For the past year, I have had a student in my class who is autistic and non-verbal. He cannot speak to you. When he gets frustrated or upset, he makes noises to show his emotions. He said, “Hello, Mr. Deissler,” to me this year. Only he didn’t speak it; he pushed some buttons on an iPad and the iPad spoke it for him. He always able to understand me and what I was saying, but I could never hold a conversation with him before he worked with this app. It truly opened my eyes to the power of technology and our students with special needs. Not every special needs student can be afforded the luxury of an iPad, however. Last year, I had a student with a visual impairment. He had really thick glasses and it was difficult for him to see. He had to get really close to the screen and to the keyboard. Our technology assistant wrote a file that would tell the computer to enhance his screen resolution any time he logged on. We got him a keyboard with enlarged letters. He did better, but like the other student, how much further along would they be if we knew what tools to give them at an earlier age? Unfortunately, it takes some trials and errors to find what works for these students to help them learn, but we should investigate what our computers can do further. Every teacher should know the accessibility options on their computer. I am using a Windows 7 laptop. The accessibility features can be found by going to your Start Button>Accessories>Ease of Access.
The Magnifier, Narrator, On-Screen Keyboard, and Windows Speech Recognition are all shortcuts underneath the Ease of Access Center. The Ease of Access Center contains your accessibility features. As the title suggests, it makes your computer easier to use.
My menu spoke to me as soon as I opened it up the first time. I’m not sure if this was a default setting or not, but I’ve never had a need to open these settings before this post on this computer. Each of the different options can accommodate a students’ needs. At the very top, the options “Start Magnifier, Start On-Screen Keyboard, Start Narrator, and Set Up High Contrast,” speak to students who have difficulty seeing, hearing, or have sensory or mobility difficulties with the keyboard. The magnifier does exactly what you would think it would and magnifies the screen:
An option like this could help the students who are challenged visually, including students who can’t see really well or students who cannot concentrate on the entire screen. The magnifier enables a smaller part of the screen to be shown at a higher resolution, meaning students could concentrate on a single area better than the entire screen.
The on-screen keyboard adds a keyboard to your screen:
Typing is a difficult skill to master. In my classes, students type for 10 minutes into a program each class. There are students who have a hard time memorizing where the keys are, or their fingers cannot function to the point where they can type well. Having an on-screen keyboard enables the users to see the letters more clearly (when you’re trying to type, your fingers are covering the letters), and users would only need to click the letters to type them.
Setting your screen to high contrast inverts the colors to possibly make things easier to see for the users:
The narration portion of this “Ease of Access,” section is probably the worst helpful thing available. The narrator is the computer and reads just like you’d expect a computer to read with choppy, sometimes unrecognizable words. When you expect to here, “Always scan this section,” but your really hear, “Always SKIN this section,” it can throw things off. I would look to an alternative narration program, such as something that Dolphin Computer Access (http://www.dolphinuk.co.uk/) offers.
If you explore all of the settings within this control panel, you’ll discover many more options to customize your computer to fit you or your students’ needs. A few of the options that I found that could really help students are things such as:
- Configuring your speech recognition. Be able to talk to your computer and have it understand you. This is actually a really neat function. I set it up on my laptop and I was able to say what I wanted to type. it did take some training and learning exactly what to say to make corrections, but it definitely did what it was supposed to do. This could be used with those students who have difficulty learning their letters or have difficulty spelling and putting words together.
- You can make the mouse easier to use by changing the color of the cursor or turn the mouse off completely, so that you use the arrows on the keyboard to control the mouse. You can adjust the speed of the mouse, as well as control how fast you need to click it to select something. I actually have a kindergartner that has difficulty double-clicking programs or folders to open them. I’ve adjusted his click speed to allow him easier access.
- The keyboard settings allow you many different options. You can eliminate the use of the mouse by using the mouse keys, or corresponding numbers on the number pad. Sticky keys allow you to press a combination of keys one key at a time. To log on to a computer, for example, instead of holding CTRL + ALT + DELETE, you could press each key in succession to accomplish the same task. Students who cannot coordinate their fingers or find the keys could find this useful. You can set up your keyboard to recognize a different language, or replace your existing keyboard with something with a larger font, colored keys, or less buttons to cater to student needs.
- You can adjust the speed of things that move on your screen. If you know you will be visiting a site with moving graphics, you can disable those and allow students to concentrate more on the task at hand.
If we as teachers can harness what the computer is able to do, we can ensure that every student learns and can participate in lessons with the rest of the class. I feel that most teachers have no idea that their computers have the ability to do things like this. I think that the job of working with the students and technology falls to the physical therapist, or the occupational therapist, or the case manager for children with special needs. Teachers need to have an idea about what their own equipment can do to compensate for what their students cannot.
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.