The makeup of the American student population is changing. According to a report by the United States Department of Education, approximately 11% of all undergraduates in American colleges report having a disability – up from 6% almost two decades prior. But, while more students with disabilities are enrolling in college programs, the graduation rate of this population remains lower. 41% of students with disabilities complete college once they begin, compared with 52% of the general population.
This difference often referred to as the disability gap, is a result of a failure of many educational institutions to provide adequate resources to support differently-abled learners. To mitigate this crisis, it’s critical to find a way to provide equal opportunities to students with disabilities. Assistive learning technology in the classroom represents an ideal solution.
Technology for students with disabilities also benefit the schools themselves by appealing to more applicants, diversifying the student body, and enabling compliance with regulations such as sections 508 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, both of which prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in any form.
Advancements in technology have brought on a surge of possibilities for learners with various disabilities. Whether a student is grappling with a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability, assistive technology in the classroom allows all learners to thrive in higher education and take advantage of the same opportunities for success as their peers.
Here are three examples of assistive technology devices for students that are making a positive impact:
1. Transcription and captioning
The emergence of video-based lectures and eLearning platforms have revolutionized the modern approach to higher education by embodying efficiency, flexibility, and accessibility for all. Studying online provides a way for anyone to learn on-demand for a lower cost, without being tied to a specific course schedule.
The increasing popularity of this video-driven medium has generated a need to convert multimedia files into text, making an academic transcription and captioning solution a necessity. Incorporating a speech to text solution brings many advantages, including better comprehension of materials and higher student engagement.
One of the most significant advantages of providing transcript and captions is accessibility for all learners, particularly those with auditory disabilities. Providing transcripts helps individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing engage with video-based lessons. With around 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing students attending post-secondary educational institutions each year, it’s estimated that there are close to 500,000 deaf and hard of hearing college students in the United States. Providing text accompaniment to video-based academic content ensures that these students are not left behind. Transcripts are also a useful support tool for individuals who are not native speakers of the language of instruction.
2. Academic Proofreading software
Proofreading software is a kind of assistive technology for students that takes the typical proofreading features found in most word processing systems to the next level. It is particularly helpful for learners with dyslexia by offering the capability to correct frequently misspelled words. Other features include:
- Grammar checker that analyzes context to make more accurate corrections
- Word prediction and sentence rephrasing tools
- Adaptive ability to learn from past errors and personalize spelling and grammar suggestions
- Text-to-speech technology
Although primarily geared towards individuals with dyslexia, proofreading software can be helpful for students with any type of learning disability that makes reading and writing a challenging task. It is also helpful for students who are non-native English speakers to help them hone their writing skills.
3. Electronic Worksheets
Electronic worksheets are software programs that help students organize, align, and work through math problems on a screen. This is helpful for learners who may be unable to properly align math problems using pencil and paper. Many electronic worksheets also include a text-to-speech capability, specifically designed for mathematics voice recognition, so that numbers that appear onscreen can also be read aloud via a speech synthesizer.
Innovation for All
By being developed to address complex needs, assistive technology for students with disabilities end up benefiting everyone. As is often the case, many of the technologies that were initially developed for people with disabilities have gone on to become widely used by the general population. Innovations such as image recognition, speech-to-text, chatbots, and self-driving vehicles are technologies that benefit all individuals, as well as society as a whole. This same principle applies to tools developed specifically for academic purposes. Designing with accessibility in mind means creating a product that is more intuitive and feature-rich, meaning everybody wins.
New developments in assistive technologies in education offer almost limitless flexibility, making them versatile and adaptable to all varieties of disability. By leveling the academic playing field and offering equal opportunity, these tools represent the essence of the concept of democratization of education, empowering all learners to reach their maximum potential and achieve their academic goals.