Assistive Technology support in education
People say that ‘ignorance is not an excuse’. Well, when it comes to a specialised topic, such as Assistive Technology, I think people can sometimes be excused and should not be vilified.
Let’s look into where support is on offer in the UK for advice on Assistive Technology. This is what I’ve found….
Where we currently are – or aren’t
Straight away, let’s ignore the case of the adults that are out of the education system, as there is no statutory support for them. Apart from Aidis, I can’t find any other national organisation that will support them with Assistive Technology.
Children and adults within the education system are supposed to be supported where, through their disability, they are at a disadvantage to learning compared with their non-disabled peers. This is an excellent idea and in places it works well. However, in many places it doesn’t. Why?
I think the answer is two-fold
1. There is no central advisory body or signposts to where advice and support can be sort.
Who do people turn to for advice? Who is there to say – ‘hey, there’s stuff out there that can help’. Let’s face it, if people aren’t aware that the technology exists, then they’re unlikely to go out looking for it.
2. There is a lack of resources within educational establishments.
What you often end up with is a teacher or general IT technician being given the role of looking into technology that can help disabled students. This is usually on top of what they have been employed to do.
Now, at the Aidis Trust, this is all we do all day long. We don’t teach, we don’t look after a network of computers, we just specialise in computer-related Assistive Technology and believe me, this is a full-time job and for more than just one person. How many teachers or IT technicians do you know, who have the capacity to fully research existing and new to the market Assistive Technology.
The assumption of parents and other staff members of the school’s knowledge of Assistive Technology can sometimes lead to staff not wishing to admit that there is a shortfall in knowledge. I know this to be often true through my job, over the years. I have come across schools that have had very little Assistive Technology (both mainstream and special needs) who sometimes have shown an initial reluctance to have Aidis come round and educate them to what is available. I feel that this can be down to:
1. The member of staff worrying about ‘losing face’ with fellow staff and/or parents if we helped out, as they feel they will not be seen as the experts; and
2. Not knowing the extent of technology available, leading to worries about adopting the technology. What ‘can of worms’ would they be opening? How much training would be involved? Who will provide the training? How much is it all going to cost?
Firstly, having people come in to the school to talk and demonstrate Assistive Technology isn’t an admission of failure, but a pro-active step to keep abreast of technology and help the students. Involving the parents will enable everyone to learn what’s out there at the same time, including the parents in their son or daughter’s education.
Secondly, knowing the extent of the technology will enable technology to assist the student, often enabling them to be more independent and therefore rely less on staff. We also find that technology already possessed in school is rarely fully utilised, either because no-one at the school has had enough time to learn the software or hardware.
Now, bring in Aidis’s free services – Free demonstrations and talks. Free training sessions. Yes, often down to funding restrictions, we need parents to be involved. However, this is a good thing, rather than a bad thing as I mentioned before. BECTA (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) was disbanded back in 2010 and haven’t been replaced, so where is the direction going to come from?
Tags: Assistive Technology
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