Technology before anyone is ready

My oldest son is in Grade 10. He received his first computer in the fourth grade. I’m not sure what kind of training his teachers received. I know that I asked and received an hour with the technology person who walked me through a hard copy printout of the one computer program he was using – Kurzweil.  At the end of our one hour I wasn’t sure I really understood it all but I was too shy or embarrassed (maybe both) to say that what would really help me would be to see it in action.  I figured I would just wait and get our copy at home and just try it out to learn the functions. It took us months to get the school to agree to send the program home for us to download it onto our home computer. By that time our son was able to walk us through the program. But he used it very rarely in class and I would be the first to admit that he was not great at typing so the computer was limited in what it could do for him if he couldn’t input.

Grade 5 was a wonderful technology year – the EA or teacher scanned in every work sheet or test into his computer and we saw great amounts of output as a result. But it was limited to Kurzweil – it seemed to me that there must be more programs that would be useful. Seems strange to buy a laptop for a student and then limit them to just one program. I occasionally asked but did not really get more answers.

Grade 6 through 10 his use of the computer fluctuated and he never really got back to the level they were at in the 5th grade.  Add to that frequent breakdowns of his computer and/or scanner and printer and his technology use is sporadic at best.

I believe technology is a wonderful tool that can open up doors that otherwise remain closed for our children with learning disabilities. But to do so, there needs to be adequate training of teachers, support staff, student and parents. There needs to be a commitment from staff that it is going to be utilized to its fullest and it needs to be taught to the student that this is the same as someone needing a cane or a pair of glasses. With the introduction of iPads, iPods and other handheld devices I believe that technology in the classroom will soon be the norm rather than the exception. I look forward to this as my youngest moves closer to having technology to access the curriculum.

Goose Bumps

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is teaching people with learning disabilities how to use assistive technology (also known as adaptive technology or even A/T).  Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, assistive technology is any item, device, or product that can help someone with a disability do something that they otherwise would not be able to do.  Assistive technology can be something as simple and common place as a cane and eye glasses to something more complex such as assistive software and speech generating devices such as that used by Stephen Hawking.

TechnologyThere are many different types of assistive technology software available that can benefit people with various types of learning disabiliities.  These can include:

The most important thing to know is that it is critical to find the right software program for each specific person.  Since every person with a learning disability has different strengths and weaknesses, there is no one-size-fits-all assistive technology software solution for people with learning disabilities.  I have been very fortunate to help many people with learning disabilities in finding their “right fit.”

I have trained children, youth, and adults with learning disabilities how to use assistive technology.   What I most often see is parents dragging their kids into the LDAWE office to see me regarding assistive technology.  Typically, the child is in the 10-14 year old age bracket.  They often come in with a huge chip on their shoulder, slouch down in their chair, and give me an evil glare.  To be honest, I don’t blame them.  By the time they’re seeing me, their parents have probably brought them to several programs, got them a  tutor for extra help, brought them to counselling, or maybe even tried some experimental solutions to “cure” the problem.  I can tell that they think this is going to just be another place where their parents bring them to try to “fix” them.

The first thing I ask the person is, “What do you struggle the most with?  Reading?  Writing?  Spelling?…”  Based on their answer, I decide which assistive technology software program to show them first.  If at all possible, I want them to see that this program can make a huge difference in their life right away.  I can always tell when I’ve found the right fit.  Especially for the kids that walk in with the huge chip on their shoulder.  The first thing that happens, is they sit up straight in their chair.  Then they actually start leaning towards the computer, clicking buttons, and asking me what else it can do.  Finally, they will look at their parents, smile, point at the computer, and say “did you see that?”  It’s a great feeling to be able to watch that moment happen.

Kids using TechnologyI had the opportunity to work with Alison, who was in grade 4 at the time.  Her Mom actually brought her to me a couple times at the beginning of the school day, because she felt this was more important than anything her daughter was trying (unsuccessfully) to learn at school.  Alison told me that she had problems with reading and writing, but that by far her biggest concern was reading.  I showed her how to use Kurzweil 3000.  I explained that she’d be able to scan her books, worksheets, quizzes, and tests into Kurzweil and it would read all of the text aloud for her.  I then began showing her how to use all of Kurzweil’s features.  After a while, Alison looked at me and said, “I can do this!”  I replied that yes, I know she can… she told me, “No, you don’t understand… I can go to highschool now.”  That’s when it hit me.  At the young age of 9 or 10 years old Alison had figured out that she was so far behind and with no viable way of catching up, that she would never be able to complete high school.  I took a deep breathe (trust me, I needed one) and told Alison that she was right, with the help of the technology, she’d be able to successfully go to high school and even beyound that if she wanted to.

But Alison wasn’t done with her insights yet.  She began to ask me questions, “Can I scan in chapter books?”  I told her yes.  “Even long books?”  I told her that they might take her a while to scan, but yes… she could scan any book that she wanted.  She started bouncing up and down in her chair and looked at her Mom and said, “Now I can read Twilight on my own without you having to read it to me.  I can be just like my friends!”

And there they were… goose bumps running up and down my arms.  What a great reminder from such a young student regarding what assistive technology is really all about…  It helps put people with disabilities on an even playing field with everyone else.