Assessing the Relationship between Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning
Assistive Technology can be thought of as any device that bridges the gap between the student's skill level and the environment demands. An example of Assistive Technology is that a student with dysgraphia may use a computer with a text-to-talk feature on it in order to allow this student to access his curriculum. Another example of Assistive Technology is that a student with a more severe disability may require a device that they can communicate with by moving their eyes and activating the device to speak the words their eyes fixate on. Eight other examples of Assistive Technology can be found here at Understood.org. Assistive Technology is meant to be the most effective but least invasive for students. For this reason, there is a continuum of Assistive Technology that flows from no technology to high technology, making sure that every student is given the technology that matches their learning style and environment better and is simply used to help them bridge the gap between their skills and the demands of the environment. The video below explains more about Assistive Technology and its uses.
Universal Design for Learning(UDL) can be thought of as a framework that describes the different ways in which teachers engaged various types of learners by means of technology and instructional delivery. This approach to teaching is especially important for those students who need extra supports and students with disabilities. The Center for Applied Special Technology or CAST explains Universal Design for Learning as a way to optimize teaching for all students, based on what scientists know about the way humans learn and behave. Universal Design for Learning has three major guidelines which are: multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression and multiple means of engagement. Multiple means of representation involves presenting information in an auditory, visual and tactile way so that all learners are able to access the information. Multiple means of expression involves allowing students the opportunity to display their knowledge in a way that they choose. Lastly, multiple means of engagement involves engaging students in a way that keeps them motivated to learn and work. UDL is important for students with disabilities because the framework reminds teachers that all students learn differently and that teachers should adapt their instruction so that all students can learn.
We've now covered both Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning independently, it is important that we discuss the relationship between the two. In order to do that, let's walk through an example. The video on the right follows Mason, a student with visual impairments. In this video, you can see that Mason is using his Assistive Technology in order to access his educational curriculum and communicate. This is also how Mason is able to express his knowledge, or a part of the multiple means of expression as a part of the UDL framework. Mason's visual impairments has caused his teacher to think of creative ways to teach Mason in a way that Mason can learn and understand the content his is learning. This is another part of the framework, multiple means of representation. UDL and Assistive Technology work hand and hand in that UDL is the environment made in the classroom by the teacher that Assistive Technology allows the student to access and learn from. Without the partnership between UDL and Assistive Technology, students would be able to access their environment buy that environment would not be one that was supportive enough for them to learn.