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Assistive technology is playing a bigger part in the lives of disabled students than ever before, although there are still significant hurdles to clear before users enjoy a completely level playing field. John Lamb, British Assistive Technology Association council member and editor of Ability magazine, explains

Assistive technology: in a class of its own T

he development of innovative software and hardware has made it easier for students to gain access

to learning and ensured that learning materials are much more engaging. The tablet revolution has not only

given students cooler devices to work with but provided their teachers with large libraries of images, symbols and educational activities to enliven lessons. Many are available online at low cost. Students with more complex needs have

benefited too. Cheaper and more accurate eye gaze systems, for example, have enabled students with mobility problems to control off-the-peg digital devices with greater ease. Those with difficulties communicating are

also more likely to have access to technology- based aids. Long years of campaigning by organisations such as Communication Maters have seen an overhaul of the system for making augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices

available to students who need them. “If one young person is enabled to take up

permanent employment in adulthood as a result of being supported early on to use an electronic communication aid, this will realise an estimated £500,000 in benefits to the economy over a lifetime,” argues Jean Gross, former communication champion for children. The popularity of cloud-based software

has meant that the learning environment has been extended into the home with students able to access the same applications and devices there as they do at school. This is of particular benefit to dyslexic students who may require extra time to finish their work, or for those struggling in a specific subject area. In any case, children wrestling with

literacy and learning difficulties are less likely to be set apart by the aids they use such as text-to-speech and speech recognition software, since many schools and colleges

Featherstone, an advisor from Jisc TechDis, an advisory service on technologies for inclusion. “If it isn’t enabling then there is no purpose for it. The first thing it can do is allow all pupils to access the curriculum in a way that is appropriate for them.” The government seems to agree. Some

£1m is being pumped into the development of assistive technology for disabled learners through two competitions funded by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and run by Jisc TechDis. The first is called Ready Steady STEM

and is about opening up access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The second is called Good to Go and is concerned with work-based technologies. Entrants for the Ready Steady STEM

competition will be asked to tackle the particular problems that disabled science

have invested in suites of assistive software that are available to all students. “Technology is enabling,” says Lisa

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