Using Technology to Empower Students with Special Needs
Technology in the classroom can serve as a great equalizer. When used correctly, technology can help teachers differentiate instruction and empower students with special needs. There are different devices and apps out there for students with all types of special needs.
Help for struggling students
One of the most common problems teachers face with students with special needs is being able to include them in classroom activities. For students who have a learning disability, simply being included can be an empowering experience. However, when a student has a deficit in basic reading or math skills, it can be hard for them to participate successfully in the same activities other students are doing.
Technology allows teachers to easily differentiate. There are tons of programs available that let teachers adjust the difficulty level of reading assignments, for example. With technology, teachers can make small changes to assignments, such as adding additional help or resources, without providing a ton of extra materials for just a few students.
When it’s impossible for every student to do the same activity, it’s easier for students to work on different activities using technology. If every student has an iPad in their hands, other students won’t notice when a few classmates are working on something different. This can make it less embarrassing for students who need remediation.
Presenting information in new ways
Many students with special needs simply have problems processing language. Seeing a page full of words, or being asked to write a full page themselves, can be overwhelming. Technology allows these students a different way to participate or express themselves. Teachers can make use of visual aids, use programs that read out loud to students who need it, or simply incorporate more interactive activities as opposed to reading and writing.
By allowing teachers to experiment with different ways to present information, technology can help students show what they know in the way that works best for them. Teachers may be surprised to find that, for many students, it’s the way content is presented and not the content itself that students don’t understand.
Assistive technology for physical disabilities
Though when we think of special needs in the classroom, we may automatically think of learning disabilities, there are many other types of special needs. Students who are blind, deaf, or who have limited mobility can struggle to participate in class. Older assistive technology devices could be clunky and difficult to use or transport.
Luckily, assistive technology has come a long way in recent years. Instead of using devices designed just for one purpose, such as text-to-speech, students can download apps on the devices they already use. This makes it easier for students to carry their assistive technology with them. Since devices like tablets are already mainstream, it can also feel more normal for students to use a tablet. With older assistive technology devices, the student using the device might feel like they stand out. Now, students with special needs can use assistive technology without the stigma.
Participation leads to empowerment
In all of these cases, technology is used to help students participate. In today’s education system, the goal for students with special needs is to allow them to be in the least restrictive environment. That means allowing them to participate in the same activities and learn the same material as non-disabled peers. This can be an empowering experience for students with special needs. Instead of segregating them in separate classrooms, teachers are now finding ways to allow students with special needs to showcase their knowledge and talents, and technology is making this possible.
How have you seen technology used for students with special needs? How can the EdTech industry continue to reach out to students with special needs? Let us know your thoughts!