft Word that creates audio files from any document written in Word. It can speak the text of the document and highlight as it goes, enabling visually impaired users to read documents online. It also offers a number of programmable keyboard shortcuts, helping many types of users (for example, students who have trouble holding a mouse) to have an adapted, useful device. It is also great for students with reading difficulties, who may benefit from both reading and hearing the text they’re working with.