Assistive Technologies Available To Teachers
by Danya Croft, Carla Young, and Nathalie McCarty
Assistive Technologies for Vision and Hearing Impaired Children stresses the importance of allowing students the ability to interact with their environment. In order to do that, it suggests the use of technologies such as: Text-to-Speech devices, Speech-to-Text devices, talking calculators, iPads, sensory aids, and screen magnifiers.
The Mountbatten Braille Writer is a useful device that allows for audio and tactile feedback by sending and receiving files to and from a computer. A person with visual impairments can input information that needs to be converted to Braille for later reading. It has an audible playback feature and can translate writings into other languages so that teachers/students can read what was written. It allows for full classroom participation from all persons involved.
In Teaching Math to the Blind, Professor Art Karshmer tells of a device that the University of San Francisco has been working on to aid persons with visual impairments. It allows them the ability to see in their mind's eye the way a math problem should be set up in order to properly solve it. He explains that Braille is too linear to show the 2 to 3 dimensions associated with mathematics; it is the reason people with blindness find it difficult to go into the fields of mathematics, engineering, technology, and computer science. The device consists of a touchpad and wooden blocks with Braille writing on the top and a bar code on the bottom. When the wooden block is placed on the touchpad, it describes to the listener what block was inserted and where it was placed so that the problem can be properly arranged and solved. It allows for persons with visual impairments the freedom to work on math problems and perceive that information better than by linear Braille alone. Those with visual impairments can especially attest to the statement, "Mathematics: The Mother of Science & The Bane of The Blind."
The videos iPad Usage For the Blind and Teaching Mom What Her Deaf/Blind Child Is Learning On the iPad demonstrate the freedom that iPad usage can give people with visual impairments. VoiceOver is an Apple app that reads what is being presented on the screen of an Apple device such as the iPad. It can read homepages, books, and even describe images shown. VoiceOver allows the ease of moving your finger across the screen to read the names of the apps so that you know where the app is that you want to use. Kindle and other eReaders do not offer an app that can compare to this.
Some helpful blogs to help in classroom technologies can be found in 50 Must-See Blogs For Special Education. It can help teachers find ways to allow equal opportunity for everyone in their classrooms. For example, the blog Assistive Technology shares information regarding technologies such as IPEVO Interactive Whiteboard System, MimioTeach Interactive Whiteboard, and Co:Writer App for IOS. These technologies help children with impairments thrive in the classroom because it allows them a more interactive approach that is catered to their personal needs. Another blog, Teacher Sol, is from an Exceptional Needs Specialist who shares updates on what is going on in her classroom. Maria Angala fights a near constant battle so that she may have a small part in improving special education. She shares ideas that teachers could try in hopes of creating an environment where everyone can learn.
Algebra Touch is an app used on iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad that can be helpful in the secondary mathematics classroom and costs only $2.99. This app can be used by students with visual or hearing impairments as well as students with learning disabilities. It allows students the ability to rearrange numbers by dragging, simplification by tapping, and elimination of terms by drawing lines. Students can switch between lessons and get additional practice through randomly-generated practice problems. They are able to create their own set of problems to work in the equation editor, and have them appear in other devices via iCloud.
iLab Central is a website that offers virtual mathematics and science labs that can be performed by students in the classroom. It can be used Mac computers as well as iPads and costs nothing. Coupled with VoiceOver, students with visual or hearing impairments can benefit from information learned while getting the hands-on experience of lab work without the added cost of materials and supplies. An example of a Physics lab is the Dynamic Signal Analyzer; this lab allows students the ability to perform frequency measurements on electric currents and control current systems. Investigating the Safety of Nuclear Energy Using Real Radioactivity Data is a Chemistry lab that, "Investigates nuclear energy, storage of nuclear waste, and the controversy surrounding using nuclear power as a source of energy for our country." Radiation and Cancer: Cure or Cause? is a Biology lab that teaches students about radiation and how it can be used as a therapy for cancer, and also a cause for cancer.
iSpeech is an app offered by Apple that turns text into audible speech. It can be used on iPads, iPods, iPhones, and Mac computers and is absolutely free of charge. The purpose of iSpeech is to help students or teachers who may have a speech impediment or impairment. The speech quality is compared to that of a live person. There are a variety of voices that can deliver speech in many different languages and it converts quickly.
One might say that a music teacher is limited when it comes to assistive technology, but that is actually not true. One new invention that is used is the Soundbeam. What is the Soundbeam? Well, Soundbeam can be compared to a metronome in the way that it gives off sound. It can be used for mainstream students as well as students with limitations such as autism. The cost of the Soundbeam ranges from $3,500 - $5,400. This device is a ultrasonic beam that senses movement and responds through a MIDI sound effect. Its motion sense ranges from a eyebrow movement to a wheelchair moving across a room allowing students to not only be present in the room but interactive. The true beauty of the Soundbeam is that the Obama economic stimulus funds a sizeable amount for training and use of the device.