Like Benita said in her blog, I do not remember a lot of assistive technology when I was in high school. Perhaps I just didn’t pay attention or maybe my small school of 150 students K-12 didn’t have access to many different types of assistive tech. When I think about my first year teaching at Winston Knoll, I can remember a few different types but the one that sticks out is the Tobii Dynavox which is an augmented and alternative communication system for non-verbal students. The device allows students to choose words and phrases to build sentences so they can speak what is on their mind to their peers and teachers—yes, how amazing is that!

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One of the downfalls to the Dynavox was the weight and size. I remember my first day in October I went to shadow the teacher I was taking over for as she was going on maternity leave. She introduced me to all of the students and the one in particular who used the Dynavox. When they bell rang, we went down to the concourse for ‘movement class’ and while walking I noticed this student was way behind the others. He was carrying his Dynavox by a strap placed around his neck that was literally weighing him down, making him lean forward as he walked (not to mention he already had a difficult time walking). I was shocked. I felt sad. I questioned why. There had to be a better way for him to communicate with his peers without having to carry around a 20lb device (seriously, this thing was heavy!!). About a week into my new teaching assignment, I put a request in to buy an iPod touch that he could use in place of the Dynavox  and it was approved. You should have seen the smile on this guy’s face when he realized he didn’t have to carry that thing around anymore. There was a learning curve to this and he had become frustrated at times but after several weeks he got the hang of it and was able to use it properly.

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I really liked the Ted Talk by Ron McCallum this week. He spoke about his first ‘blind computer’ which helped him learn to communicate with the speech synthesizer. He went on to talk about book scanners that would read back to him and for the first time he could read what he WANTED to read. These were his first experiences of being able to read and communicate with his friends about relative experiences. His story reminds me of how some of my students must have felt the first time they were given a Dynavox, or PECS, or computer. Now that I am in a mainstream/all type classroom setting, I sometimes forget that all students still learn differently and some may need more help than others. The timeline that was shown during the presentation this week really showed that I need to spend more time looking into assistive technology and how they can help students learn, even in a gymnasium setting.

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12 thoughts on “

  1. Wow! 20 pounds to 5 ounces just like that! The good news for that student was that YOU knew which piece of technology could replace the old one, and had the administrative support to actually get the iPod. The bad news is that some other kid in some other location was stuck carrying 20 pounds of frustration around the school until another teacher figured out the alternative (or a Principal actually agreed to buy the iPod….) Great Post!

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  2. That is a great story Tyson. I am glad that you were able to find a solution for the student. I think this also relates to Ron McCallum’s talk. Ron said that the two things that helped him were software and volunteers. In this case you were the volunteer that helped the student realize success. I think that is great, and it is important for all of us to think about how we can contribute to bettering the lives of students.

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  3. Good for you to see beyond what the student was dealing with instead of just working with what was already there. I think, as teachers, we sometimes limit possibilities for students because we simply don’t know what is available. I’m sure he was grateful that you saw him and his needs.

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  7. Your blog reminded me of when I first put on glasses in grade 5. I was in the dispensary, and I said ‘THERE’S GLASSES ON THE WALL OVER THERE??’. Having everything come into focus is an amazing experience. You don’t realize what you don’t have, until you realize you didn’t have it! A lot of students could likely perform so much better if they knew what things out there could help them, but they don’t yet know they need help. As teachers, if we can become aware of different assistive technologies, we can help our students find ways of achieving greater success.

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  9. I worked with a non-verbal boy in a summer program and there was nothing more frustrating for him (and me) when he couldn’t express what he wanted. Often this would lead to him having a breakdown and needing to be held tight in order to calm him down. What a great piece of assistive technology Dynavox sounds like. I hadn’t heard of it before.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. Wow…20 pounds? I can’t even imagine. Like Angus, your story made me wonder how many other teacher would not have put in a proposal for a different device because they wouldn’t be aware of a better device to meet his needs. I feel quite digitally literate and I feel like I am constantly playing catch-up with the “latest and greatest” of edtech. What supports can be put into place for teachers who feel so overwhelmed with integrating assistive tech yet want to meet the needs of their learners?

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  12. Thanks for sharing your story, Tyson. Although I am happy that the student had a way to communicate with others, and this Dynavox sounds like a great way to help with communication, I agree with you that it would be really sad to see him have to carry it around all the time – like a big, blaring sign that he is different than everyone else. I love that he got an Ipad right away – you are a great teacher for picking that out right away! The possibilities are endless when we open our minds to what exists and how we can use it for our own situations. Thanks for sharing!

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