It’s Not a Crutch: It’s UDL.

17 02 2017

The past couple of weeks I have encountered some interesting thoughts regarding the use of technology for helping students access learning. I’ve especially heard some thoughts regarding the use of text-to-speech, speech-to-text,  and word prediction for students to better access learning on grade level.

Here’s what I’ve encountered:

  • A belief that allowing a child to access Accessible Instructional Materials is a crutch.
  • A question of why a child would even access tools such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, or word prediction because that individual felt it was a “crutch”, making the child forever dependent on the tools, therefore diminishing the learning process.
  • A belief that by introducing technology as a support that educators would be “done away with” and technology would replace “good instruction”.

These encounters have made me think, take some deep breaths, send these people some love and understanding, It’s also strengthened my resolve to spread the word about how technology can be leveraged to support learning, make learning fun, and give students support when (and if) they need it.

Perhaps these statements are FEAR based. Fear that a child would be labeled. Fear that we are enabling our children. Fear that technology will replace the art and science of teaching. Perhaps it’s more of a lack of understanding or awareness on how technology can eliminate barriers to learning.

The role I play is a truly unique one. I spend time researching tools and methods to help students with special needs access learning. I use Assistive Technology to help with this practice. I have seen students flourish using technology as a TOOL to reduce or eliminate BARRIERS TO LEARNING. Learning becomes FUN for students. Or at least, not as hard.

I also see students that do not have special needs that could benefit from these tools before it’s too late. Before they are referred. Or labeled.

In the past 7 years of this work, a common theme emerges:

How can we provide strategies and supports as a forethought, and not as an afterthought?

The answer is UDL. Check out the video below:

Think about your Smartphone. If you access voice typing to compose an email or text message, you are accessing a tool that’s originally intended for a student with a disability, but you have access to it. Is it a crutch?

Or, do you use closed captioning when you watch TV in bed so that you don’t disturb your significant other who is sleeping next to you, you are also accessing a tool that’s originally intended for a student with a disability. Will you make the nightly newscaster obsolete by accessing it? Hardly.

Educators have a tough job. One where they are charged with ensuring that children are learning, growing, thriving, and flourishing. They work hard to ensure that this happens. But, what if we took a moment and looked at how we can support all learners, as well as support all teachers, of making sure that the necessary strategies and supports were put in place first, and not afterward? How would that look?  Would we be empowering our students and teachers? Why wouldn’t we want to give strategies and supports first and not later on when a student or teacher is frustrated, overwhelmed, or it’s too late?

In short, it’s not a crutch, it’s UDL.

If you would like to learn more about UDL:

http://www.cast.org

http://www.udlcenter.org

 





How to use Prediction, Text-To-Speech, and Dictation Features of Read and Write for Google Chrome

27 01 2017

Read and Write for Google Chrome is our District Solution to assist students of ALL abilities with reading, writing, and researching. This is a first in a series of tutorials that will help students and staff access and use the Word Prediction, Text-To-Speech, and Dictation features of Read and Write for Google Chrome. 

Having a student access these tools are intended to support gaps and weaknesses in skill sets, while providing access to grade level content. Research is emerging that shows placing these strategies aids in improving learning outcomes for students, including listening comprehension, grammar, syntax, and written output. It is exciting to see a student that is shown a tool that can aid in reducing or eliminating a barrier. It literally opens a whole new world to them. If you’re not sure, look at these pictures of students that were shown word prediction, text-to-speech, and dictation on their Chromebooks.

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Learning should be fun and providing strategies and supports first will only help to improve the quality of the learning experience for students. Read and Write for Google Chrome is available to every student as needed to access grade level content. I hope this tutorial is helpful!

 

 





A Letter to Content, App, and Software Developers

5 11 2012

Dear App and Software Developers:

I’ll keep it brief. Please make your products accessible to ALL.

It would be great to be able to use products that we currently have with assistive technologies such as VoiceOver. It would be great for a student to access an app using an external or bluetooth device. While I realize this takes some extra coding and work in the API that goes beyond my level of expertise,  I thought it was  just common sense to Universally Design a product.

Like cutouts in a sidewalk, and modern buildings, Universal Design is everywhere. The beauty of Apple products is that there is a seamless integration of their accessibility options with their devices. However, when an app or piece of software is developed and does not take these factors into consideration, it’s the child with accessibility needs that is at a further disadvantage. Which, personally, is not okay.

So please, please please create content, apps, and software that is Universally Designed for all.

Thank you.