Students with disabilities have many barriers in accessing information technology. They are challenged by their disability and poverty that they feel they are being deprived of their right of education and freedom of expression. However, technology has been helping them to lower many of these barriers. With these, disabled students are capable of handling a wider range of activities independently.
The use of technology has also been very helpful to disabled people and students in enhancing their lives, increase their independence and efficiency, and gain greater social inclusion. It specializes in computers and builds custom software and hardware solutions for this population. Having the right equipment and appropriate technology can change a person’s life and improve the independence and quality of life for disabled people.
The use of assistive technology for students with disabilities can increase their capabilities and independence. Assistive technology is used by individuals with disabilities in order for them to perform functions that are difficult or impossible for them to do (AccessIT, 2002). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides the definition of an assistive technology device: “any item, piece of equipment, or product system… that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” AT can be “low-tech” (very simple and low-cost) or “high-tech” (complicated).
On the other hand, rehabilitation technology refers to “the systematic application of technologies, engineering, methodologies, or scientific principles to meet the needs of, and address the barriers confronted by, individuals with disabilities” according to Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (2007). It presents solutions to problems of individuals with disabilities in functional areas and in activities associated with employment, independent living, education, transportation, and social life. This provides assistance in seating and positioning and mobility, augmentative communication, access to computer, control of the environment, and adjustment of job site or home. The term includes assistive technology devices and services, and rehabilitation engineering.
Rehabilitation technology only includes those devices or services that are required to overcome the functional limitations of a person with disability. Some services under assistive technology are considered restoration services like orthotic devices, wheelchairs, and hearing aids and are available under a prescription from a qualified health care professional or offered through Medicaid or any third party medical insurance provider. These are not considered rehabilitation technology. Devices or services which are required for training or employment only and are not the result of the person’s disability are considered equipment. They are not rehabilitation technology (NYSED.gov, 1994).
Assistive technology can be best understood when considering its categories. One type of AT are the aids for daily living. These are self-help aids for use in daily activities (eating, cooking, dressing, home maintenance, etc). Devices for this type of AT includes reachers, adaptive clothing, adapted books, pencil holders, dressing aids, bathing accessories, feeding devices, grab bars/handles, specialized spoons, wheeled bath chair, etc.
Students who are nonverbal or whose is speech is not fluent or cannot be understood may benefit from using augmentative/alternative communication device, another category of AT. This includes picture boards, voice output communication devices, recorded speech devices, communication enhancement software, speech synthesizers, and voiced word processing.
Access and environmental controls are devices that allow increased control of the environment. Devices also open up access to things in the environment. This category involves building construction, engineering and architecture, and electronic controls such as switches, special keyboards, remote control, automatic door openers, ramps, and Braille signs.
Assistive listening supports help students who are either deal or have a hearing loss. Devices include hearing aids, amplifiers, typing telephones, visual alerting systems, and captions on TV.
Another category is the computer-based instruction. This includes software to help students with learning difficulties in writing, reading, and in a specific subject area. This category also enables a person with disabilities to use a computer through input and output devices, alternative access aids, special software, and modified or alternative switches. Software can provide tools for written expression, calculation, reading, spelling, and basic reasoning.
Mobility group consists of equipment that allows students to move independently and safely through the community even with physical or visual disability. Examples are self-propelled walkers, adapted bicycles, manual or powered wheelchairs driving controls, seat belts, transfer aids, etc.
Positioning category includes supports that allow students with disability to maintain upright position, provide trunk/head support, and lessening of pressure to the skin. Good examples are positioning belts, wheelchair modifications, seat lifts, bolster chair, therapeutic seats, pressure monitors, etc. Prosthetics and orthotics are another group of AT which substitute or augments missing or malfunctioning body parts. This includes splints, braces, supports, restraints, and foot orthosis.
Visual and reading aids are supports that give blind and visually impaired access to information. This includes talking equipment (clocks, calculators, etc), Braille devices, screen magnifier, large button phones, Braille transcription and translation devices, and manual and electric page turners.
There are also supports for social interaction and recreation for students with disabilities who wants fun and social interactions. Some include drawing software, computer games, painting with a head or mouth wand, adapted puzzles, computer simulations, and interactive laser disks. There are also support services for people with disabilities to select, acquire, or use adaptive devices. These include functional evaluations, purchasing or leasing devices, and training on or demonstration of devices.
The use of assistive technology relates to an individual’s transition success. AT enables a person to perform functions than not achievable by no other means. This allows disabled students to work on approximate normal fluency, rate, or standards and increase their endurance or perseverance and complete tasks. AT also supports them with normal interactions with other people. Students with disabilities are provided access for participation in activities which are otherwise difficult or impossible to do and in the least restrictive educational environment. Above all, AT provides this population with greater access to information.
