In a world and society designed for ‘normal’, people with disabilities often find it challenging to access everyday opportunities that many take for granted. This reality is especially evident in higher education. These limitations are evident physically, such as university elevators that are too narrow for wheelchairs, and academically when classes are taught without closed captions and transcriptions for deaf students or Braille reading options for blind students.
It’s crucial for the education industry to do more to support students with special needs in their academic journeys. Thankfully, there are many offerings now provided by low and high tech assistive technology.
High Tech, Low Tech, Mid Tech: Making a Difference
There have been attempts and developments to support people with disabilities for centuries. The first school for deaf children opened in 1817. New organizations emerged throughout the 1900s to service the disabled.
In 1988, the Assistive Technology Act passed in the United States. According to the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, the law was passed to “support State efforts to improve the provision of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities of all ages through comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance.”
Technological assistance for people with disabilities varies based on their specific needs. Let’s deep dive into some key low and high tech assistive technology examples to understand how each can make a difference.
Low Tech Assistive Technology
Surprisingly, low tech devices can often make the biggest difference for a student.
According to Georgia Tech, low tech devices for students with disabilities “are devices or equipment that don’t require much training, may be less expensive and do not have complex or mechanical features.”
Examples include walking canes, binder clips that make it easier to turn pages, sensory input items such as fidgets and squishy balls, and writing things down instead of speaking. Low tech assistive technology in the classroom includes printing assignments in larger fonts, pencil grips, adapted pencils, and using colored highlighters to better organize information.
Mid Tech Assistive Technology
There are “mid tech” assistive technology devices that, according to Georgia Tech, “may have some complex features, may be electronic or battery operated, [and] may require some training to learn how to use.”
One of the most common examples is the wheelchair, which was first used between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. By the mid-to-late 1870s, developments continued, with the invention of the audio phone bone conductor, the first portable hearing aid, the Braille typewriter, and the first electric hearing aid, the akouphone.
Audiobooks followed. According to Inclusive Publishing, “when Thomas Edison recorded the first audiobook in 1877, he probably didn’t think of them as anything other than a way to sell more phonographs. In the 1930s, when the Library of Congress and the AFB developed a program for talking books.
High Tech Assistive Technology Examples
High tech assistive technology is described as “the most complex devices or equipment, that have digital or electronic components, [and] may be computerized,” according to Georgia Tech.
These include altering devices that use visual and vibrating elements to replace sound. A key example is a vibrating alarm clock, which can assist the deaf and hard of hearing communities.
Speech to text technology, which artificially produces human speech, also provides benefits to deaf students, enabling them to communicate more effectively with those around them. According to PCWorld, the first speech recognition system, “Audrey” by Bell Laboratories, was designed in 1952 and “could understand only digit… Ten years later, IBM demonstrated at the 1962 World’s Fair its ‘Shoebox’ machine, which could understand 16 words spoken in English.”
Today, speech to text technology can recognize entire university lectures. This high tech assistive technology provides important access to students who were underserved previously. It’s also paved the way for the production of AI-based academic transcription software products. AI products make it easier for students to consume classes in real time or quickly after a class via recordings.
High tech assistive technology also empowers the senses. Text to speech technology, is allowing mute students to communicate more simply. Additionally, electronic Braille allows blind students to read content on tablets and create graphs and spreadsheets, making it easier for them to thrive in STEM programs.
Both High Tech and Low Tech Assistive Technology Provide Opportunities for Equality
As technology advances at a rapid pace, students with a disability have a better chance of fulfilling their dreams and advancing their lives.
Mid tech and low tech assistive technologies still remain crucial. Higher education organizations that want to set up their students for success must consider implementing all types of technologies. When doing so, they can help students with disabilities to not only feel accepted, but finally become equal.