Limited Experience with Assistive Tech

I’ll admit it: I don’t have much experience with assistive technology. Besides having a couple students who have been supplied with a laptop computer because of their struggles with fine-motor skills, and one student many years ago who had a mild hearing impairment that required his teachers to use a microphone and speaker system in the classroom, I haven’t had very many experiences with assistive technology.

I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges I’ve witnessed with the two students I presently teach who have access to a personal laptop computer for all their classes.

I have the privilege of working in a very small school, which allows for all the teachers to be informed of the learning disabilities and struggles that all the students face. A few years ago, between two of my maternity leaves, I was teaching in a grade 1/2 split class. Because I was teaching in the elementary side of the school, I participated in the meetings that were geared towards those younger students. At one of those meetings, I remember discussing some of the difficulties that a student in 5th grade was experiencing. The teacher had noticed that this student was having trouble writing and reading. He couldn’t form letters properly, even after having had additional help in earlier years. He was reading at a beginner level, both in French and in English. There was a request put in so that this student could receive a personal laptop. This would allow him to type out his answers and complete work more effectively.

His teacher’s request for a personal computer was granted. He received it this year. He is in 11th grade.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when it comes to assistive technology is having the means to bring the resources to the classroom. As educators, we understand the struggles involved in obtaining funds and resources for our schools. In her blog post, Kelsey highlights some of the reasons why it’s difficult for schools to access assistive technologies for our students. She mentions cost, potential tech issues and the personal investment to make it work as some of the potential barriers involved when trying to access tools for students who need them.

In the situation described above, it took years for my student to receive the laptop computer that would help him succeed in school. He still has many struggles today, and I can’t deny that having a computer at his disposal at all times makes it possible for him to demonstrate his learning. He’s had his device for three months, and he’s still trying to figure out how to best use it. Lots of time is wasted trying to understand how to maximize on his use of the computer. It is regrettable that it took so long for him to get it, because I feel like it would have been beneficial for him to have the time to learn about the tool when he was younger, so he could do more with it as a young adult.

In a perfect world, our schools would be equipped with all the tools, devices and resources for our students’ success. We wouldn’t have to put in a request for tools, and cross our fingers that we’ll actually get them.