Following the government’s announcement of new funding to trial edtech for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), now is a great time to look at some of the assistive technologies currently available for schools and colleges.
The evolution of assistive technology
I founded web accessibility software and language software company Recite Me after I was diagnosed with dyslexia while at university. I was given accessibility software but it only worked on the one PC it was installed on at my university. So, every time I used another device somewhere else (like my laptop at home), I was back to square one: I couldn’t access content, including web content, because of my dyslexia.
That really spurred me on to make my products and services cloud-based, making them accessible on any device, anywhere, anytime.
Whilst there has been huge growth in digital assistive technology, it’s also worth noting that, over time, assistive technology has become more widely used in mainstream technology products and services (eg voice commands in mobile devices), making mainstream technology itself more accessible and inclusive.
Eye gaze and screen readers
Eye gaze software has hit the market in recent years, and now Skyle is the world’s first eye tracker for iPad Pro which combines iPad and Eye Gaze. Ideal for young people with restricted mobility and/or limited verbal capacity, Skyle lets users interact with an iPad Pro by using eye gaze with a range of different iPad Apps. This increases opportunities for access, communication, environmental control and overall independence.
Screen-reading edtech assistive technology for people with visual impairments is already used widely in education and the workplace.
Apps and games
Then there’s games-based assistive technologies like HelpKidsLearn, which offers a range of learning-based games and over 100 accessible learning activities that cater to a wide range of users with severe and complex needs and learning disabilities. Each game is accessible by mouse and keyboard, one or two switches, touch and eye gaze.
Mind mapping and digital accessibility software
Finally, it’s worth looking at some of the assistive technologies that support people with dyslexia, because the evidence shows how great an impact conditions like dyslexia have on young peoples’ education.
Assistive toolbars that allow users to tailor their web experience, as well as assistive toolbars that ensure e-learning platforms are accessible to everyone, are ideal for young people with conditions like dyslexia, allowing them to customise digital content to suit their particular needs. This could include anything, from changing the font size to the font itself and the background colour contrast, or by allowing them to choose to have content read aloud.
Advice for procurement
The UK government has produced guidance on buying ICT and computer hardware for schools (which is equally applicable for colleges) which you should use to guide you through assistive technology procurement.
To summarise, you should plan before you buy to ensure that what you’re getting is always aligned with your school or college’s ICT needs. This means you should assess your school’s requirements and what you currently have so that you only buy assistive technology that will improve teaching and learning within your school or college.
Lastly, you should find the right way to buy, by either finding and using a framework or running your own procurement.
Visit: gov.uk/guidance/buying-for-schools/ict-and-computer-hardware for detailed information you can follow throughout the procurement process
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