Many students benefit from ensuring all content is fully accessible. Some of those students may have a disability and the way lessons are designed can act as a barrier to accessing content and to meaningful inclusion.
British Columbia Framework for Accessibility Legislation reports that there are more than 926,100 British Columbians over the age of 15 with some form of disability. This represents 24.7% of the population. According to the BCTF, 10% (or higher) of students in every single BC classroom will have special needs (BCTF, 2019) and, for many, this means they access content in a specific way. Many other learners will have needs as well.
Inclusion means the full education of all students within their neighborhood school where classrooms are seen as communities of learners in which people with diverse backgrounds and abilities work together. To achieve inclusion, schools often use integration which sees students with special needs included in educational settings with their peers who do not have special needs. Such students are provided with the necessary accommodations and adaptations which often use assistive technologies. Educational programming uses Differentiated Instruction (DI) a flexible approach to teaching in which a teacher plans and carries out varied approaches to address content, learning processes, learning style, practical procedures, presentation strategies, and assessment tools (BC Ministry of Education). Assistive technology is one way that can be incorporated into this differentiation of instruction.
Assistive Technologies (AT)
Specialized hardware and software are often a part of how students access classroom material that is both on and offline. Assistive technologies are defined by the WHO as: technologies that “maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence to facilitate participation and to enhance overall well-being” (Word Health Organization, 2020).
This is not restricted to online accessibility. Depending on need, students in your class will use technology in your face-to-face class to access their education. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework of instructional approaches that recognizes and accommodates varied learning styles and is recommended by BC’s Ministry of Education. Considering UDL and how your students will access their content during your lesson planning is a great way to avoid reworking later. Understanding what they are using is important as you will need to utilize features and troubleshoot. Connecting with your Special Education staff right away will help your planning and allow you to build this into your practice from the start. Strategies for assistive technology integration may come from your district IT team too.
You will see many devices and programs in your classroom. Here are some of the most common types:
“There’s an app for that” is an old tagline for Apple, and within assistive technology this is almost true. With thousands of apps, the iPad is in every school. Over a decade in schools now, iPads are extremely common with some schools having hundreds either in carts, within classrooms or assigned to students. Students may have clear expectations within an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or they may not have an IEP at all. Primarily, applications are used as part of the accommodation, but cameras, word processing, and recording functions are used as well.
Some apps are specially designed for specific disabilities and other apps are just apps used in specialized programming. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is quickly becoming part of students plans for many students and iPads are often used. iPads can run a district image and be controlled centrally and need permissions to install or change anything or older iPads are essentially wide open behind a password. Asking early how your iPad is managed will help you integrate it into your programming.
- Mathtalk voicing commands
- Clicker Connect sentence work with pictures
- Co:Writer grammar, vocabulary, word prediction, translation, speech recognition
- PhET Interactive Simulations free interactive math and science simulations
- GoTalk Now sounds and images in communication
- Ghotit – writing, grammar and predictions
- LAMP Words for Life communication
- Boardmaker full program
- Pictello social stories
- Predictable Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) text-to-speech
- ProLoquo2Go symbol-based AAC
- TouchChat with Wordpower navigate through page sets and speak messages
These are powerful tools when used effectively can really impact student learning and communication
Most schools upgraded to Windows 10. Finally, Microsoft has made many assistive features native within its platform. From sticky keys to voice to text, Windows 10 has embedded elements that benefit many users including those with disabilities. Specifically Vision, Hearing, Neurodiversity, Learning, Mobility, Mental health are all areas Microsoft has now labeled with specific resources. Classics like MS Word, Powerpoint and Office 365 were designed from the outset with accessibility in mind. Consequently access is much better, plus integration with other screen readers (JAWS and ZOOMTEXT by Freedom Scientific) or peripheral devices also is much smoother. Dictate allows speech-to-text in Office programs.
Very popular text to speech program that reads aloud content. Highly customizable, allows building dictionaries and notes. Used in exam settings and is written into many IEPs. Very robust full program that offers:
- Customizable reading rate and presentation and MP3 files and add to iTunes Playlist
- Improve readability with OpenDyslexic font and Text magnification
- Read text in Word, PDF, EPUB, RTF, Daisy, and on the Web, OCR-highest accuracy in reading aloud
- Read locked text in PDFs and images, exactly as they appear
- Read aloud basic math with Talking calculator
- Change background and text colour
- One-click access to American Heritage dictionaries, Picture Dictionary and Talking dictionary, word choices Synonym button
- Create Study guides
- Stay on task with research using Online reference tools within the software
- Support active reading, note taking, and chapter summaries with templates
- Translate words or full passages to 70+ languages 31
- Natural Text-to-Speech voices in over 18 languages and dialects
Certain districts have purchased and support Google products. Chromebook laptops have many accessibility features which can be simply managed . Among popular features are ChromeVox, which is voice to text and dictation.
Across G Suite Google products there is a native screen reader and Google Docs can use voice to text. Even web browser (Chrome) have voice to text and text to speech capabilities. Also Chrome browser has many extensions which aid in accessibility such as Read and Write.
A very common program is Boardmaker, a complete special education platform that supports education, communication, access and social/emotional needs of students. Visual scheduling, communication and lesson integration are just some of these. Overview video.
Inspiration and XMind
Inspiration and XMind are software that makes it easy to capture ideas, structure thoughts and visually communicate concepts to strengthen understanding with the Diagram and Map Views. Students create mindmaps or other visual representations of ideas as a way to express themselves beyond only having to write out long paragraphs when assessments do not directly assess that skill.
FM Systems transmit sound directly from the teacher’s microphone (worn as a headset, lapel mic) to hearing aids or cochlear implants.
A soundfield system uses the same types of microphones, but transmits instead to speakers. These are placed around the room or a portable speaker placed on desk or travel around. Classroom amplification can benefit everyone.
Access to braille is access to literacy. Braille is literacy. Consequently, braille must continue to be available to those who need it. Many school still have teams of staff that create braille content. This takes a massive amount of time meaning all materials from teachers need to be given to the team well in advance as they have to created and edit everything by hand.
Assistive technologies do exist such as Refreshable Braille may revolutionize students entire educational experiences. Students have content instantly in Braille and are able to type and navigate using Braille. More found at Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (PRVCI).
In the case of transcription, Zoom automatically transcribes the audio of recorded video. After this transcript is processed, it appears as a separate VTT file in the list of recorded meetings. In addition, you have the option to display the transcript text within the video itself, similar to a closed caption display.
Ministry of Education Resources and Programs
Special Education Technology British Columbia AKA SET BC
Within BC K-12, SETBC is involved in some assistive technology management and acquisition. They offer workshops and may be involved with planning. Communication with your school based staff and principal is important as the classroom teacher does also have a pivotal role.
Augmentative and alternative communication devices and technologies are another component of students IEPs.
Provincial Outreach Programs or POPs – Under the BC Ministry of Education there are dedicated outreach programs that offer an array of services. POPARD is one of these programs. Training, resources and consultation are just some of the amazing services teachers, educational assistants, community partners, and parents of students with ASD.
Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (PRCVI) is a fantastic resource offering outreach and training. POPDHH or the Provincial Outreach Program: Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers many services including a library full of resources for students with hearing impairments.
To learn more about how to create accessible educational resources and web accessibility, please explore our Web Accessibility post on our website.
Important links ▼
Local School District assistive technology links.
- Advocacy and Conflict Resolution for Students with Disabilities in BC Education – A Rights Based Primer