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Assistive Technology was originally for people with severe disabilities. Assistive Technology was to allow someone with a physical disability to dress or perform basic tasks of living. The “high-technology” assistive technology was then used for the most severely disabled person with regards to using a computer. That is the image we get when we think of the topic but that is changing.
Today assistive technology is for everyone. You don’t need a disability to allow a technology to cover a flaw or enhance your life.  When we think of high achievers we think of people who are perfect with no flaws. Nothing can be farther from the truth. How many high achievers cannot leave their house without a cell phone? Here is a person making a lot more then you and me; yet, he or she has a cell phone tell them what to do and where to go. When I was in graduate school I had people tell me that I had doctor’s handwriting. That is funny because in high school I was dysgraphic with handwriting that is very difficult to read. Yet, in graduate school it was cool to be disabled. Many of these new technologies that are being used in business are also used with people that are disabled. Dragon Naturally Speaking is a good example of a program that is used in business and for people that are disabled.
There are a ton of new apps and technologies that are used to enhance our lives. These same new programs can help the disabled function like the rest of us. Many of these new apps or programs are being used for something that it was not intended for. A prime example is electronic organization. Google Documents, SkyDrive or Dropbox are used to file share and organize your life. You can create a calendar send electronic files to others to make corrections and store files that are needed to explain a basic tasks. Business people all use some form of electronic organization.  It might be a calendar, file storage, email or just Google Documents. Memory issues and organization are huge problems for students with various disabilities and electronic devices are the easiest solution.
The largest group of people I recommend assistive technologies for are people with reading and writing disabilities. I often recommend Word Q a word prediction program that reads text on a computer. It allows students several years behind in reading to access information at grade level and write at the same level. The first time I saw this in action I was not sure if I should start jumping up and down. Sometimes you try something and it just works. Word Q has become an easy tool to turn to solve the most common issues with reading and writing. I also recommend Bookshare and Learning Ally. Both of these services provide books on tape to the disabled that qualify. Many high achievers like to listen to books on tape in the car or during the train commute. How is this any different?  Textbook companies make audio versions of textbooks that are sent to schools on CDs. These CDs often sit in a curriculum closet somewhere never to be seen again. These CD’s should be made accessible to all students. Why would we want to prevent a student from having another way of learning? Why do I need a doctor’s diagnosis to tell me I learn better from hearing then reading? Companies that are successful empower low-level employees to find innovative ideas. Just look at the success of Google to see my point.
If you meet high achievers they are dysfunctional like the rest of us. They do not hold the stigma that people with disabilities have. Many people with disabilities are motivated to face challenges. With the accelerated pace that technology is evolving this allows people to do so much more today then any other point of time in history. Most people with disabilities can compensate for just about any problem with technology.
What does this have to do with tutoring? The great teachers make themselves obsolete. Special education teachers in the future will have students implement technology to help them read, write, organize or do any other task needed. There are many students that have issues that are not diagnosed with a disability that can be helped with the same emerging technology. What are the most common reasons people are hiring a tutor? Many students don’t understand a topic because they can’t read or have difficulty writing about a topic. Even more can’t break concepts down with normal ways of doing things. Electronic organizing can fix this. Books on tape and word prediction can help these students.
You can buy vBookZ a $4.99 iPad app that reads PDFs. Voice Dream Reader is a $9.99 iPad app that reads PDFs and websites on your iPad. Best of all anyone can buy these programs. Probably only the high achiever will figure that out and follow through. They have versions for your phone as well. How many people have iPhones and children that have trouble reading? A lot.
I am going to write a book later in the year about creative ways to use “high tech assistive technology for everyone.” The best part about it you don’t have to have a disability to use it. You can be a dysfunctional high achiever or just a regular person. The stuff I see on computers today at one time I only expected to see in sci-fi movies. It is not just for the dysfunctional high achiever or the disabled any more. All people can use these technologies. Teachers in the future will find, teach, implement and leave you with the right technology to complete the task. The younger generation loves technology. They get it. When was the last time a new education initiative had the students sold but not the teachers? The younger generation is figuring this out for themselves we just need to make this easier for them. The world has changed and we need to change with it. Besides who want to go back to blackboards and loose leaf.
John O’Sullivan
Technology Integration Specialist/ Assistive Technology Specialist