The focus of accessibility is not simply to provide specific students with additional accommodations. Instead, designing with accessibility in mind means creating a learning environment that is more accessible for learners regardless of their abilities. One way education can support the learning needs of students is through assistive technology, which helps students complete tasks with efficiency and independence.
Read on to learn more about assistive technologies and how these tools can be implemented in any classroom. This blog also shares how our partner ReadSpeaker is working to make courses multimedia rich and suitable for all learners.
What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology is an umbrella term for devices and tools used to increase, maintain or improve capabilities of people with disabilities. This includes low-tech tools such as pencil grips that are used to achieve better hand positioning and movement while writing as well as high-tech tools such as hardware and software (for example, speech-to-text and text-to-speech).
Currently one billion people need assistive products, and more than two billion people around the world are expected to need at least one assistive product by 2030. Assistive technology is an important tool that bridges the gap between a person and their environment. But how do we implement these tools in classrooms?
Assistive Technology in the Classroom
Assistive technologies support a student’s participation in learning in the least-restrictive environment. In the classroom, some common examples of assistive technology include the following:
- Listening Aids: Devices that address listening challenges by minimizing background noise, reducing the effect of distance between the sound source and the listener, and overriding the effects of poor acoustics, such as echo. In an online course, this can be as simple as integrating captioning during videos. For in-person learning, this could be a personal FM unit, where the educator wears a microphone and transmitter and the student wears a receiver.
- Visual Aids: Items designed specifically to help people with vision loss or impairments. This type of assistive technology includes software such as screen readers and screen magnifiers, and hardware such as video magnifiers. These tools are usually owned and used by students who are blind or vision impaired. Learning Management Systems (LMS) that align with global accessibility standards are compatible with such assistive technologies.
- Communication Aids: Tools that enhance the communication process for individuals. These include software, smartphone applications, electronic communication boards, and speech-generating devices that produce digitized speech when the user either types a message or presses on images, words, or letters.
In all learning environments, accessibility needs to be considered as a main component of creating equitable learning environments for all students. This requires close collaboration of educators, administrators, students and technology partners.
Assistive Technology Within Your LMS: ReadSpeaker
Accessible learning environments are dependent on the use of tools, practices and policies that help support the needs of diverse learners. Within the technology space, this means partnering with an LMS that is aligned with global accessibility standards and has products that are interoperable with assistive technologies.
ReadSpeaker, a valued partner of D2L, provides a text-to-speech application solution that integrated with D2L Brightspace. There are two integrated components of ReadSpeaker solution that offer assistive technology functionality—ReadSpeaker for Brightspace and ReadSpeaker TextAid.
ReadSpeaker for Brightspace
ReadSpeaker for Brightspace can be integrated across the Brightspace platform, or on a course-by-course basis. The ReadSpeaker integration features both the webReader and docReader products that can read aloud HTML content while seeing highlights of the spoken text in a variety of online document formats.
WebReader can read aloud digital content using lifelike synthetic speech while highlighting the spoken text for learners to easily follow. When using webReader, any webpage will automatically have a “listen” functionality on the page.
DocReader can make digital content more accessible by reading aloud online documents in a variety of formats. Learners can view and listen to the content on any device with no plugins required.
Integrated as a learning tools interoperability (LTI) service, TextAid is a reading, writing and literacy tool that is designed to support struggling readers and language learners. When using this tool, users will have access to a whole new interface and text-to-speech tool.
Committed to Accessibility in Education
At D2L, we believe learning technologies should never limit learning opportunities. Inclusion is a part of our organizational culture. Accessibility is an integral component of our development cycle. Designing with empathy is the hallmark of our user experience teams.
Zeina Abouchacra is the EDU Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. She has worked in the higher education sector in various communications positions as well as a researcher and a teaching assistant. Specifically, teaching undergraduate-level communication university courses. Zeina is currently working towards completing her Master of Arts Communication degree at the University of Ottawa.
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