Children with disabilities deserve the opportunity to learn, be social and participate in the same way that students without disabilities do. Many challenges remain for educators and parents when it comes to providing special-needs students with a fulfilling, involved school experience. Fortunately, assistive technology gives students with disabilities the chance to be independent and to excel in academics and sports.
Who do we call students with special education needs? According to international educational documents, children with special needs are persons under the age of21who need additional support in the educational process. These are children with mental-physical disorders, children with disabilities, refugee children, working children, children-migrants, children – representatives of national minorities, children – representatives of religious minorities, children from families with low living wage, homeless children, orphans, children with AIDS / HIV and others.
According to the percentage numbers from the University of Cincinnati researchers for today there is a following breakdown of students with special needs in US:
- Specific learning disability – 36%;
- Speech or language impairment – 21%;
- Other health impairment – 13%;
- Autism – 8%;
- Intellectual disability – 7%;
- Developmental delay – 6%;
- Emotional disturbance – 5%;
- Multiple disabilities – 2%;
- Hearing impairment – 1%;
- Orthopedic impairment – 1%.
Students in need of special care face a variety of learning, developmental and physical challenges and difficulties. Among them:
- gaps in knowledge;
- difficulties in perceiving a teaching material in a generally accepted form;
- reduced efficiency, increased fatigue and exhaustion, difficulty concentration;
- increased vulnerability to infectious diseases and, in this connection, problems with attending classes;
- shortage of communicability;
- low social activity;
- a habit of indecent, lenient attitude, overestimation of their abilities;
- low level of motivation, a sense of loss of the future;
- hesitation, low self-esteem, undeveloped self-control;
- increased anxiety, vulnerability, emotional instability, etc.
Special-needs educators help students overcome these obstacles, though there are barriers in bringing education to those who need it.
Unfortunately, education professionals point out that the number of special education teachers is rapidly decreasing due to the labor intensity and low wages. Therefore, modern assistive technologies come to the aid of schools.
Assistive technologies help students with disabilities in all areas of school, from learning to athletics, through the use of cutting-edge and adaptive equipment.
Modern schools use different assistive technology for learning and in-class activities:
- light signals;
- touch screens;
- screen readers;
- screen magnifiers;
- wands and joysticks;
- sip-and-puff systems;
- alternative keyboards;
- voice recognition software;
- braille embossers and refreshable braille display.
In a large degree, the problem of training students with special educational needs solves distance learning. It allows to greatly expand the boundaries of the world surrounding these children, provides tools for its exploring. It makes it possible to take into account the individual characteristics of each child; learning becomes personality-oriented.
There are different models of distance learning with different didactic possibilities: work mainly with text files, or multimedia technologies, video conferencing, using Internet services (e-mail, search engines, newsgroups, forums, and blogs). In addition, many assistant educational online-services like Pro-Papers become helpful tools for students with special needs. Modern technical means allow students to adjust learning materials they receive in accordance with their needs.
One of the means of distance education of children with disabilities is carried out with the help of Skype in the form of video conferencing. We can also subsume the virtual class – I-class, the virtual board IDroo to the technical aids that allow the teacher and student work together. The virtual classroom allows the teacher and student to use e-textbooks recommended for use in distance learning. Getting access to the necessary teaching aids, the student has the opportunity to work both in the classroom and independently during homework.
While the challenges faced by educators are real, there are fortunately a number of nonprofit organizations, government programs and niche vendors available. Assistive technology marketplaces:
- ATI Assistive Technology Marketplace;
- American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.;
- Able Data: Tools and Technologies to Enhance Life;
- US Adaptive Recreation Center;
- Device Loan Libraries Available by State.
In conclusion, it becomes clear that the community is obliged to give every child an opportunity, regardless of his needs and other circumstances, to realize fully his potential, bring benefits to society and become a full member of it. With proper funding and school and community involvement, computer technology can bring many benefits to students with disabilities.With the help of up-to-date technology, these students learn and are able to participate in ways that were previously impossible.