ISTE Coaching Standard 3 provides seven benchmarks for creating and supporting effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students. My focus is on benchmarks b, d & f:
b. Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments;
d. Select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning;
f. Collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure.
How can I help teachers of students with disabilities evaluate, select and use adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning and to ensure equitable access for all teachers and students?
Advocating & Facilitating Independence
First, teachers (and other caregivers)—especially those who have been playing an assistive role—need to understand how emerging assistive technologies can facilitate independence in children with disabilities. Independence is surely a goal that teachers would advocate for all students. Rufus Adebisi notes, “Relying on others may slow the transition into adulthood, and may also lower self-esteem, as it demands children with learning disabilities to depend on others, rather than themselves, to solve a problem. Assistive technology moreover, provides a way for children with learning disabilities to achieve specific tasks on their own” (2015).
When everyone involved in the care of children with disabilities is on board with the adoption of emerging assistive technologies, it is time to decide what short- and long-term goals can be achieved. Sheryl Burgstahler lists eight ways that technology can lead to independence for children with disabilities, by allowing them to: “1) develop independence in academic and employment tasks; 2) participate in classroom discussion; 3) gain access to peers and teachers; 4) gain access to the full variety of educational options; 5) secure high levels of independent learning; 6) work side-by-side with peers; 7) master academic tasks that they find difficult; 8) participate in community and recreational activities” (2003). This list is a good starting point for identifying the desired learning outcome, rather than jumping directly to “technology browsing”.
With a solid foundation of desired learning (including life skills) outcomes, the caregiving team, including the child, is prepared to search for technologies that will help them to reach their goals. The following guidelines, introduced by Marshall H. Raskind can be used to facilitate this process:
- “Determine the child’s specific problem;
- Identify the child’s strengths;
- Involve the child in the selection process;
- Choose the types of technology that are helpful and based on the child’s strengths and weaknesses;
- Determine the specific settings for the technology;
- Choose technologies that work together;
- Choose technologies that are easy to learn and operate” (2000).
These guidelines already begin to facilitate independence by involving the child in the process of choosing technologies. Already, the child is doing for him/herself and focusing on strengths before identifying weaknesses.
Gold Standard = UDI
The ideal we should all be working toward is Universal Design of Instruction (UDI). Burgstahler describes, “The goal of UDI is to maximize the learning of students with a wide range of characteristics by applying UD principles to all aspects of instruction (e.g., delivery methods, physical spaces, information resources, technology, personal interactions, assessments).” Done right, the design of all learning environments and tools would render disabilities invisible.
Until we are able to achieve this standard in all learning environments, we need to continue to advocate for the implementation of technology that will facilitate independence for students with disabilities, and do so by involving the students themselves in the decision-making process.
- Adebisi, R. O. (2015). Using assistive technology in teaching children with learning disabilities in the 21st century. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(24), 14-20.
- Burgstahler, S. (2015). Universal Design of Instruction (UDI): Definition, Principles, Guidelines, and Examples. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/universal-design-instruction-udi-definition-principles-guidelines-and-examples
- Burgstahler, S. (2003). The role of technology in preparing youth with disabilities for postsecondary education and employment. Journal of Special Education Technology,18, 7-19.
- Raskind, M. (2000). Assistive technology for children with learning disabilities. San Mateo, California: Schwab Foundation for Learning.