Physical Disability: Technology and Learning
This page is authored by Johanne Brochu (March, 2010).
Accessibility and inclusivity (Banes & Seale, 2002) are two terms used in the hope of ending discrimination towards people with physical disabilities which is increasingly evident in the field of education. Recent technological advances have provided revolutionary educational opportunities for students with physical disabilities.
Students with Physical Disabilities
Physical disabilities in learners are those that are dealing with "a range of disabilities and health issues, including both congenital and acquired disabilities" (Foundations of Special Ed., 2007, para. 1). Physical disabilities might include a combination of other characteristics such as "visual or hearing impairments, learning disabilities or cognitive delay" (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical Disabilities, 1996, p. 50).
Responsibility in Educating Disabled Students
The primary responsibility in educating students with disabilities is the facilitation of learning by making academic opportunities more accessible and personal to individuals; "... the idea was to provide an inclusive working environment where disabled students could work with their peers rather than being segregated into special areas" (Banes & Seale, 2002, p.2).
Equal access opportunities to all classes and programs within an educational institution must be made available to students with physical disabilities. These students may need adapted materials or equipment and support from teachers or professionals to adapt their learning environment to their needs (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical Disabilities, 1996).
Introducing Educational Technology
Even though the introduction of technology into the education system is revolutionizing teaching methods, trained and empathetic teachers are necessary to engage the students and enhance "lesson plans that use instructional and assistive technology" (Assistive Technology for Students with physical disabilities, 2007, para. 5).
The advances in computer technology, and the fact that efficiency has increased whereas cost has decreased has made it possible for institutions to take proactive steps in providing students with physical disabilities the right technology in order for them to be successful (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical disabilities, 1996).
Providing the Right Technology
Computer-based technology is constantly evolving. But most importantly, as indicated by Higbee, Kalivoda, Know & Totty (2000), it is essential to understand the issues involved with disabilities in order to find the technologies that will best fit the students. There are a plethora of assistive products on the market, a factor when trying to match devices to students, noted by Phipps and Sutherland (2007).
Assistive Technology Devices for Computer Access
Hardware or Software
Studier hardware programs can ease the use of computers even though they are relatively expensive due to the low demand (Henderson, 2007). More sophisticated software programs, such as Speech Recognition (Dictation and Voice Recognition), can allow learners to navigate into documents and application when a Screen Reader can translate the screen contents into voice output, suggested by Henderson (2007).
Modifications to the Standard Keyboard
Modifications to the standard keyboard can be put into place to increase the efficiency of use depending on the disability itself. Devices such as "keyguards", "moisture guards", "Access Utilities/Control Panel Settings" and diverse features "layout of the keyboard", "keylatch", elimination of "the auto repeat feature", "Access utilities" on Microsoft Word and WordPerfect are all useful in carrying out such a function (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical Disabilities, 1996, p. 54).
Alternate and Expanded Keyboards
Alternative keyboards such as the expanded keyboard, miniature keyboard or on-screen keyboard are specifically tailored to students with fine motor issues and provide alternate features and uses in contrast to standard ones (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical Disabilities, 1996, p. 54).
Alternate Input Methods
Many input methods have been developed to support students with physical disabilities. These include devices such as: "switches", "electronic pointing devices", scrolling "mice", "trackballs", "joysticks", "touchscreens", "Morse code", "auditory signals" (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical Disabilities, 1996, p. 55), "screen enlargement" and "Braille computer output" devices (Rajeev, 2009, para. 2).
Management and Word-Processing
Menu management programs like macros or hot keys and word-processing programs like Abbreviation Expansion or Word Prediction Program can be used to facilitate time reduction to disable users (Meeting the Needs of Students with Physical Disabilities, 1996, pp. 55-56).
Specially Adapted Websites
The focus of understanding the needs of students with disabilities, is increasingly influencing website design. The goal is to accomodate people with special needs (Sloan, 2002) and, moreover, to facilitate the efficiency of communication " without the meta processes of taping, brailling, and sign language interpreting" (Higbee et al., 2000, para. 4).
The World Wide Web's lack of accessibility has been designed with no "intent or malice" from many web site designers (Higbee et al., 2000, para. 4).
Waddell (1998) had presented the idea of accessible websites, ADA to the internet, believed that "the benefits of accessible web design extends beyond the community of people with disabilities and an aging population since it enables low technology to access high technology" (Waddell, 1998, para. 3).
Distance Education Technologies and Physical Disabilities
Web conferencing and distance learning can definitively offer new avenues of learning to people with physical disabilities.
As per Coombs (2005), distance education technology can be used by students with physical disabilities to enhance their learning while improving their communication skills through group discussion. In fact, disabilities become invisible to other classmates, "discussants are judged by their contributions and not by external indications of status or success" (Coombs, 2005, para. 16). He argued that it creates a barrier-free learning environment where the student’s self-confidence is positively affected through his personal contributions.
Although still in early stages, the new possibilities made available by technological advances have clearly demonstrated their usefulness in the education of disabled students. Students with physical disabilities can hope to benefit even more from advancement of future technologies. Developments in educational technology, in combination with progress made in other areas, allow such students to pursue academic achievements and encounters from which they were often excluded in the past.
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- Physical disability Dealing with physical disabilities in the classroom
- Web Accessibility Initiative(WAI) Strategies, guidelines and resources about Web accessibility
Belcastro, F. (2005, September). Electronic technology: Hope for rural gifted students who have motor impairment of the hands. Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 17(3), 237-247.
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