There are often stories in the newspapers today about the detrimental effects technology is having on our lives. From people wishing they were born in a different era to reports on how emails are stressing us all out, it seems everyone is queuing up to point out the bad things about modern inventions.
However, this trend ignores all the good things technology is doing for us. For example, assistive technology (AT) is helping people with disabilities to lead completely different lives than they might otherwise have managed.
AT is defined as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities". It is frequently used in schools - and here are some of the benefits it can offer youngsters in the classroom.
1. It gives them self-confidence
Learning disabilities like dyslexia can often result in a lack of self-confidence. Sufferers struggle on a daily basis with tasks their peers find easy and this may chip away at their enthusiasm. Eventually, it can result in a feeling of failure. However, being able to keep up with everything other people are doing allows them to break this vicious circle and feel more positive.
An array of AT exists to ensure youngsters don't fall behind, for example, text to speech software. Before using this in the classroom, a disabled child might have had to spend significantly longer than their peers reading a passage of text in order to answer questions on it. Thanks to AT, they can have it read out loud and get on with the real task at hand.
Sophisticated spell-checkers can also give youngsters confidence that they are handing in work they can be proud of - and that won't come back covered in red pen.
2. Students can better reach their potential
It is commonly assumed that children with disabilities are not as intelligent as their peers without them, but this is simply not true. In fact, they often have very high IQs, but are not able to demonstrate this because of the obstacles in their way.
For instance, a child who cannot speak may have been placed in a special, segregated classroom and had to spend significant amounts of time on speech therapy just so educators could understand them.
Thanks to AT, they could use a portable voice synthesiser to answer the teacher's questions, allowing them to join in right away and ensure they are being taught at a level that suits their abilities.
3. It can help them be more independent
Dyslexic children and those with limited mobility in their hands used to be easy to pinpoint in the classroom or examination room because they would have a note-taker assigned to them, who would write down everything they said so it would be legible to markers.
With speech recognition software or even LiveScribe pens though, this isn't necessary. They can work alone and build a sense of achievement and independence, yet teachers and invigilators will still be able to mark their work just as they would anyone else's.
4. It makes the curriculum available to all
It's easy to take for granted being able to make use of resources linked to the curriculum, but this is not a reality for many children with disabilities. It isn't just dyslexia and learning difficulties either - blind youngsters may struggle to see text in books and on white boards, for example.
But AT gives teachers the ability to convert material so it is accessible to virtually everyone. There is software that enlarges portions of text, or programs that will read it out for the visually impaired to enjoy.
Alternatively, amplification devices can sit unobtrusively in children's ears and filter out background noise while making their teacher's voice louder.
5. AT can boost engagement among users
When children think they 'can't do' a subject like maths or English, they can often get disheartened and not want to participate in it. However, with greater confidence in their abilities, they won't be put off and will even join in with enthusiasm, boosting their performance even further.
AT makes it easier to drum up this enthusiasm because it can impart knowledge through the games that children already love to play. Software like Nessy and Numbershark challenges little ones to complete tasks for rewards, including puzzles that feature phonics, multiplication and fractions that are all on the curriculum. They will be learning without even realising.
These are just a few of the advantages that AT can offer - if you have examples of more after using these types of products, we'd love to hear about them!