The services and supports a child gets in school may need to be continued as the student leaves school. The transition meeting for assistive technology is very important as this determines the decisions regarding the potential outcome for a child and what the educational programming for a child will be once she/he is 3 years old (chfs.ky.gov, 2005). A child’s assistive technology needs are outlined and discussed here. This will lay the disabled child’s path towards young adulthood. The transition plan should reflect a child’s choices and needs in areas of education, employment, adult living, and community experiences.
Beginning at age 14 (or younger as long as determined by IEP to be appropriate), each student with disability must be given a statement of the student’s transition service needs that focuses on the student’s course of study. The IEP team must determine what instruction and education experiences will help a student arrange for the transition to adult life. This must be updated annually or often when needed. Progress reports are submitted to the parents to help determine whether or not revisions to the plan are needed (chfs.ky.gov, 2005).
The IEP team determines the eligibility for adult services for a child from assessments, testing, medical evaluations, observations, and family history. The team also makes sure of the involvement of several individuals and sees to it that they understand their responsibilities, accommodations, modifications, and support for the student. The student should be actively engaged in all aspects of their transition course. The transition planning should be done with the student. If the student does not attend the meeting, the school must know the student’s preferences and interests when developing the transition plan. Parents, on the other hand, should provide knowledge about their child’s preferences, interests, and medical history. They should also be able to discuss the child’s behavior at home and in the community. Parents must be given a free copy of the child’s IEP. At least one special education teacher or provider should be a member of the IEP transition team. At least one general education teacher should be a member if the student is participating general education. IDEA also requires that a representative from the school district to attend the IEP meeting. The representative must know the availability of resources of the public agency. Other school personnel who need to attend the meeting are someone who can interpret the results about the student’s instructional needs. Outside agencies such as vocational rehabilitation, county services, and post secondary programs are included on the student’s IEP. The school, parents, and the student can invite anyone with knowledge or expertise regarding the child to the IEP transition meeting (ncset.org, 2007).
The IEP team considers behaviors that may impede learning to provide appropriate strategies and supports to address that behavior. In the case that a child has limited English proficiency, language needs of the child is also considered. If the IEPP team determines that a child needs Braille, instruction in Braille is provided. Communication needs are given attention in the case a child is deaf or hard of hearing or has a different language. The team also checks whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services (ncset.org, 2007).
Parents, administrators, and professionals are required to be aware on how AT works and how this can benefit education. Studies have reported lack of training and technical assistance in the integration of AT into the curriculum, as well as in operation. Due to incompatibility of new and old technology, there is a lack of computer access. A lack of correct and specialized software for some disabled students. General education personnel must look for alternate means of AT access and more independent learning. Another issue is funding. This must also be addressed to ensure that technology is available for use in all of the student’s life. Maintenance issue should also be addressed, as well as repair and needed upgrades. When AT use is successful, the devices are being replaced. If not then they are repaired, modified, or temporarily or permanently abandoned. The lack of knowledge of the designers of this technology and knowledge on the ethical side of this may lead to social and psychological issues to people with disabilities. Capabilities, requirements, and preferences of the target users must be considered when doing advances in AT engineering. It will be necessary to take into consideration the requirements and opinions of the users. Asking these from students with mental disability is a restriction of subjective direct responses. There should be alternative ways to make sure that the design is appropriate. Asking supporting personnel could be more appropriate in this scenario (Ezeiza, A., et. al, 2008).
Professionals can recommend the types of AT devices that will work for a student with disability but it would be the user or the consumer who will decide if a device works is comfortable or not for her or him. Opinions should be best given before purchasing the product. Also, environmental adaptations should also be into account (UATPAT, 2003). There should also be an accurate description of the student’s abilities and limitation in sensory, motor, and cognitive terms. Another factor to consider is the device that would allow the greatest independence, easiest to use, cost and availability of training if needed, easiest to transport, reliability and durability, and safety. The vendor should also be properly selected, taking into consideration their responsiveness, professionalism, and service orientation. Funding sources should be investigated at the start of looking at assistive technology. About two months after the student is familiar with the technology, short-term follow-up should be done. On a regular basis, long-term evaluation is necessary (Radabaugh, P., n.d.).
Although technology is everywhere, there are barriers that might prevent an individual from obtaining or using assistive technology. One of the most difficult barriers to assistive technology is the cost but some government programs and some funding sources help pay some AT equipment such as canes, wheelchairs, and walkers. However, there are other aids that are not covered. Funds may be gotten from agencies like Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance plans, and the like (Sabata, D. 2005). There is a lack of trainings, supports, and recognition of family’s needs at home and in community settings. For severely disabled students, there is a lack of appropriate and specialized software. Studies also reveal that there is a lack of technical assistance to the students. Maintenance, repair, and upgrades may sometimes not be addressed immediately (ATTO, 2005).
