In the United States, 7.1 million students receive special education services for a variety of disabilities. Around 2.3 million (33%) of those students have a learning disability, while 19% have a speech or language impairment and 15% have other health impairments. Recent innovations in assistive and rehabilitative technology are helping enable students with disabilities and improve their lives both inside and outside the classroom.
How can technology enable students with disabilities?
Adaptive technology can empower students with disabilities to learn by giving them access to important tools. For example, a person with a visual impairment can read text on a computer screen by using speech output. Someone with limited use of their hands can use voice input or an alternative keyboard to control the computer. A student with a speech impediment may be able to participate more fully in electronic communication. By connecting with teachers and online, students with disabilities can share their experience and discuss important issues with their community.
If you’re a student with a disability, technology can enable you to:
- Take care of yourself and your family
- Attend school in a classroom
- Work outside of the home
- Access information through computers and books
- Enjoy music, sports, traveling, and entertainment
- Participate fully in your community
Assistive technology for students with disabilities
Assistive technology tools in the classroom helps students with disabilities learn in ways that work best for them, while keeping them connected to their teachers and peers. Smart technology and voice assistants can give students more independence.
Not surprisingly, smart technology can be a great accessibility tool for people with disabilities. For example, smart fridges have sensors that eliminate the need to open a heavy or inaccessible door. The sensors respond to a light bump and automatically open the door for you. Some smart fridges have a sensor at the bottom so that a wave of the foot will trigger it to open.
People who are unable to leave their homes might be able to get their groceries and other important packages delivered via delivery robots. Students with learning disabilities may benefit from a smart notebook to help keep notes organized. You can also use smart technology to attend online school or telehealth appointments. Online doctor’s visits can help you avoid harmful germs and access specialists who may not be available in your area.
Most smart technology tools can connect to voice assistants, such as Alexa and Google Nest. You can tell your voice assistant to turn the lights on or off, set your security alarm, start brewing a cup of coffee, or turn on the oven. You can also ask them questions and set schedules and reminders. Learn more about how to make your home more accessible by creating a smart apartment.
At the Rochester Institute of Technology, Microsoft’s AI-powered communication technology is generating captions for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. The Microsoft Translator app helps students communicate with their peers by showing a transcript of the lesson. AI-powered closed captioning is helping students with disabilities stay connected in the classroom.
Assistive technology tools
Abbreviation expanders allow users to save keyboard shortcuts for commonly used words or phrases. Students who have trouble typing may benefit from alternative keyboards that let them customize their input choices. Audiobooks and electronic worksheets can be great options for students with specific learning disabilities. For students who have trouble writing by hand, portable word processors and speech recognition programs offer an alternative way to write. Assistive technology tools can address many types of disabilities and help students maintain their independence in the classroom.
Rehabilitative technology for students with disabilities
Rehabilitative technology can help restore or improve function in people who have developed a disability due to a disease, injury, or aging. Innovations in rehab therapy have been changing lives across the globe, allowing those with disabilities to increase their independence and helping to compensate for a limitation or impairment. Technology such as AI and robotics will continue to improve, therefore also improving the lives of students with disabilities.
For those recovering from a spinal cord injury or surgery, an Anti-Gravity Treadmill allows for partial weight bearing while walking or running. They can walk or exercise with only part of their body weight, ranging anywhere from 20% to 100%. It can help decrease swelling and prevent muscular atrophy, allowing for a better quality of life.
Red light therapy
Light therapy has grown in popularity over the past several years, from treating acne to hair growth and anti-aging treatments. But how can it help the disability community? Red light therapy has the potential to help heal chronic wounds and may also encourage new skin growth and help new blood vessel networks form. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and can be an asset in helping students with disabilities recover faster.
While most people still consider virtual reality (VR) to be a source of entertainment, it also has the potential to enhance the lives of disabled people. Those with autism or social anxiety can practice real-life scenarios in a virtual environment. Virtual reality can help those with assistive devices or mobility aids learn how to use these tools. VR enables people with disabilities to perform activities that might otherwise be unsafe for them to do, and it can help students with certain impairments learn new skills
Not all disabilities are visible. In fact, many disabilities are considered “hidden” or “invisible,” meaning they are not immediately noticeable and might not have a physical indicator. Some examples are chronic fatigue, chronic pain, mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD), and cognitive impairment. It’s important to acknowledge invisible disabilities and never assume that someone is able bodied.
Have assistive or rehabilitative devices helped you or someone you love? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts.