Listening to this weeks presentation about Assistive Technologies I really didn’t think that I had much experience with any of the tools that the group mentioned or with assistive technology in general. I had heard of Kurzweil and a couple of others but really had no personal experience with them.
When Launel shared the story of her husbands cousin, who is blind and makes his living as a machinist, in our Google+ community I was reminded of a story from my own high school. This was not a personal experience of mine but it came to mind right away after watching the video she shared. In our high school we had many options for hands on classes such as mechanics, cooking, cosmetology and many more. You don’t really realize how lucky you were to have that until you look back! I remember doing a tour of the mechanics shop at our high school and the teacher sharing about a student who was blind and was working on all kinds of different machines by using his hands to see. I was hoping to find a video about his story but had no luck. I did however find an article about him working as an employee for Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure’s Yorkton Repair Depot. The last line in the article is just the best!
“There are plenty of ways to describe this engaging young man. Being blind just happens to be an after thought.”
Much like Amy mentioned in her post this week, it took a little thinking for me to realize that I am using assistive technology tools for my students on a daily basis. Some of these students are on individualized program plans but a majority of them are not. If you walk into my classroom on a daily basis you will see wiggle seats, mushroom chairs, noise cancelling headphones, flexible seating and more depending on who needs what that day.
According to the Merriam Webster definition of assistance, it is not defined by specific characteristics or needs. It is simply a matter of offering support.
I couldn’t help but wonder this week, why is it that the common assumption around assistive technologies is that they are for those who have a diagnosis or are identified as needing extra support? Can we not all use a little assistance from time to time? In my mind, people are simply people. It doesn’t matter if someone has a diagnosis, is blind and/or deaf or anything else. What we need to do is provide each learner with the best opportunities for success.
Why didn’t I recognize that what I am already doing in my own classroom is considered assistive technology?
Understanding our reasons for wanting and needing to provide assistance to learners starts with knowing why we want to do it. As Simon Sinek shares in his Start With Why Ted Talk, when we start with the why the results are insurmountable.
When we start with our why I think we are making a conscious effort to keep students first. In keeping students as the first and foremost priority the opportunities to support them are endless. That support is going to look different for every single one of our students but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s our job to support them. Are there going to be challenges? Yes, of course! However, we need to embrace them!
As teachers today we often face constraints around what supports are available for the students in our classroom. Often there isn’t enough money to go around, there aren’t enough occupational therapists, psychologists, counselors, and speech pathologists either. By no fault of their own, simply put, the demand is just so high! Often times we need these supports to be able to access some of the tools and supports that will benefit our students. So what happens when we can’t access them?
Should we let the constraints we face stop us from wanting to provide our students with the supports that they need?
I hope it’s clear that I believe we cannot answer no to the above question. We need to try it in a different way and keep trying!