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Assistive Technologies

Module 2:  Why AT?

To fully appreciate the impact AT can have, it may help to understand why it helps. Learning disabilities, ADHD, acquired/traumatic brain injury (ABI/TBI), and other similar disabilities affect the learning process. As such, these can affect a student’s ability to process information, the speed with which it is processed and integrated, and the memory’s ability to store the information and retrieve it. They can also affect the “output” of information, such as the ability to organize ideas, express oneself or answer questions. For more information on the impact these disabilities have on learning, please visit the appropriate link for information geared towards educators:

Learning Disabilities
ABI/TBI
ADHD

In combination with the right learning strategies and accommodations, AT helps the student compensate for these areas of weakness thereby allowing him/her to access the curriculum, work more independently and participate in cooperative learning.

The use of AT will not give students an unfair advantage over their peers. Instead, it helps “level the playing field” by allowing students to access the curriculum in a manner that they understand or simply show what they know using another modality than traditionally used.

CASE STUDY: Jenny, 6th grade.

Jenny is in 6th grade: she is bright and really creative, but has been diagnosed with a learning disability. The psycho-educational assessment prepared by the school board’s psychologist states that Jenny has an LD that affects:

  • her processing speed,
  • working memory, and
  • phonetic skills.
These cognitive processes are implicated in most of her academic skills, including reading, writing and math.

Among other accommodations, Jenny’s IEP ensures that she has access to AT, in the form of:

  • Mind mapping software because it minimizes the impact her working memory issue has on her writing skills. Instead of having to remember all her ideas in her mind to introduce them in the right order (which requires the use of working memory), she uses the software to help her create a visual representation of each idea that she can “manipulate”.
  • Text-to-speech software because it transforms written text into audio format, allowing Jenny to focus on understanding the ideas presented instead of struggling with sounding out and identifying each word, only to have forgotten what she read by the end of each sentence.
  • Speech-to-text software since her writing skills are affected by both her limited phonetic skills and working memory. Her trouble with phonetics makes it difficult for her to remember what letters make which sound, and her working memory makes it almost impossible for her to remember grammar rules and apply them to the text she is writing.

After Jenny had mastered the use of her new AT tools, her teacher began noticing that Jenny was less frustrated when it came time to write. She also noticed that she was more willing to share her thoughts when the class discussed readings, probably because she had understood it better.

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