Assistive technology has widespread acceptance as a support strategy within international, national and state initiatives. In the education context, research recognises the potential of assistive technology to support access to learning, engagement and achievement for a range of students with diverse learning needs.
Assistive technology in education is any hardware, software or system of technical components and processes that enhances the capacity for all students to engage more effectively with the curriculum and their learning environment. This can range from “high tech” technology, such as electronic devices or power wheelchairs, to “low tech” devices such as a pencil grip, supportive seat or a simple switch.
Assistive technology can support teachers to provide teaching and learning that is accessible to all students. Assistive technology supports students with diverse learning needs within an inclusive learning environment by:
- delivering information to students in a way that is more appropriate to their needs
- changing the way a student can interact with the curriculum and their environment
- providing a more appropriate and accessible way for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the curriculum.
Schools use a range of assistive technologies based on individual learner needs. Options may include:
- alternative access for students who have limitations in physical strength, movement and coordination (for example pencil grips, switches, supportive seating)
- alternative keyboard for students who find a conventional keyboard challenging (for example keyboard with larger or smaller keys, remote keyboard, onscreen keyboard)
- alternative mouse for students who have difficulty using a regular mouse (for example trackball, joystick, smaller mouse)
- alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) systems for students with complex communication needs (for example speech generating device, communication app for tablet device)
- literacy support software for students where written information is a barrier to their learning and engagement (for example text to speech, speech to text, word prediction)
- visual supports to assist students to understand concepts and organise ideas, as alternative ways to deliver information to students with low vision (for example software that magnifies text, graphic organiser, visual timetable).
Assistive technology enables people to live healthy, productive, independent, and dignified lives, and to participate in education, the labour market and civic life. Assistive technology is an umbrella term covering the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services. Assistive products maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. Hearing aids, wheelchairs, communication aids, spectacles, prostheses and memory aids are all examples of assistive products. (World Health Organisation, 2016)
In schools, specialised equipment is one form of assistive technology which is available to reduce or remove the barriers to curriculum access. Schools may provide specialised equipment for students with disability to support them to access their education program if recommended by a qualified professional. This equipment is retained as a school resource and can include:
- devices to help with the functions of daily life, such as eating utensils, dressing aids and bathroom supports
- aids to help with communication, such as magnifiers, pointers, hearing supports, switches and speech-generating devices
- devices to help with stabilising and supporting the student such as furniture adaptations and positioning equipment
- equipment to help with mobility, such as wheelchairs, scooters and walkers.
The education team may recommend specialised equipment that could help a student participate in school. Specialist staff may also assist to assess a student’s needs, trial and recommend specialised equipment.
If parents or carers have requirements regarding specialised equipment to support their child in their education program, it is recommended that they contact the Principal of the school or the Principal Education Officer Student Services (PEO SS) in their local regional office. This ensures a collaborative approach to support the individual learning needs of students.