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Disability and University: getting the right technology

floating pen(a zero gravity pen, or a pencil?)

The BBC recently published an article about technology in schools, and whether our country’s kids are being bombarded with it, when it may not even be useful to them! With this in mind, I thought I’d write a blog on disabled people’s technology at University, both when the technology given is helpful – and when it really isn’t!

What Does The Article Say?

The BBC article is explaining that whilst children having tablets and similar equipment may seem like a great idea in principle, in practice it often isn’t a great one. Should Schools Gorge on Gadgets? examines this idea. It gives the example of interactive whiteboards, saying that ‘plenty of teachers question their usefulness, and I have seen them employed in one school recently as surfaces on which to stick paper notices. Not exactly hi-tech…’

When Is Technology Good?

The idea expressed in the article here is that technology is prescribed to, or recommended for people, when they do not really need it or make use of it. Whilst interactive whiteboards might not be useful for the majority of children, however, for some they could prove to be a game-changer in the way in which they learn. For example, for visually impaired children, they make learning a lot easier. I found interactive whiteboards easier to read sometimes because the text on them was often typed as opposed to being handwritten and because of my visual impairment I struggle to read other people’s handwriting. So interactive whiteboards proved to be really helpful for me, when to other children and possibly teachers, they could well have seemed annoying! In these instances, technology can be a life-saver and revolutionise people’s learning environment, and made it easier for teachers and other children or students!

Disabled Students’ Allowance has also been a life saver for me with my University studies. It has provided a study skills worker who helps me to use computer technology, read books and to get the most out of my University education. They also provided an electronic magnifier which was brilliant as it allowed me to access texts more easily in class. However, there are just as many times when technology is less useful, as I’ve explained below.

When Technology Is Less Useful!

Assistive Technology can be prescribed to people who do not need it, or do not make use of it too. So in the same way that sometimes schools may not realise the benefits of equipment for a small group of children who have disabilities, there are times when expensive equipment is recommended for disabled people but they don’t find it useful! For example, when a friend was at University, he was given a bulky CCTV machine for enlarging text (bought through Disabled Students’ Allowance) – which he didn’t need or make use of, but kept because of how DSA works and that the equipment belongs to the student.

I had a similar experience but it was for a different reason – I was given a Dictaphone for recording lectures, but when I got to University I actually found it more convenient to have a note taker in class with me to describe things as well as to write up my notes for me, whilst using the Dictaphone occasionally as backup. I still have it and have used it, but only occasionally because I found it better to have a human taking my notes for me!

Disabled Students’ Allowance gives each student a set amount of money which they or their University can spend on equipment (up to £5,212 in 2015/16) but in my experience, much of this is spent before you have even had a lecture. I think the issue here is that all too often, technology is recommended and bought without a student having time to trial the equipment and alternatives to find out what really works and what doens’t. This leads to people being prescribed equipment that may not be useful to them or suited to their needs. The other point to make here is that during assessments, students often think that the advisors know best – but the student knows themselves better than anyone, but they often don’t want to say ‘no’ or speak up if something doesn’t sound like it is going to work.

It’s difficult to imagine University life until you get there – meaning that, as above, something that might seem like a good idea in principle, in practice is completely wrong! Often it’s the small solutions that cost less money that are the most effective – a note taker as opposed to a high tech recorder for example – but all too often people don’t seem to see it.

Where Now?

I think that each disabled student should have the option to trial University before their degree starts (going to lectures, staying in Halls, accessing library resources, working out how to get around). Not only will this highlight access issues, but also work out what technology works, whether note-takers and readers are needed and any other difficulties that hadn’t been expected.

I’d love to hear your experiences with technology and when it has or hasn’t been useful

Links http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30930764



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