Technology is Transforming Lives for Students in Special Education
There is no doubt that technology plays a significant role in our everyday lives. Science and engineering have innovated powerful computer technology that is affordable and portable. We have smart cars, smart TV’s, and intuitive, interactive communication devices conveniently held in our hands or worn on our wrists. Technology has certainly revolutionized the way people live, work, and play.
Infusing technology into our schools is an ongoing process. Allowing students access to a plethora of resources and information in the classroom can engage students and transform their educational experiences. The promise of using technology to increase student achievements and to better prepare our youth for the future has educators headed toward a progressive transformation in education.
Special educators view the use of technology in schools with a different lens. They look at the potential of a device and think of how it can help a student to communicate and gain independence. Communication is an essential and basic vital human need. Imagine having thoughts, wants, and needs, but being unable to communicate them. For students in special education, technology is transforming lives. The ability to tap the hidden potential within a student is incredibly powerful.
Recently, the Stanislaus County Office of Education was providing services for a new preschool student that had no verbal communication and no use of his hands or arms. The assistive technology specialists assessed him and immediately recognized that he was trying to communicate. The specialists were motivated to help this four year-old find his “voice.” Within a few months, using eye controlled assistive technology, he was able to say hello to his teacher, follow instructions, tell people his thoughts, and even play a computer game with a peer.
In the past, to assist a student with communication, the technology was very specific, costly, and limited. Today, a student with a disability can now use text-to-speech technology to “read” materials that are written, use their voice to access their device, or use a device to be their voice. Professionals are now able to offer unprecedented access to information and modes to communicate, improving functional capabilities.
Although many technologies were not originally designed to address specific disabilities, “accessibility” is becoming a defining feature that companies are invested in building into all products. Apple claims that they have “done everything possible to make anything possible.”
Whether acquired at birth, by tragic accident, by illness, or the aging process, no one is “immune” from having a disability. Technology will continue to play a vital role in the lives of adults and children with disabilities, enhancing the quality of life in meaningful ways. Fortunately for all, the digital era has created accessible technology that is giving a voice to people who would have never been heard, and access to a world where anything really is possible for everyone.
By Sarah Grantano, Stanislaus County Office of Education
Assistant Superintendent, Special Education