This technology can address functional domains like physical functioning, communication functioning, social competence, academic performance, vocational functioning, and recreational and leisure functioning. Examples for physical functioning are walkers, wheelchairs, trays, straps, standing aids, and chair inserts. Symbol systems, communication boards, voice processing, record speech devices, and programmable switches are some of the communication functioning supports. Drawing software, computer games, interactive laser disks, painting with head and mouth, and adapted puzzles are some adapted recreational activities for social competence. Some of the devices commonly used for academic performance are phonic ear, hearing aids, closed caption TV, screen readers, magnifiers, Braille, synthesizers and scanners, and large type books. Vocational functioning includes modifications to work sites, accessibility to employees with disabilities, and adaptation of machinery. With AT for recreational and leisure functioning, a student can have a lift to transfer from a wheelchair to a swimming pool, large print or Braille menus at restaurants, and adaptive equipment in weight and exercise rooms (Lakhdar, S. n.d).
Students with mental or physical impairments that may cause barrier to learning and other life functions may require assistive technology. This helps them overcome or compensate for the disability and be more independent. Assistive technology may not be necessary for every student in special education but it is a vital support for many students with disabilities. Students who benefit from AT are those who have mile learning disabilities or problem, and those with physical or mental disabilities that range from mild to severe (Kelker, K, 1997). Not only can a person with severe disability benefit from AT, but also for individuals with less involved problem. AT is appropriate when it assess an individual with disability to function as normal as possible. Assistive technology may be ineffective or may even cause distress and confusion if it does not meet the individual needs and preferences of the user.
Teachers, families, and users need should receive appropriate training. Trainings may be provided by the dealer of the device, manufacturer representative, or a staff from an educational or medical institution. Training includes effective use, safety, and consistency in all relevant settings. Proper use and maintenance are also discussed to minimize cost and inconvenience of repairs and breakdowns (UATPAT, 2003). Basic needs and understanding of AT and its role for improvement, functioning, and independence are also tackled on AT trainings. Separate trainings are done for professionals working with young children and older adults with disabilities (TASC, 2010).
Assistive technology has eliminated many barriers of accessing information technology of students with disabilities. It has enabled individuals to participate and contribute as members of the society. This has helped individuals with disabilities to be entitled with equal access to technology so to ensure equal opportunities for learning. Studies and experiences have demonstrated the efficacy of AT for students and individuals with learning and physical disabilities. It does not cure or eliminate disabilities but it can help an individual achieve her potential because it allows him or her to capitalize on his strengths and overcome areas of difficulty (Raskind, M., 2007). Research also has proved that AT can improve certain skill deficits like reading and spelling. It compensates for an individual’s skill deficits or challenge. It can increase self-reliance and sense of independence.
Any athlete with disability can compete in wheelchair racing. Self-determination is a must factor that an athlete must have. Severity of disability and capabilities of the races should be determined to classify the athlete (The Wheelchair Site, n.d).
The first thing to do for a student who wants to get involved in the race is to try to go to a camp, hook with someone else who races, and try their racer to make sure that he or can will enjoy (runtheplanet.com, 2006). There is a need to contact any wheelchair racing associations for entry guidelines, competition schedules, participation details, locations, and training tips to get involved, according to mobility-advisor.com (2005). The website also presents some of the globally recognized wheelchair racing associations and their websites. Also the student can attend wheelchair racing events.
The racing requires extensive training and the right equipment to effectively compete. As all other exercises and sports, the student needs to warm up first. With wheelchair racing, he should start by pushing slowly. Maintenance stretches should be performed after the warm up. He should also have a good arm stretch then push a couple of laps. After the workout, the athlete needs to push some slow “cool down” laps and stretch. This is to avoid injuries. After the cool down period, developmental stretches should be done. The athlete needs to be used to the chair, the stroke and the steering pick out (runtheplanet.com, 2006). Emphasis should be on stretching the muscles around the shoulder joints, wrist extensors, chest, triceps, wrist flexors, and upper back. There should also be a development on pushing techniques (pponline.com.uk, n.d.).
There is a specific wheelchair equipment requirement for each type of race. Racing chairs are designed and built to suit each of the athlete’s physical needs and the type of competition. Helmets and racing gloves are also necessary to compete. mobility-advisor.com discusses that technologically advanced racers, special chair components, and lightweight materials allows athletes to achieve significant speed during road and track races (2005).
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