How does Assistive Technology benefit students with disabilities?

Universities and colleges are always looking to help students with disabilities. In this article we explore how assistive technology benefits students and support staff alike.

Clock 3 min read Calendar Published: 25 Jan 2019
Author Jacob Goodwin
How does Assistive Technology benefit students with disabilities?

Learning professionals are always on the look out for ways to elevate their craft and enhance the education experience. But it's not often that developments can benefits students with disabilities, institutions and support staff alike.

A new normal

Having instantaneous mobile access to the internet means the majority of us are carrying a limitless encyclopaedia wherever we go. Within a few seconds, if we needed to know that the capital of Papua New Guinea is Port Moresby, we’d have that information; no reference book needed.

If someone were to promise us this capability 20 years ago, we’d bite their hand off to have it. Now, it’s just another tool we use when a question comes up we need an answer to.

Given that our relationship with technology is getting closer in almost every walk of life, it’s important to think about how we can utilize such advancements to help students learn.

Why keep classrooms analogue when the rest of the world is increasingly digital?

This is especially important when we consider how to make our classrooms more accessible.

Assistive technology (AT) can help foster independence, confidence and attainment for students with disabilities. Yet institutions can be susceptible to stasis when it comes to adopting new tools.

When we consider how accommodations are intended to create a level playing field for all students, we have to ask whether the evolution of the available toolkit is matching the speed of technological change and advancement.

Evolving accommodations

Consider peer note taking. For a long time, this has been the default note taking accommodation that Disability Services departments reach for.

On the face of it, this seems like a perfectly reasonable solution for all – there are no fundamental alterations to teaching, and the student can focus on listening to the lecture material.

But let’s think about the real implications of this system.

With peer note taking, what we’re asking students to do is to be present at lectures whilst delegating the task that helps aid recall of lecture material to somebody else.

We do this for students dealing with any kind of condition which affects note taking ability – whether it’s ASD, dyslexia, a physical impairment or learning difficulty requiring classroom accommodation.

Then we hope that the notes they will receive will be adequate and helpful for review. Hope being the crux of the matter.

Often, there are too many variables here for peer note taking to be the best solution for students – especially when used as a one-size-fits-all approach to accommodating disability.

There’s no guarantee that notes will be of sufficient quality, that they’ll be received on time, or that the information recorded will match the student’s experience of the lecture. There’s also the additional problems of dependency and disengagement that this accommodation provokes.

If a peer notetaker is responsible for recording impressions, quotes and important points from a lecture, it’s natural to suppose that many students will lean on this resource rather than focus on listening and absorbing the information. This presents a serious challenge to fostering positive learning outcomes.

Active Listening

The secret to a great set of classroom notes is ‘information assimilation’, or how readily the material presented is absorbed by the listener. This can be hard to achieve if a student is frantically attempting to write everything down.

And it’s just as hard when the student is disengaged or depending on someone else to write their notes for them.

Institutions should be looking at ways to use accommodations that encourage active listening within lectures. And it’s hard to think of a better way to do this than by utilizing technology specifically designed for the purpose.

By demonstrating how these tools can increase student engagement, you could help to offset common faculty concerns about the misuse of technology in the classroom.

How does assistive technology benefit students with disabilities?

So how does the alternative enhance student outcomes? Let's take a look at a variety of contexts and circumstances:

ASD: problems autistic students encounter, such as sensory overload or cognitive rigidity, can be offset by scaffolding information through Assistive Tech. Using software that allows students to break the note taking process down step-by-step can reduce stress and help build life-long skills.

Dyslexia: two of the primary symptoms of dyslexia are problems with word recognition and organization. Smart pens, for example, can help students with this through syncing notes with a chosen device, with the additional option of converting hand-written material into text.

ADHD: AT that captures audio in an interactive way could help mitigate the effect of distractions in the classroom. By having a recording to review and annotate afterwards, students have reassurance that a loss in concentration doesn’t mean a loss in content.

Anxiety/Depression/PTSD: for students suffering from mental illnesses like anxiety, depression or PTSD, classroom engagement can be a significant issue. Utilising AT can help reduce stress and build academic confidence, reducing dependence on peer note takers.

Physical Disabilities: physical impairments create practical impediments, one of which could be writing. Software that enables student input without the need for writing can improve engagement and reduce the risk of alienation.

Fostering independence learning

In recent years, a swell of research has shown that taking and reviewing one’s own notes in the classroom is associated with positive learning outcomes.

Yet time and again, students report that written notes alone weren't useful to study from. This lack of confidence in the primary substance of lectures should be alarming for educators and support staff alike.

But with assistive technology, you could help students come out of a lecture with comprehensive notes, a greater level of independence and more confidence in what they produce.

Assistive technology can open the door for all students when it comes to taking charge of their own notes, building note taking skills from the ground up.

And by equipping students with the skills they need to process information properly, an improvement in student attainment is the likely, natural consequence.

Explore how Glean can benefit your students
Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Glean is the online note taking tool that makes compliance simple, reduces cost and admin burden, and improves student outcomes.
Learn More