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How Assistive Technology is Transforming Special Needs Education

In this article, we’ll explore the ways in which assistive technology can transform special needs education in the UK. 

According to 2021 government figures, there are 352 schools in the UK which have SEN (Special Education Needs) units and approximately 1,318,300 school aged children who require extra assistance in their learning.  

In recent years, there has been an increase in requests for legal advice for education issues by parents who are concerned that their child’s needs are not being met. So, could assistive technology transform special needs education? Let’s delve into detail…

What is Special Needs Education?

Special needs education is designed to offer extra assistance to students with physical and mental disabilities commonly known as ‘special needs’. Such disabilities can include a number of conditions, including: 

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyslexia
  • ADHD

Although these are some common conditions, the term refers to any person who, through a disability, has difficulty navigating day to day life including education. 

Special needs education involves the employing of specialist teachers and healthcare professionals in schools and institutions to enable those with special needs to receive equal opportunities in education.  

In many cases, education is delivered through SEN units in regular schools to allow special needs students to get the help that they need while learning alongside able bodied students.  

While, traditionally, special needs education has been hands-on, classroom-based learning, many schools and SEN units are looking to the future of special needs education in the form of assistive technology. 

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology is an umbrella term used to describe devices and systems which can be used to improve productivity or quality of life. Assistive technology is used in many ways, including for work and household purposes and can include devices such as voice assistants, smart watches and more. 

How Can Assistive Technology Transform SEN?

As we’ve mentioned, special needs is a broad term which covers a number of different physical and mental disabilities. As such, there are a few ways in which assistive technology may help with learning as well as offering a level of independence including:

1. The Power of Speech

Many special needs students, such as those with autism and Down’s Syndrome, are non-verbal, which can be a barrier to their education. Apps such as Prologquo2Go offer natural sounding text to speech services, with customisable vocabularies in order to enable non-verbal special needs students to communicate more effectively therefore aiding their learning. 

2. Apps for Dyslexia 

6.3 million people in the UK suffer from dyslexia and until relatively recently, a lack of awareness of the condition meant that sufferers were often left behind in terms of education.  

In 2022, we’re increasingly aware of the need to tackle this. Apps like Easy Dyslexia can help students with dyslexia by helping them to organise their thoughts when putting them down on paper. 

3. Voice Assistants for Organisation 

For many people with special needs, research and finding of information can be a constant challenge. But help is at hand in the form of everybody’s favourite voice assistant, Alexa.  

As well as helping to provide information to special needs students with respect to their education, they can also be used to help with everyday tasks such as timekeeping, organisation and more. 

4. Apps for Visually Impaired Students

For students who are blind or visually impaired, learning can be an uphill struggle and lots of people will struggle to keep up. Thankfully, screen readers provide a great solution for those who are unable to read the text on their computer or laptop screen.  

These clever devices convert the text on the screen into either voice or braille to allow easy access to information. Even better, there are some screen readers which can be accessed free of charge such as WebAnywhere.  

This kind of technology is particularly important in 2022 as more and more of our lives, including our education, is lived online. 

5. Voice Activation Technology

These days, we’re no stranger to voice activated technology but this can be particularly useful for those with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.  

Devices powered by voice activation can be used by students who are unable to physically use a keyboard and can help to make them feel included as well as allowing them to learn more effectively. 

6. Interactive Whiteboards

Gone are the days when learning would involve a dusty old blackboard as a teaching tool. Interactive whiteboards have become one of the latest trends in assisting learning for those with special needs and, these are being introduced into schools across the country.  

Interactive whiteboards allow text and images to be projected from a computer or laptop onto a central screen. While these are efficient for all kinds of learning, the ability to zoom in to make the content larger makes them really useful for those with visual impairments.  

These boards can also help greatly with engagement as students are able to ‘get involved’ simply by touching items on their own screens.  

Assistive Technology is helping us strive towards inclusivity…

As we strive toward an inclusive world, it’s imperative that those with physical or mental disabilities are offered the same opportunities as other students.  In the past, this has meant that schools needed to hire specialist personnel and make special arrangements for these students, something which would sometimes be deemed expensive and impractical. 

The advent of assistive technology, and its increasing sophistication, offers a set of tools for special needs students to allow them not just to learn, but to learn alongside their peers in a regular classroom.  

As these tools become more widely available, they also become more affordable, meaning that acquiring this technology should not place additional financial pressure on educational organisations, or on households. 

Stanley Gatero is a writer at Disrupt Magazine. He covers topics concerning technology, entrepreneurship, news, and sports. He is an avid traveler.

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