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The following questions were received during the LD@school webinar, Assistive Technology & Distance Learning – Developing Skills with Accessible Tools During COVID-19click here to view the webinar recording.

Answered by Chad Downes, Teacher/SEA Trainer, London District Catholic School Board

How can we continue to support students using assistive technology (AT) as they get older and more concerned about feeling ‘different’ using their technology, such as voice to text, in the classroom?

The rate at which students abandon their technology supports definitely increases as students enter into the intermediate grades, as developmentally they shift the importance of social status and they become more concerned over how their peers view them. This is particularly true if they have not developed habits and strategies to utilize their assistive technology.  

What I suggest to educators is to really focus on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the classroom. We need to emphasize that AT is not just a tool for students who struggle with reading and writing, but this is a tool that is available to everyone. Using your voice is just one of the ways that you are able to share information. Some students may prefer writing with a pen or pencil, others prefer to type, and some like to use voice to text. When all students have access to AT and it is seen as a normal part of everyday instruction, it becomes less stigmatizing for those who need to use AT to access the curriculum.   

There aren’t always funds available for assistive technology to be offered to the whole class, which can make it difficult to build an inclusive classroom. How do we as educators build an inclusive classroom when there are not enough funds for all?  

Good question! One way to combat this, when there aren’t funds available for the entire class, is to share the SEA technology. The student the computer is assigned to always gets priority in using the device and accessing the supports, but making use of the resources in the classroom helps in normalizing the use of the technology for all students. The SEA Guidelines state “efforts are made to share equipment among several students when appropriate and possible.” Sharing the technology will help to reduce stigma around using technology, and will provide other students with the opportunity to develop new skills.  

How practical is it to use Read & Write with young primary students, for example, students in Grade 1?

Students in the early primary years are still practicing letter formation and written structure, and are not yet communicating in full ideas. Read & Write generally works best when you are speaking in full sentences, but it can still be useful for this age group, especially when a student is able to express themselves verbally but struggles with written expression. We want to use technology to help support a students' area of need, as well as build off their strengths. If they excel at verbal expression, Read & Write could be very helpful, as long as we are encouraging proper use.  

An activity suggestion for this age group is to have students express their favourite animal in a simple sentence, such as “My favourite animal is a giraffe.” Have the student practice the sentence aloud before recording it, so that the student can dictate clearly into the microphone without any pauses or filler words. Alternatively, you can have the young student read and dictate their favourite book into Read & Write. The text should be something they’ve practiced and are familiar with, in order for the technology to function at its best.

How can voice-to-text be used in a classroom without disturbing other students?

This depends on the teacher, student, and the environment. A successful strategy I have implemented is allowing students who use voice-to-text to work together. To start, this can help isolate the potential noise/speaking to one area of the classroom. It will also help students develop a sense of community because they can problem solve and troubleshoot their technology together. But most importantly, as a classroom develops inclusive practices, educators need to help set the tone that the students using their voices are on task and other students need to practice tuning that out. If students understand why the technology is used, and what the technology is used for, then it should not be considered disruptive as long as the student is on task.   

How do we access the assistive technology that is available to us as educators, such as Read & Write and Mindomo?

Access to software varies depending on your school board. Please contact your board’s Technology Enabled Learning Teacher (TELT) to discuss the specific software available through your school board and how to access it. Hope that helps! 

Chad Downes is a Teacher with the London District Catholic School and holds the position of SEA Trainer. A graduate of Media Information Techno-culture from Western University, he earned a Master's in teaching by studying the impact of computer technology on literacy. Chad holds a strong commitment to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) through a strength-based approach so that all students can achieve. Chad was the Assistive Technology Advisor for the Amethyst Provincial Demonstration School, a member of the Accessible Formatting team for EQAO, and he helped rewrite the AQ course on Assistive Technology for the Ontario College of Teachers. Chad is currently writing a course on Educational Technology for Fanshawe College. He has presented and developed capacity on 21st Century learning skills, with a focus on students with learning disabilities, at conferences around the province, including ASET, CEC, and LD@school’s Educators’ Institute.