Why assistive technology helps us all with learning

I’m not for one moment claiming this post has all the answers, but hopefully it raises some ideas with you that you either hadn’t observed or thought of before in your classroom.

Firstly let us get one thing straight – you can no longer put disabilities in a corner. For decades, centuries even, it was acceptable to put people with an impairment out of sight and therefore out of mind. An impairment, according to Roblyer (2016), involves an abnormaility or loss of function in a physical, anatomical, or psychological structure. Impairments can be cogenital (present at birth) or acquired via an accident or disease. Herein lies the rub, many individuals assume that an impairment limits or restricts a person’s ability, it doesn’t have to nor in all cases does it at all. When an impairment does limit or restrict an individual from performing a specific task or activity then it can be described as a disability. An example by Roblyer (2016) is,

a student who has lost the function of his right arm has an impairment; this condition may have little or no impact on a variety of life functions, however, this student may encounter situations where the inability to use two arms places him at a disadvantage with others.

What I want to highlight in this blog post is how iOS technologies specifically can address disabilities through augmentation or by compensating for impairments. In addition I want to show how simply shifting our thinking to using these approaches or augmentations we can also benefit the learning of more able students.

If you have any experience in classrooms you should have by now realised that we don’t teach subjects we teacher students and each of those students are individuals. Robyler (2016) puts it perfectly when she writes that:

Educators who understand diversity in academic settings recognise that some students will learn quickly and others more slowly…. As a result, educators need to be prepared to use technology that supports learners who have a wide array of physical, sensory and cognitive abilities and challenges.

If you’re wondering what assistive technologies are or what various disabilities could present themselves in your classroom then read http://www.teachthought.com/uncategorized/the-role-of-assitive-technology-in-supporting-disabled-learners/. But this post is simply about the iOS uses I’ve seen, in just this year alone, with assistive technologies.

Firstly I have been lucky enough to work in an environment where my students all have an iPad with them every lesson.  This device is usually updated to the latest operating system (iOS9) and used primarily for learning, although it is their own personal device, so they have ownership of it 24/7 for other uses.

Example 1 – a student of mine who has dyspraxia. This impairment has no effect on his intelligence and he is a boy at the top of his year level in terms of this capability. He sometimes struggles with communicating his ideas but by far the biggest impact on his learning in the classroom is with note taking and working at the pace of the lesson.  As a result he will often type his notes either on Notepad, Word, Pages or some other note taking application on his iOS device. If he is not able to get them all done then he is granted permission to take a photo of the board work or any other learning materials to add them directly in to his notes. Now this is not an “accessibility” feature on the iOS device and could be done using most smart phone or tablet devices nowadays. But it does represent how technology can simply assist us in a busy learning environment. What was once a stressful and difficult to manage task for this young boy was now a joy that made it simply and allowed him to focus on what was most critical – the concepts being learned.

  • Ironically others could benefit from this too, at the discretion of the classroom teacher, to enable slower writers, or a student who is sick or needs to leave early, to capture (pun intended!) the whole lesson.
  • Other disabilities that might be accommodated with this simple camera and typing function to capture lesson notes, include students with other mild cognitive writing disabilities; students with sensory or visual impairments that find it difficult to work from the board at a distance; and students who are gifted and talented to improve quantity and quality of writing.

Example 2 – a number of students of mine have cognitive impairments around working memory deficits, that is they are unable to hold the same quantity of items in their working memory as the rest of us.  Hence their retention of new information in a classroom situation is lower and they need more repetition both in an out of class to successfully embed new skills. Now specifically in terms of assistive technology one could argue there isn’t much on an iOS device to help in this situation except from the ability to record (Audio or Video) the entire lesson. However this would then require storage capacity on the students device, accurate naming and organisation of video files, which for a Year 7 fully abled boy is not a high priority. Hence, in my opinion, this is an assistive technology best left in the hands of the teacher. Using a combination of my iOS device and a laptop computer I  can capture an annotated video recording of the entire lesson, the dialogue, questions from students, explanations and worked examples on the board.  This can then be uploaded almost immediately via the cloud to a server which is accessible by all students to watch, pause and rewatch as many times as necessary.

  • Ironically others definitely benefit from this too, students who were absent, those who arrive late, those who were tired or having an “off” day can revisit the lesson online at home later.
  • Other disabilities that might be accommodated with this approach are students with mild or severe cognitive disabilities who cannot function in a full-speed normal classroom. Students with physical disabilities who are unable to attend or access all lessons due to timetabling and/or location restraints can watch online.

Both of the above mentioned examples are effectively multiple means of representation (MMR). This is a core principal of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as it provides students with alternatives to acquiring information beyond a textbook. The image below shows you a brief overview of UDL.


So just like my last post in relation to pedagogical approaches to teaching mathematics in the classroom – there is no one-size fits all approach to teaching students. Specifically, having students with a disability in your classroom should be a point of focus and a reminder to consider all your students as individuals, and ask yourself – are you reaching them and can technology help you?

Edyburn, Higgins, & Boone (2005) explained it perfectly when they quoted Judy Heumann, as the 2005 assistant secretary, Office of Special Education Programs from the U.S. Department of Education:

For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes things possible.


Edyburn, D., Higgins, K., & Boone, R. (2005). Handbook of special education technology research and practice. Whitefish Bay, WI: Knowledge by Design.

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (7th Ed). Allyn & Bacon



One thought on “Why assistive technology helps us all with learning

  1. Doug,

    I really liked your discussion on a video recording your lesson. I agree that it benefits the students with cognitive impairments around working memory. The use of video recording can allow the student to replay the video multiple times if necessary along with meeting the needs of other learning disabilities. The use of videos also benefits other learners (as you posted) as this past year I started using screencasting software to create videos for my classes. I found that the students liked that they could replay the video if the needed to and could test his or her knowledge with built-in quizzes. I also like the quote from class by Judy Heumann (that you also included in your blog) and after this week’s assignment, have found that technology does make things possible for a person with a disability. Scott

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