An individual using sign language during an online lesson
BY: Zoë Meiring
In a constantly evolving world, the pursuit of inclusivity remains at the forefront of our collective efforts. Just recently on 3 December, we commemorated International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this day and beyond, it is essential to recognise the efforts made towards building a more inclusive society. One pivotal aspect of this progress lies in the education realm, where Assistive Technology has emerged as a transformative force. Studies consistently highlight its benefits on academic success, social engagement, and the overall welfare of students with special educational needs and disabilities.
Yet, a stark reality persists – in many countries, these assistive technologies remain out of reach, both economically and logistically. Teachers, too, face a hurdle as they often lack specialised training to effectively integrate these technologies into the learning environment. Amidst these challenges, a promising shift is underway. The landscape of education is witnessing a remarkable transformation, with technology platforms and devices increasingly incorporating accessibility features.
In this digital age, Educational Technology (EdTech) solutions are becoming powerful allies in the pursuit of inclusivity, creating opportunities for a more equitable educational experience for all students. Let’s explore how EdTech can reshape the educational narrative to foster a future where learning knows no barriers.
One of the greatest strengths of EdTech lies in its ability to offer personalised and adaptive learning experiences. For persons with disabilities, this means customised approaches sourced from the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to accommodate diverse learning styles and preferences. This framework makes sure that learning encounters are available and encouraging for every student, irrespective of whether they have learning disabilities. Whether it's through voice or speech recognition, closed captions, or screen reader compatibility, many EdTech solutions ensure that educational content is accessible to all individuals with disabilities. Customised learning platforms also provide teachers with tailored learning insights from student data to more effectively support their needs.
EdTech and tech-enabled education catalyses redefining assistive technologies, making them more sophisticated and readily available. For instance, screen readers facilitate students with visual impairments by converting written text on computers into spoken words. Speech-to-text platforms offer real-time transcription of spoken words to text on screens, aiding students with diverse disabilities in conveying learned information. Interactive storybooks contribute to the development of early-grade literacy and numeracy skills. Through touch-enabled interactions, these storybooks generate audio and/or visual descriptions of the content.
Additionally, incorporating interactive games exposes students to mathematical and other conceptual frameworks. These types of interactive tools prove particularly advantageous for students with attention deficit disorder. Advanced assistive technologies integrated into educational software unlock new avenues for persons with special learning needs, providing them with the support needed to thrive in educational environments.
EdTech doesn't only benefit students; it creates new opportunities for professional development for teachers and specialised support staff. Educators can access particular training modules on inclusive education and assistive technologies, equipping them with the skill sets to effectively cater to diverse educational needs using EdTech solutions. This generates a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students.
As we observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and continue building an inclusive society for all, let us acknowledge the transformative potential of EdTech in fostering inclusivity in education. By embracing technology, we not only break down learning barriers but also cultivate a society that respects and values the unique contributions of every individual, regardless of their abilities. EdTech tools serve as the driving force guiding us towards a future where quality education is truly accessible to all. As a result, we not only encourage the use of EdTech more widely where appropriate and where schools can, but we also encourage more EdTech solutions to ensure that they are built with the needs of all in mind.