Empowering the world – one inspiration at a time

This week’s presentation by Heidi, Holly, Allison, Launel, and Benita focused on assistive technologies and their use and purpose in the classroom. After their wonderful presentation (bravo team!), they challenged us to think about our own experience with assistive technology and what we find could be potential strengths and limitations within these experiences.

Just like Tyson and Benita, looking back at my own education, I too do not remember using assistive technologies in the classroom. Now that I am ‘on the other side’ – the teacher – I look back and think that maybe I didn’t realize the existence of the assistive technology because I never personally had to use it, or maybe I didn’t realize the tool I was using at the time was considered an part of assistive technology. Even now, just like Nicole and Amy, I think I use more assistive technology in the classroom than I am aware of using on a daily basis.

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Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight cc

The first one that comes to mind – one that was addressed by Rochelle during our class and by Roxanne in her blog – is Google Read and Write. This is a great tool that can be added to Google chrome which allows for Google to read documents for the students in a variety of languages and accents, as well as write what students are saying. It can also be used to help students correct their own work; it can correct the spelling of certain words and help with grammar during the writing process. I used this tool last year in conjunction with Google Classroom for a variety of assignments and projects, and saw some success with those students who struggled with French reading and writing. It particularly benefited those students who struggle mainly with French spelling, because it would help correct their work as they were writing their rough drafts. Combined with BonPatron (a website that corrects French work for students by explaining what the mistakes are in the text and what needs to be changed for it to be correct), these two tools improved writing significantly in my classroom. I found, however, that the speech-to-text recognition of Google Read and Write in a French as a Second Language classroom was not easy to use. It would often not recognize the words that the students were saying – perhaps because it was their second language and every learner has a different accent, or perhaps because Googld Read and Write has limitations with this aspect of the program. Furthermore, I didn’t know how to fix the problems my students were facing because I had never taken any training for Google Read and Write. Just like Dave L. Edyburn suggests in his article Rethinking Assistive Technology, it is incredibly important for teachers and other educational personnel to receive training on the resources available to truly understand the assistive technology they can use in their classrooms to help their students succeed. Perhaps with this training, I could have better helped my students when they faced difficulties within the Google Read and Write program, and consequently, I would have been more confident to use it more often with these students. Without this training, I feel as though the assistive technology we have in the classroom cannot help the students as much as it potentially can, which is both discouraging and disheartening knowing what assistive technology can do for students who need it.

This is but one example of the assistive technology I have used in my classroom. Earlier this week, Krista shared a list of 15 Assistive Technology Tools and Resources for Students With Disabilities in our Google Plus community, many of which I would love to try in my classroom to help my students in need. Technology can help bridge the gap for students with disabilities, which is why it is incredibly essential for teachers to be aware of what exists and how they can use these tools in the classroom. I fortunately have had the opportunity to both work and volunteer at the Neil Squire Society, which offers wonderful programs that empower people with disabilities through the use of technology. The short video below shows a brief history of Neil Squire Society in Canada, as well as the many different tools they have used to help people with disabilities complete daily tasks that otherwise would not be possible.

My mom manages the Neil Squire Society Regina location and for years has been an advocate for the use of assistive technology in everyday life – and has gotten me involved in these discussions as well. In the past, I have helped participants in Neil Squire Society’s programs use a variety of assistive tools, such as the Dragon Naturally Speaking, Kurzweil, and ZoomText. What can be accomplished within this organization, with theirs programs, and with the assistive technology tools they offer is amazing. In the end, it is the result and the opportunities created that is the most inspiring. When you see a student – who before may not have had the ability to use a certain program or type their ideas up on a computer – that is now happy, empowered, and feeling as though he or she can accomplish what he or she has always wanted to do, it is one of the most amazing things to see in this world.

That, to me, is what assistive technology represents, and my experience in using these tools reinforces this view. Although there are advantages and disadvantages to all types of programs and tools, in the end, assistive technology is bridging a gap that exists in our society. Little by little, organizations like Neil Squire Society and classrooms like those of my peers are helping to bridge this gap as well by using the tools at their disposal to empower people with disabilities in ways they never thought possible. If anything in this world represents equity, I think it would be assistive technology.

Have you had similar experiences with assistive technology in and out of your classrooms? What is your favourite resource and tool to use with your students? Do the advantages outweigh the difficulties, in your opinion?

Your thoughts and comments are always well-appreciated below!

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2 Responses to Empowering the world – one inspiration at a time

  1. ashleypmurray says:

    I had never heard of the Neil Squire Society and had no idea that we had a location here in Regina. It sounds like an awesome program to help those with disabilities. By the sounds of it you have had really inspiring experiences from volunteering there. Thanks for sharing, I’m going to be looking into the program to learn more about it.

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  2. Hi Liz, Thanks, as always, for your informative post! I just checked out the BonPatron website; that will be excellent for the girls, once they’re writing full sentences at school. What a fantastic tool, in that, it explains the mistake, rather than just correcting it. And… despite my decade+ of volunteering with Special Olympics, I had never heard of the Neil Squire Society until I read about it in your post. That is amazing. My mom worked for many years as a nurse in “Developmental Classrooms” within Regina Public Schools. Unfortunately, at that time, there were no assistive technology tools. I remember visiting her classroom on occasion and seeing these interesting devices that she had created to offer support (physical, mental or emotional) to the severely mentally and physically challenged students with whom she worked. My mom would be absolutely amazed to see what AT tools are available today to assist people with disabilities. In a situation like this, progress is truly magical.

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