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Part 1: Why assistive technologies?

Introduction

Assistive technology (AT) is an umbrella term covering the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive products and services.

Assistive products aim to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. Hearing aids, wheelchairs, communication aids, spectacles, prostheses, pill organizers and memory aids are all examples of assistive products.

Assistive Technology is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to, or changing methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish such tasks.

These include for people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities, although as we will explore further, increasingly Assistive Technologies are being used by a wide range of people.

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation estimates that globally, more than 1 billion people need 1 or more assistive products and with an ageing global population and a rise in noncommunicable diseases, more than 2 billion people will need at least 1 assistive product by 2030, with many older people needing 2 or more.

Yet today, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive products.

Assistive Technologies in education

So far, we have been looking at Assistive Products and Assistive Technologies in general. But now let’s move on to think about the importance of Assistive Technologies in education and to support Virtual Mobility.

Assistive technology provision for education is seen as allowing students to:

  • Access the curriculum at all (e.g., a communication aid user)
  • Access the curriculum at a higher level (e.g., those needing literacy support software)

It allows students improved:

  • Independence
  • Access to communication
  • Access to the environment
  • Access to leisure opportunities, enjoyment, and fun!

Assistive technologies are seen as necessary in formal education settings to provide a more equitable learning environment through providing learners with the tools they need to live a more enjoyable and inclusive life.

Although there has been a focus on the use of assistive Technologies in formal education, including, in some countries, legislation and regulation laying down rights of provision, there has been less focus outside the formal education sector. However, this has attracted more attention since Covid-19 led to large scale restrictions on schooling and it became apparent that many students with disabilities had limited access to online learning at home. Of course, this reflects wider inequalities at well as just access to Assistive Technologies for those with disabilities. As well as the need for access to Assistive Technologies at home, it is important that such technologies can be adapted in the more informal educational settings such as youth organisations and in adult education. We are aware that there are widespread inequalities in terms of access to Assistive Technologies and this can be very frustrating for both those with disabilities and those that support them. Indeed, one researcher said to us that if you care for someone with disabilities you become an activist. We hope the information in this toolbox can at least inform about what assistive technologies are available if sufficient resources can be secured.

Virtual Mobility and self esteem

Regarding Virtual Mobility, with new, assistive digital technologies and instantaneous communication, students can learn socially through a virtual medium, which builds their self-esteem in both their own academic abilities as well as their social abilities. With these technologies, teachers, trainers, and youth workers can create collaborative, global classroom environments, connecting students with other students around the world, encouraging them to work together across cultural borders

It’s worth remembering that Assistive Technology is not only beneficial to differently abled people but can help create a more effective, efficient, and creative learning experience for all learners. Assistive technology also creates an inclusive environment that encourages individuals to speak up for their needs as opposed to settings that cater only to a generic or “standard” type of learner.

Explore more

The World Health Organisation Factsheet on Assistive Technologies provides a good overview of issues, especially that of inequality in provision and international and national policies. “

They say the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development places good health and well-being at the centre of a new development vision. It emphasizes universal health coverage (UHC) to ensure a sustainable development for all, so that everyone everywhere can access the health services needed without facing financial hardship. 

Universal Health Coverage can be advanced inclusively only if people are able to access quality assistive products when and where they need them.

Assistive Technology for All is a Web page written by Rohan Slaughter in the early days of lockdowns for the Covid 19 pandemic. It is hosted by the UK Jisc and aims to assist those new to supporting students with assistive technology. “We aim to explain why AT should be used, what AT actually is, and how you can start with undertaking assessments for AT provisioning. We continue into an overview of AT tools inclusive of more mainstream AT, such as that ‘baked into’ the technology we all use.” Desides giving proctical advice it provides a wealth of links to different assistive technologies.

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