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Assistive Technology - help or hindrance?

With the start of the school year, social media is rife with advertisements for various tools to "make the lives of students easier." Who doesn't want that!? However, choosing tech tools for learning and school activities needs to be done mindfully.

Though it's easy to get sucked in by the hype of new tech, all decisions about what tools to use need to start with the student -- what are their strengths, goals and needs? The SETT framework is a useful approach for the student and their team to guide their decision making:

S is for student; E is for environment; the first T is for task, and the second T is for tool
SETT framework from the CEC

Image from article in CEC publication Special Education TODAY

Will the student actually use the assistive technology?

Even when we think a tool is fabulous and will dramatically increase a student's access to learning, it may not work for an individual or for a particular task for various reasons. Almost all digital tools have a learning curve to overcome -- before it's effective for the task, such as reading or writing, the student needs to learn the ins and outs of the tool's functions. This can take time, sometimes trial-and-error, and a lot of patience. In a previous blog, "Expecting Diversity," I discuss the need to take the time to teach the tool to all students during low stakes activities so they can make educated choices around which tools to use for each task.

An article by Eve Kessler discusses how to use the SETT framework in that decision-making process. You can link to it here.

The following is a quick video explaining how to apply the SETT framework to support student's use of assistive technology.

How do I even know what's available?

There are numerous assistive tools available from low tech tools like pencil grips and colored overlays to high tech tools like smart pens. Both the student and their team need to be prepared to "try on" a few options to know what will work best for them. For myself, I know I have to mentally prepare for a lot of time in a change room when I go clothes shopping; if I'm not mentally and emotionally ready for it, I can't find anything that fits and looks good. Similarly, students need to know the first tool they try may not be the trick and there are always other options if they give themselves time and have patience.

I recommend starting with the lowest tech option first -- sometimes simpler is better. If that tool doesn't work, take it up a notch or consider if that tool can be adapted to the individual. The more high tech the tool, the more the student needs to have the capacity to problem solve when the tool/app doesn't work as expected. It's also important to consider costs -- utilize what's available through the school, library or samples provided by companies, and look for "free" apps or filter the search by cost before spending a lot of money.

In the "Resources" section of the Coil website there is a list of tools and tech which you can use as a starting point.

High tech is not always the answer, but there is almost always "an app for that."


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