While technology is transforming the way in which we learn and teach, it is in the area of disability and supporting students with learning challenges that assistive technology has the power to be truly transformative, helping to create a much needed level playing field when it comes to educational achievement. Mobile devices, housing an array of integrated accessibility options and apps for IOS or Android have made assistive technology cheaper, portable, and easier to use. This “shrinking” of AT can also have a positive impact on inclusion for students with special educational needs as they no longer require a stand alone, dedicated piece of hardware that immediately marks them out as different in a classroom. And the choice of AT is dizzying. From magnification to Braille apps, from communications to organisational apps, from voice recognition software to captioning apps, there is a wealth of apps and software on offer ranging from free to costly. But with choice can come confusion – how do you discover which is fit for the intended purpose?
Thankfully Irish charities and support organisations in the disability sector are doing some fantastic work bringing the best of these emerging technologies to their target groups. In November last year I had the opportunity to attend an NCBI (National Council for the Blind) technology workshop in Claregalway College where there were talks and demos of new and emerging assistive technology for students with vision impairment. The event was aimed at children, parents, SNAs, resource teachers and visiting teachers with a particular focus on mobile devices. At the time I was mentoring a young boy with partial sight loss and mobility issues and I found the day incredibly useful in so many ways. In fact some of the things I learned could be used across other SEN areas, not just with students experiencing sight loss. The Q&A discussion at the end of the event was particularly enlightening and gave a real insight into the very practical issues confronting visually impaired students as they negotiate the Irish school system and state exams. The NCBI, it seems, have been one of the early adopters of new technologies and are evangelical (in the best sense of the word) about their use. Stuart Lawlor @StuartLawler, Rehabilitation Centre Manager at NCBI, hosts an excellent monthly podcast on assistive technology for the visually impaired which is definitely worth checking out.
The following are just a small number of other Irish organisations that have very useful lists of accessbility apps, software and mobile devices for the support of a range of learning differences and disabilities. In some cases they also offer training for students, educators and parents.
AssistIreland.ie – An online resource from the Citizens Information Board providing information on daily living aids, mobility aids and assistive technology, along with a directory of products available in Ireland.
Enable Ireland – Charity providing free services to children and adults with disabilities and their families from 40 locations in 14 counties, organising both certified and customised training on Assistive Technology. Check out their YouTube channel highlighting emerging AT.
Sound Advice – formerly IrishDeafKids.ie, is a wonderful online resource highlighting the latest research and hearing technologies for students.
Ahead.ie – the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability is an independent non-profit organisation providing information to students and graduates with disabilities, teachers, guidance counsellors and parents on disability issues in education.
Dyslexia Assocation of Ireland – an advocacy organisation for those affected by dyslexia, providing resources and support services. They are currently running a series of interactive “Tablet Technology and Dyslexia Workshops”.
Irish Autism Action – an umbrella advocacy organisation for autism groups around Ireland offering support, information and advice for families and educators. “Ipad Apps for Special Needs”.