Edtech serves a great purpose in the worlds of education and technology. It offers so many ways to adapt educational modes to the needs of learners. Teachers can use virtual reality to take their students to far-off places and try new things without having to leave the classroom.
It could be as simple as offering a tape recorder to a student who needs to hear a lecture more than once in order to process it. However, there are educators in the industry who need assistive technologies as well. How can ed-tech assist educators who have much to give students but need their own assistive technologies?
Go Big or . . .
Go to the back of the classroom? Certainly not.
Students aren’t the only ones in classrooms today who use assistive tech like wheelchairs. Stephen Hawking has been lecturing from his since the late 60s. Yet in today’s crowded classrooms, it’s difficult for educators who need four wheels instead of a couple of legs to maneuver. Researcher Brad Duerstock, a quadriplegic, is working on the RoboDesk, revolutionary tech for both teachers and students.
Duerstock’s RoboDesk, which is still in the prototype phase, allows a tablet to be mounted on an arm attached to a rail under the arm of a wheelchair. RoboDesk uses metals for its mounting arm, and one of Duerstock’s goals for RoboDesk is to add functionality to wheelchairs without adding bulk. As he refines RoboDesk, Duerstock could look to 3-D printing, one of the most rapidly growing industries in the world, for production.
3-D printing is already being used to create assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Many of these creations are 3-D printed versions of items that already exist, but others not only make life easier for people with disabilities but could help them educate students, like holding styluses and tablets.
Not Just for the Kids
Many of the ed-tech used by students can also be used by educators with adaptive needs. Lisa Nielsen offers a great list of adaptive technologies used in the classroom by students. Nearly every one can be used by an educator with a disability and by all of her students to adapt to the disability.
Instead of handing a talking calculator out to one student who happens to need it, give a set to a whole class so a sight-impaired teacher knows when her students are getting a math problem correct. Electronic worksheets can be used by teachers with any of a number of disabilities, from the quadriplegia of Duerstock to that same sight impairment.
Educators who are hearing or sight impaired can use audiobooks or talking books to read to their students. Classrooms can be converted to digital collaboration spaces and online classrooms for educators who have motor impairments.
More Than Just Assistance
To count out an educator because of a disability is to limit the talent pool in a pool that is expected to see only an 11 percent rate of growth in the next six years. My grandmother trained to be a teacher, but at 25, she contracted polio and became a quadriplegic like Duerstock. Because she became disabled when she did, adaptive technologies weren’t even on the radar. Thus, she could not become a teacher.
School districts, and not just the educators themselves, should think about adaptive tech for teachers. Not only does it limit the talent pool, but not thinking about it proactively could lead to employee retention issues, including legal action because of the protected class of persons with disabilities.
Educators like Duerstock are not only breaking down barriers for their colleagues, they’re opening up doors for students as well. When students with disabilities see teachers “like them,” the playing field becomes wide open — one day, that student might be in front of the class, too.
Hattie James is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She recently completed her MBA and enjoys local ciders.