Shauna Hanna

From Education to Workplace: Assistive Technology for all stages of life


Technology has changed the face of education. And for many students with disabilities, it has leveled the playing field amongst their peers and enabled them to realize their true potential. That's why we attend events like ATIA, which help schools and educators who are seeking to improve their knowledge of how best to support students with learning difficulties and provide them with tools and learning strategies to help students achieve that potential.




However, Assistive Technology (AT) in the education space can sometimes get a raw deal. It usually gets singled out as something that only students with special needs require. However, what we’ve learned from Universal Design for Learning is that any student can benefit from an AT tool - as it gives them multiple means of representation, expression and engagement that they can choose from to support their unique learning style.  

What’s even better is, if the AT is used widely across the student body as a general educational tool for collaboration, expression and productivity then there is likely to be less stigma attached to an individual student needing that extra bit of support.
 

Preparing for the future

The very nature of the way students learn has been changing over the last number of years, and equally, the world is changing too. So the challenge is how do we advise students with confidence if we don’t know what the future is going to look like?

We’re big advocates for helping to improve literacy skills with the help of AT across the board, but digital literacy is a necessity if we’re all to become digital citizens; individuals responsible for how they use technology to interact with the world around them.

Collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity - mastering these core skills and attributes will successfully prepare students for study, work and life ahead.  

The skills of today’s workforce will not be the same skills required of the workforce of the future. We cannot control or predict what the jobs of the future will be...but we can control the skills we develop in the classroom.

Give students something to do. Not just something to learn -  social learning, engaging and relevant learning seems to be what helps to make teaching ‘stick’.
 

Finding the right tools

Assistive Technology can come in many forms.  It can be as simple as a magnifying glass for someone with a visual impairment, as every day as a smartphone calendar app helping those with specific learning difficulties plan their study, or as complex as eye-tracking technology which enables those with significant mobility impairments to use a computer.

Unlike students who don’t have a learning disability, every child living with a learning disability or a visual impairment has unique learning needs. Assistive Technology allows the student to take control of their learning journey, and gain some independence in their education.  But it shouldn’t stop there.  Those diverse learning needs don’t disappear when they graduate. If they’ve found the right tools that work for them in education, those tools should naturally be available and continue to support them as they progress into the world of work.
 

Transition of support

Transition of support is really essential too - imagine walking out of school one day and going into the workplace the next and not even having the simplest access to a pen and paper.  Access to Assistive Technology should be as freely available as that.

Our education system is serving to make work-ready employees, so then equally, the workplace should be ready to adopt them, bring them in and of course, resource and support them.

More and more employers are recognizing now the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  But it’s not just about age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Organizations are beginning to learn that they need the benefits that neurodiverse individuals can bring with a unique range of skills, gifts, talents and completely different perspectives that their neurotypical counterparts don’t have.

For example, neurodiverse individuals may not flourish in a traditional interview format, but they still have lots to bring to the table, including the ability to approach problems from a different angle and consider innovative solutions to business challenges.

Thinking of autism,  there is the ability for deep concentration, sequencing and fine detail processing. If we think of an individual in a highly detailed role, perhaps software development or coding - to be able to pick out full stops, 1’s 2’s and 0’s and that very fine complex detail - the autistic brain is very good at getting into that level of detail and consistent working.

Similarly, people on the dyslexia spectrum may be a good fit for careers in creative industries, due to their unique strengths in interpreting, conceptualizing and visualizing designs.

Assistive Technology is just one of the ways we can support this transition into the world of work. Not only does it provide ongoing support for individuals to be more productive, be happier and stay in the job, but it is going to have a knock-on productivity benefit for the whole organization.

At Texthelp, we believe that every individual deserves an equal chance to shine, at any grade level and later in the world of work.

Here are just some of the ways our AT solutions can help:
 

Concentration

For times when concentration is key, we’ve got lots of tools to help with focus. For some, the use of a screen tint massively increases concentration and reduces visual stress and for others, it’s highlighting keywords or phrases.
 

Alternative formats

For some, the written word isn’t a powerful enough medium. Our tools have lots of features which allow users to hear text read aloud, use visual cues as well as
help communication within a document.


Expression

Tools that help with self-expression are in abundance across our technologies, whether expressing a math equation using your voice, using visual aids or leaving oral feedback in a document.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. If you attended ATIA this year, we'd love to hear what your key takeaways were.  We’d especially love to hear your views on AT and the continuation of support for students who need it as they progress into the world of work.

 

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