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NCTI conducted a literature review, tracked consumer and educational technology trends, and contacted stakeholders in the educational and assistive technology field to gather their perspectives on state of the art assistive technology
More than 65 people provided input, representing education and training; academia; business and industry; federal, state, and local governments; and professional education or AT associations.
When we asked respondents to define ‘state of the art assistive technology’ several themes emerged:
Convergence is the transformation of various systems or tools into a single platform or device. Just a few years ago, each communication device, scheduler, prompt and navigation system for users with disabilities required its own device, now users (both with and without disabilities) have access to powerful all-in-one solutions. Additionally, many apps and tools for users with disabilities are crossing into the mainstream, blurring the lines between AT and consumer technology (TTS, screen magnifiers, captioning software, etc.). As these tools become more integrated, we all benefit. Historically, AT devices have not always kept up with consumer electronics in terms of available options (wireless, Bluetooth, etc.) as it can be prohibitively expensive to develop new dedicated devices with these features for a relatively small audience. Although most of us now have cell phones that are essentially pocket-sized computers, many AT devices do not provide users with the same utility, necessitating multiple devices. As developments in consumer tech lead to devices that are smaller, faster and lighter, the challenge is to ensure that they provide the same access to multimedia, web and interactivity offered by a basic cell phone.
Customizability to meet individual needs has become a common feature in educational software to increase access and benefit to technology. Applying the principles of Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, can be an effective way to customize teaching, learning, and assessment to meet the needs of diverse students. We can see this in action in accessible gaming – many of the recommended supports and customizability for gamers with disabilities benefit all players.
Evidence-Based Research. The research in the field is broadening, shifting from device-focused or disability-focused research to an examination of specific features and broader audiences. State of the art research needs to focus on features, usage, and population rather than individual products – technology is changing too rapidly to focus solely on devices which may not be current a year from now. Given the convergence of AT features and consumer tech devices, much of our state of the art research can come from other disciplines, or from consumer testing and demand. Consumer devices are unlikely to thrive if they are cumbersome, difficult to use or expensive – we can learn a lot about valuable tech features by paying attention to how consumers, both with and without disabilities utilize technology tools.
Portability. Portable technologies are boosting student independence by providing them with anytime, anywhere learning opportunities. Portable tech like netbooks, iPod Touch, preloaded jump drives, software in the cloud, etc. allows kids with disabilities to take their AT devices and software with them wherever they go. Additionally, these devices can help reduce some of the stigma associated with AT devices, especially for adolescents – when a communication device is an iPod Touch rather than a bulky single-purpose tool, kids are using AT that looks just like the gadgets their peers use.
Interoperability. A lack of interoperability has been cited as a major barrier to sustained use of assistive technology. Software as a service (SAAS) and portable, interoperable devices enable users to access AT that isn’t tied to any one machine or a specific classroom location. As students spend more time in the general education classroom, an AT ‘lab’ in a fixed location isn’t practical – for tech to be a part of the learning solution, kids and teachers must be able to readily access it in any learning environment. Additionally, interoperable devices and software should share and compile data on student performance, allowing teachers to monitor progress toward goals, facilitate communication with other staff, and readily make changes to differentiate instruction.
make devices, applications, and systems “simple.” NCTI hears this plea from parents and caregivers as well. Too often, the sophistication of the features or interface of new devices precludes easy use by direct consumers or their parents, teachers, and friends. Although this design principle may exert pressure on the others listed here, such as portability and convergence, we consider it imperative to the design of AT. With more students being served in general education classrooms of up to 30 students, devices and systems need to offer as little complexity and facilitate as much independence for the user as possible. Two respondents provided strong statements on this theme: “The simplest tool that overcomes the barrier is the tool which should be considered state-of-the-art.” “Make it simple, but not one bit too simple.”
To realize its full potential, the AT field must: • Include innovative uses and interfaces built on the efficiencies and customizability options of mainstream consumer products. • Develop devices and systems that can interoperate with existing and future technologies in the school, home, and pockets of consumers to reduce redundancy and improve data-tracking effectiveness. • Insist that more students with disabilities have access to and are learning with AT that will promote their achievement and independence. • Be guided by related research that informs and is informed by disability research so that products and training reflect the latest knowledge from science, education, and consumer patterns. The evidence base needs to expand to reflect real-world implementation challenges and solutions, with AT training and services delivered collaboratively to general education teachers. • Seize the opportunity to create new applications with wide cross-over appeal and reach, breaking down the barriers between educational and assistive technologies and between students with and without disabilities.
Easy and reliable access to state of the art assistive and consumer technology is not just a matter of convenience for users with disabilities. In an era when almost everyone is capable of multiple modes of communication, when people can access information, games and social networks with the push of a button on a computer in their pocket, lacking this kind of access leads to digital exclusion of an enormous segment of our population.
Unleashing the Power of Innovation for Assistive Technology
Unleashing the Power of Innovation for Assistive Technology <br />Alise Brann, Research Analyst<br />email@example.com<br />
<ul><li>Technical assistance center funded by the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs
Promotes technology innovation to support student learning, with an emphasis on students with disabilities
Operated by American Institutes for Research in Washington, DC </li></ul>What is NCTI?<br />