Technology and SEN
Children with additional needs do not have the same access to technology as their peers. Specialist equipment is very expensive. The school may have excellent provision, is this the same at home? In their residential provision? Will the same assistive technology or better be available to them in their future placements? I hope the answer is yes. The nature of innovation within the technology industry means this technology becomes more affordable every day. In my experience, there are many technologies that with a bit of thought can be easily adapted to meet a need within any provision.
Resources and Adaptations
Our school has a range of resources for the students to use. These vary in their levels of accessibility and in the level of adaptation needed to be used by all. Through experimentation and rigorous field testing the tech that is not suitable quickly reveals itself. That is why the procurement process and getting a hands-on demo is so important (although not a guarantee).
Students will always find a function or use for technology you haven’t, they are often not wary of technology or afraid to break it. Any of us who grew up with windows 98 crashing the whole time, and corrupt disc drives…., can be a little cautious in how far we are willing to push the boundaries of technology.
Improving The Accessibility of Technology
There are many simple ways to improve our technology students for all our students but the simplest way to ensure continued access is investing in some protection. A good case will pay for itself over and over. Again here a one size fits all is not practical.
Some students need big chunky handles. some need bright colours to identify the device. Visual cues may need to be attached to each device. It is sometimes useful to have the screen covered when device use is not appropriate. The box below is a prototype to keep the iPad secure for an autistic student who loved using it but was still working on her motor skills and could get overstimulated by the session.
There are so many ways that we can support our students to try new things. If a student cannot type using a standard keyboard that should no longer be a barrier to independently accessing the sites or apps they want to use. We can easily and quickly print QR codes to be scanned that will open the site they like or need to use for the lesson. If the student is able to verbalise their requests voice search is now so simple and embedded into most search engines the only thing you need to do is speak.
Linking Tangible Activities and Apps
There is an increasing trend towards linking technology with tangible objects, apps with game pieces etc that interact. Using apps to control toy cars or drones,
My current favourite the OZOBOT. To adapt this so all students can use it we need to think about the resources we can use in conjunction with the technology. Ozobot relies on drawn lines to provide information & codes to programme movements. when using the ozobot in class I can adapt the lesson by ensuring those students who find drawing difficult have printed lines to construct routes with.
Plickers is an assessment tool that you can use to allow students to answer questions and have their answers logged on the computer. They can see if they got the answer right or not visually. Off the shelf the concept is tricky to grasp with the code needing to be rotated to select the right side. I adapted this a number of ways according to the student’s need. Some had individual cards to hold up that you could attach the relevant image onto. This made the answer more concrete as they could select the image and I could scan the code.
Recommended Assistive technology
Here are some suggestions for technology that can help children with special educational needs (SEN):
- Text-to-speech software can read text aloud for children who struggle with reading. Examples include NaturalReader, Read&Write, and Voice Dream Reader.
- Speech-to-text software can transcribe speech into text. This helps children who struggle with writing and spelling to get their ideas down. Examples include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Windows Speech Recognition.
- Literacy software like ClaroRead and TextHelp provide tools like text prediction, picture dictionaries, and highlighted syllables to aid reading and writing.
- Apps like Proloquo2Go and TouchChat provide text/symbol-based communication for nonverbal children or those with speech difficulties.
- Audiobooks allow children with reading disabilities or visual impairments to listen to book content at their level. Services like Bookshare, Learning Ally, and Audible provide accessible audiobooks.
- Orthographic keyboards have letters in alphabetical order to help children with writing challenges. Alternatives like on-screen keyboards are also available.
- Hearing aids, FM systems, and sound amplification devices help students with hearing impairment access spoken instruction.
- Screen readers like JAWS and NVDA allow blind students to navigate computers and access content through audio interfaces.
- Switches, eye gaze technology, and adapted mice/keyboards support students with physical disabilities (PMLD) in accessing devices and communication systems.
The key is finding the right technologies to match each child’s unique needs and challenges. With the proper assistive tools, children with SEN can better access curriculum content and demonstrate their capabilities.