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Dyslexia Awareness Month and Opening All Options

Part 4. Assistive Technology (AT)

Written by Trevor Allan

""This is the last article in a series of four that celebrates Dyslexia Awareness Month in October and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of Opening All Options, a resource for students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs). The first article looked at the background and history of Opening All Options and the second examined the section for Disability Practitioners in the current version. The third article looked at the section for Academics and Teachers in the current version. The final section I want to address is that on Assistive Technology.

One of the most substantial changes that I have seen in my career has been the introduction and development of a range of digital solutions for addressing the effects of different SLDs on students. The availability of these accessible, and now very affordable technological solutions has revolutionised access to education for people with SLDs. Often, the provision of access to the right program will enable independent, effective and accessible access to study by addressing barriers to learning caused by the SLD. Barriers that previously required expensive, intrusive and disempowering third party interventions, such as using a reader and/or a scribe, now only require a computer and the right software.

The Opening All Options section on Assistive Technology begins with a brief explanation of What is Assistive Technology? and links to two videos about students using some AT to address the effects of their SLD.

The next section looks at Assessing Appropriate Use of Assistive Technology with particular focus on the principles of best practice, as developed over the years in Australia and elsewhere. The main principles that produce the best outcomes for students with SLD (and indeed all users of AT) are:

  • Meets the specific learning difficulty experienced by individual students
  • Is introduced to complement academic skills development
  • Can reinforce literacy skills and knowledge
  • Is not viewed as a replacement for good teaching
  • Is introduced systematically with targeted guidance and support

By following these principles and providing students with appropriate training in the use of the AT in the earning environment, the capacity for much more independent and effective learning is significantly enhanced.

Given that every person with SLD experiences different impacts and barriers to effective learning, it is vitally important that their particular AT needs are assessed and designed to meet their particular needs. Also, their ITC skills, their academic experience and the nature of the course they are studying will all affect what AT and what particular features of that AT are relevant to each individual. This is where the section on Personalising Assistive Technology Solutions is particularly relevant and helpful.

Using the SETT (Student, Environment, Tasks, Tools) framework, this section guides the assessor through the process of determining individual needs through a series of questions under the SETT framework. This is an effective and constructive system to help assessor and student determine each student’s individual needs and provide a means of determining the appropriate AT solutions to use.

The Learning Barriers and Assistive Technology section provides a clear outline of various common barriers to learning experienced by students with SLD, and potential types of AT solutions that may assist. While these are generalised, they do provide effective guidance into exploring potential solutions. It Is important to remember that every student may experience different combinations and levels of impact of the SLD, so individual assessment and even some experimentation is necessary to arrive at the best solutions.

The major difficulties outlined are:

  • Listening and Speaking
  • Reading and Comprehension
  • Organisation
  • Mathematical  Reasoning and Calculations

Each section is followed by a list of potential AT solutions and strategies to consider.

While this section of OAO does not list specific AT software or Apps that may be useful, the next section Staying Current outlines some helpful strategies to assist practitioners to stay up to date with the fast moving world of AT, as well as providing links to helpful resources to provide more specific information on AT solutions. One particularly helpful link is to the ADCET Inclusive Technology: Specific Learning Disability page that outlines the main features of the range of AT solutions available for different needs.

This is an effective strategy, since OAO does not need to be constantly revised to stay current with the fast developing world of AT, but links to resources that are current.

Conclusion

It has been a delight for me to revisit this latest incarnation of our 20 year old baby, reminding me of the wealth of information and resources available for students, Disability Practitioners, Academics and Teachers and AT assessors and trainers. When Opening All Options was first created back in 1998 and 1999, such information was either very hard to find, or non-existent. It was extremely difficult for Disability Practitioners to find the necessary information and resources to be able to develop effective adjustments, strategies and solutions to provide appropriate access to study for people with SLD. For Academics, Teachers and students, it was even more difficult, leaving most students without appropriate adjustments and study strategies, resulting in being left behind academically and feeling like failures.

To have such a comprehensive one-stop shop for information, resources and strategies to assist people with SLD is extremely valuable and helpful for busy Disability Practitioners, Academics and Teachers, people with SLD and their families.

As one of the very proud parents of this mature, vibrant and fantastic 20 year old, I encourage you all to take the opportunity of Dyslexia Awareness Month to explore the great array of resources available in Opening All Options. I would also encourage you to explore more of the wonderful world of ADCET, with its vast collection of information and resources for everyone in the Disability and Education Sector. It is a resource I wish we had when I was starting out in the sector, and something many people fought hard to establish and build. Jane, Darlene and the team at ADCET have done a fabulous job in building and maintaining ADCET, which makes all our jobs so much easier.

Part 1. Background and history of Opening All Options.

Part 2 For Disability Practitioners

Part 3. For Academics and Teachers