Thursday, August 14, 2008

Giving Kids Relevant, Living Assistive Technology

I heard Steven Timmer talking about how difficult it was to get his son with a learning disability to bring his Alphasmart home with his homework on it. When he asked his son if he ever used it, he replied "I use it for a pillow." It came in a soft padded case and he would use it to rest is head on when he would lay down. At least the technology was helping him do something!
"If kids don't find a practical reason to use AT for something they want to do, they won't incorporate it into their world and use it," shared Steven Timmer, Ph.D. from Premier Literacy. How true.
(See yesterday, August 13, 08 post for more on Steven.)
Here is the thing I am beginning to wrap my brain around, and it is going to be a simple but profound distinction that will affect my AT services for years to come: There is assistive learning technology and there is assistive living technology. I shared this yesterday, but I wanted to talk about it a little more in light of what I do.
I have been giving learning technology to kids to help them at school and that is OK. But I also have been trying to give living technology to kids too early and they aren't ready for it. They aren't ready to incorporate it or understand the support it will give yet because they aren't even doing the things they need to do with it. I am also giving teachers and students learning technologies when what they need are living technology so they are prepared to move on with life and many of them haven't really received these tools yet and have no clue when or how to use them. They WILL use them if we give them the chance to implement them doing something that is important to them.
Instead of spending so much time with a software that prepares them to learn information to perform better on state assessments and try to get their scores up, maybe we need to focus more on helping them to independently take text and summarize it, and convert it to an Mp3 file they can listen to it. Oh, and by the way…let them select an article, story or other print media that is relevant to them.
I have some developmentally delayed and cognitive disabled students that are older - in high school that can use some of both kinds of AT to a certain point, but by high school, we should have given them the ability to use living technology for themselves so they can use it independently to access life. And you know what? If I teach them how to access life with living tools, I bet it will impact their ability to prep for those tests…hmmm just a thought.

Steven shared a great example of this when he told us about a fireman who had a dream to be Captain. He had some reading and writing disabilities and so he was given the tools at a local vocational rehab center to study for the exam that would qualify him for the job.
With the help of the center and the tools they used with him, he was able to take and pass the exam. He was promoted to the Captain position and held the job for 2 weeks before he was demoted again. Why? No one took into account that there would be job skills that he would have to have to do on a daily basis such as purchase orders, summary reports, evaluations, etc. He couldn't handle the amount of work at the speed he needed to do it. As the mountain piled up he got further behind until it was evident he couldn't handle it. If he had been given living technology he could use in his daily life to help him access text and convert it and write it, he might have been able to tackle the job. He still would have had to work harder and smarter than others without a disability, but if he wanted it bad enough, at least he could have done it.
I know I am talking about issues where we have students with print disabilities, but there are many of us with print disabilities. They need support at a daily life level, with a toolbox full of tools they can choose when they want to do the things that are important to them. These will be the tools they will use the rest of their lives. That would be the greatest gift we could give our students.

All the best to you!

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