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Assistive technologies and online learning
Assistive technologies and online learning

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1 What is assistive technology?

In this course, the term ‘assistive technology’ is used to refer to any technology that makes it possible for a disabled person to use a computer, to make their use of that computer more efficient or to enable them to access online information.

‘Assistive technology’ can also be used in a wider sense to refer to any technology used by disabled people to enable them to carry out an action or task. ‘Enabling technology’ is another term used to describe such technology.

Banes and Seale (2002) give the following explanation:

One of the ways in which access to learning resources and teaching material can be facilitated is through the use of specialised technologies often called assistive technology. Assistive technology can be defined as:

equipment and software that are used to maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a person with a disability [Doyle and Robson, 2002, p. 44].

In thinking about how assistive technology can facilitate access to learning resources or teaching material, the focus is on providing access to technologies that will bridge the ‘access gap’ between the teaching material and the student. The material itself may not have to be altered if appropriate assistive technologies can be utilised.

For students in further and higher education the kinds of assistive technology they may need to use include:

  • technology that facilitates access to a standard PC,
  • technology that facilitates access to the Internet,
  • technology that facilitates access to and manipulation of written word[s],
  • technology that facilitates access to and manipulation of spoken word[s],
  • technology that helps to compensate for cognitive deficits.

Assistive technology includes hardware such as scanners, adapted keyboards or hearing aids and software such as speech recognition software or thought organisation software. Assistive technology is often associated with high-tech systems such as speech recognition software, but it can include low-tech solutions such as arm rests or wrist guards.

(Banes and Seale, 2002, p. 2.)