Technology has changed the way learning is created and consumed in the 21st century. It has also brought in tremendous possibilities to create ‘inclusive’ learning that takes into consideration the special needs of differently abled learners as well – in educational institutes as well as corporate organizations. Computer-based programs have been developed to help these learners access learning material as well as contribute actively to gain an immersive experience. With the help of Assistive Computer Technology (AT) anybody – irrespective of any disability – can effectively interact with a computer. Assistive Technology has created visual as well as audio learning aids based on mobility, which help learners to not just access pertinent learning material but create avenues for two-way interaction and participation as well.
There are various challenges that learners with disabilities face. Some learners have physical disabilities or long-term illnesses that predominantly pose the challenge of accessibility where they are unable to travel to classrooms or other locations for trainings. For others with sensory disabilities like vision or hearing impairment, it is a challenge to utilize regular classroom tools or learning material. Many learners also have cognitive impairments, and have to learn in a different manner. While these challenges are real, with Assistive Technology it is possible to provide avenues of immersive learning for learners who deal with these challenges every day.
Here are a few examples of Assistive Technology and how it can help differently abled learners –
- Text-to-speech software: With the help of this assistive technology, visually impaired learners can automatically ‘hear’ the text that appears on the computer screen. Once the software is installed on the learner’s computer, it can automatically ‘read’ anything onscreen – irrespective of the format. So be it learning material in Word or PDF, discussions on a forum or even emails or IMs – with text-to-speech converters, learners can access it all.
- Speech recognition software: For learners with physical challenges who cannot type, or for learners with visual impairments, typing on the computer keyboard can be a tedious job – and these learners may often require help from fellow learners. But with speech recognition software, learners can independently type out their notes or assignments. With increasing technological finesse, this software recognizes enunciations and modulations of the voice to include punctuation in text as well. This produces high quality text that is a fair reflection of the learners’ understanding and puts the differently abled learners at par with other learners in the peer group.
- Visual aids: Visual aids are of different kinds and can be utilized by learners with varied visual impairments. They include tools that convert on-screen text into Braille, magnify certain portions of the screen text, or even convert certain portions of the text into audio.
- Audio aids: This category of assistive technology includes different tools for the hearing impaired learners. Sound amplification tools heighten the audio element of the learning content. Other alerting tools use flashing lights or icons to signal users instead of the usual sounds – to catch the focus of the hearing impaired learners. Transcripts of learning videos are made available with close-captioning to make sure that all learners can utilize them well.
- Physical aids: For learners with difficulties of motor co-ordination, stability or other physical challenges, there are various assistive aids that can help them learn independently. These include audio books and adaptive keyboards that prevent mistypes from hand tremors.
World renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is probably the best example of how Assertive Technology has helped a talented mind overcome physical impairments to contribute productively to the world around him. So we can now look forward to a more inclusive way of learning, instead of the cloistered existence that most differently abled learners had to face in the past. Newer technology allows differently abled learners to learn with their peers as well as contribute fruitfully to the collaborative process of learning. This is indeed the new era of learning – truly learning for all.
Source and suggested further reading: http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/what-can-technology-do-for-disabled-learners/