Assistive Technology = Expanded Access and Empowerment

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I work at an academic library and, as suggested by Janet Hopkins in her 2004 Teacher Librarian article that included “10 ideas for addressing library accessibility issues,” I tried to identify barriers to learning in my own library (#3).  To address assistive technology (AT) we have ADA compliant desks in each classroom and for study spaces throughout the library.  We also provide an “adaptive technology” study room that has numerous assistive technologies for the visually impaired including JAWS 7.0, ZOOMText 9.0, Kurzweil 3000, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, among others (all of which I should become more familiar with the use of #6).  I spoke with our information desk (#2) which manages access to all study rooms, and the adaptive tech room is being used, but we get very few questions/interactions beyond checking out the key-card.  Therefore, we know little about the disabilities our students have who frequent the library and whether there are any barriers we need to address/needs being missed that could be fixed with additional AT.  This is something we could work on with a survey or focus group (#5).  The Disabilities Office for the University is in our building so it is possible that close proximity means students are going directly there when a need arises, as they also provide tech/devices and other supports.  I will speak to this office to learn more about the school’s population with disabilities and their challenges (#1).

 

I work with a lot of students one-on-one and over the years there has only been one occasion when a student’s disability came into play.  She had a visual disability, needed research assistance on our online databases, and could not see my computer screen.  Thankfully the technology in the adaptive study room was available.  I often get requests for assistance finding videos/films with close captioning to be used in classes in my academic areas when a student with a hearing impairment is in the class.  In these cases it is actually the Disability Office contacting me.  I check our own collections then turn to interlibrary loan to see if we can get a copy from another library if we do not have one with CC.  In some cases Media Services may need to help with a solution.  I get no information regarding students that attend library instruction sessions; if I had that info I may be able to improve on a session.  Since this will not change I can spend some professional development time (#4) looking at the tips provided on Universal Design like this check-list provided by such sources as Project ENABLE which we learned about this week.  CAST makes a great case for Universal Design saying if you “design for those in the margins… it works for everyone.”  They have a number of useful items for professional development including their UDL Studio site (pointed out by Jones 2015) for creating educational materials and I even found they have a higher education site UDLONCAMPUS.  The QIAT Resource Bank for guiding AT services looks like an excellent resource for furthering my knowledge on AT.  This week’s discovery process led me to this University of Texas Libraries blog post on an article looking specifically at UDL in (academic) library instruction, so this is very applicable to my position and has tips I can use in lesson planning next semester.  For example, making video tutorials and making sure they have captioning is one way I can improve and expand accessibility.  UDL will help me address accessibility issues for students with disabilities while potentially benefitting all students in the long-run.  Publicizing (#10) any efforts we make towards better accessibility can certainly be done better through posters, newspaper ads, campus tv and email announcements, social media posts, and workshops.

I like Hopkins (2006) idea of Assistive technology that can travel with students after check out at the library and it would be great if the library looked to add this service.  Harris (2011) suggests making sure your website is compliant with accessibility standards.  I am on the University-wide campus committee for the school’s website re-design and try to advocate for the library’s page.

To get another take on assistive technology in K-12.  I interviewed an Instructional Technology specialist at the elementary level and a Special Education administrator who works with mostly secondary students.  They work for different public school districts in Massachusetts.  I asked the following questions:  Is there any assistive technology (strategy, device/tech) that you’ve seen work particularly well for students with disabilities?  Is there a most common disability or barrier you see?  Do you run into a lot of barriers in regards to getting the AT they need?

IT Specialist interview:

Assistive technology in this district is mostly handled by the Special Education Department.  Some examples of common AT include: non-verbal students may have a communication device they can use for talking/understanding lessons with the help of their aides; and students with hearing issues may bring a special mic to specialist classes for teachers to wear to be heard in their listening device.  This year they have a new student who is a refugee from Syria, who has significant injuries to his limbs – the result of a bomb attack.  (He is one of the most positive students in the school). Coming in they had very little information on what he could or couldn’t do. They are trying out different things for him – lots of speech to text, special styluses (which work with hand prostheses and an iPad), and they’re researching a better keyboard for him.  OT also helps out on this front.  The efforts mentioned above are the work of a group of teachers who are trying to get him AT that will work for him – not necessarily the results of an AT consult.  The abundance of helpful apps used for special education students stands out for this educator as well.  The educator mentioned text to speech is easily accessible via Google Docs and works for a lot of students with varying disabilities.  In regards to barriers, there can be a disconnect between the special education and tech departments, making it unclear who is/should be in charge of obtaining and/or paying for assistive tech.

Special Education professional interview:

This district has an Assistive Technology Specialist and Easter Seals may also be involved at assessments.  As a special education professional this educator sees iPad, speech to text and Bookshare as tools that come up a lot.  AT like these serve a variety of disabilities including: autism, vision impairment, reading disabilities, neurological and other health-related disabilities.  The educator stressed that there are so many AT uses for the iPad it is good for global disabilities for all levels of schooling.  Students in this district’s special education program have iPads according to their IEP for many different reasons.  For example, for the non-verbal iPads can be great for communication.  Of the disabilities mentioned above the most common are reading disabilities and autism.

Guide to terms:

Bookshare – Accessible ebooks for people with visual, physical, and learning disabilities. Free for qualified U.S. students. https://www.bookshare.org/cms/

Dragon Naturally Speaking – speech recognition software with fast, accurate dictation and transcription, and advanced customization.  http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm

Google Docs – text to speech accessibility tool offered in Google’s online word processor.  https://support.google.com/docs/answer/4492226?hl=en

JAWS 7.0 – Job Access With Speech is a screen reader, developed for computer users whose vision loss prevents them from seeing screen content or navigating with a mouse. JAWS provides speech and Braille output for the most popular computer applications on your PC.  http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/Blindness/JAWS

Kurzweil 3000 – Educational software designed to provide literacy support.  Built-in features for reading, writing and study skills helps students to become independent learners, active participants and to keep up with peers and achieve their full academic potential. https://www.kurzweiledu.com/products/k3000-win.html

ZOOMText 9.0 – is a magnifying and reading software for the vision impaired, reads aloud and allows you to multi-task as well http://www.zoomtext.com/products/

Cited sources:

Christopher Harris. “Are you Accessible?”  School Library Journal, February, 2011.

Janet Hopkins, “School Library Accessibility: The Role of Assistive Technology.” Teacher Librarian, 31:3, February, 2004

Victoria Jones. “Tools of the Trade: An Innovative Organization Provides Free Tools and Resources to Make Learning Accessible to All Students.” Usable Knowledge, April 22, 2015

 

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