Having worked with many families with children who have special needs, I have seen the beneficial role technology can have in all sorts of applications. For decades, developers have been creating tech tools to help people with special needs learn, communicate and socialize. There have been outstanding advances over the past few years.
In 2008, Harold Thimbleby brought up the concept of user-centered design (UCD), which is based on users’ capabilities and needs to successfully and effectively use a piece of interactive technology. In “Understanding user centred design (UCD) for people with special needs,” Thimbleby argues that UCD is a largely unquestioned tenet of good practice for the design of interactive tech. He urges that UCD needs to be re-examined to ensure its methods are achieving its objectives to best assist people with special needs. Now, nearly a decade later, have advancements been made?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools in the United States to educate special needs students in the least restrictive environment possible. Today, portable assistive technology (AT) devices are boosting students’ independence and redefining the structure of special education classes and extracurricular activities.
According to an article published in Reading Rockets, for individuals with special needs, AT includes devices, equipment or systems that help “… bypass, work around or compensate for an individual’s specific learning deficits.” While AT often refers to computer hardware and software and electronic devices, many AT tools are now available on the Internet. Some AT tools for people with special needs include:
- Abbreviation expanders in word processing programs
- Alternative keyboards
- Audio books and publications
- Electronic math worksheets
- Graphic and information organizers and managers
- Note-taking tools
- Optical character recognition through text-to-speech programs
- Personal listening and transmission systems
- Portable word processors
- Proofreading programs
- Speech-recognition programs
- Talking calculators, spell checkers and electronic dictionaries
- Variable-speed tape recorders
- Word-prediction programs
There are other forms of technology designed to help all students through instruction rather than bypassing areas of difficulty. Instructional software, for example, can teach academic skills like reading and writing as well as subject matter like science.
AT applications go far beyond learning environments. In the past few years, home artificial intelligence devices have become much more common, and their uses can be helpful for people with special needs. The voice-controlled Amazon Echo can answer questions, control other home devices like the lights, thermostat, sprinklers and more, read news and audiobooks. It can call an Uber, report the weather, and provide scores of other information. Google Home, with the familiar phrase “OK Google,” provides similar amenities as the Echo. Earlier this year, we posted about the benefits of these devices and recommended users review parental controls.
No doubt, our tech-savvy era has allowed developers to come up with ways of assisting people with special needs and challenges in many ways. These advancements in software and tools will hopefully continue to improve so they can better assist people with living their best lives.
About John Bair
John Bair is an experienced settlement planner and financial consultant. He helps families develop strategies to provide lifelong financial support for children with disabilities, catastrophic injuries, special needs, and congenital abnormalities. Read more about John’s work and his firm, Milestone Consulting, at http://milestoneseventh.com/.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).