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Assistive Technology

Introduction

Several early childhood special educators consider technology as great equalizers and motivators for the pupils with special needs. They consider it as a great source of success. Researchers argue that once the children realize that the technology enhances their achievements, they desire to continue studying improves. They regard themselves as the capable members of the school community. They are, therefore, motivated to work hard in their studies in an endeavor to compete with the able-bodied pupils in their schools. Over the last five years, interest in the use of technology in elementary schools with the children having special needs has increased. There are several accreditation boards that scan lesson plans and syllabi in an endeavor to facilitate an effective implementation of the technology in learning. The pupils are, therefore, prepared early enough to incorporate the use of enhancing technology in their lives (Kendra, 2011). Such a situation presents to all children an opportunity to experience life and education like everyone else.

Children have always portrayed the desire to feel significant, a situation which would give them a sense of belonging. Nowadays, educators are capable of supporting pupils with special needs in their social and emotional domains as they learn such subjects as English. There has been some legislation that regulates the manner in which the technology is utilized in a classroom situation, especially with regard to pupils in elementary schools. The whole essence of these legislations is to enable pupils to feel connected and capable of achieving their lifetime goals just like anybody else. This is particularly an effect when it is introduced early in life. The assistive technology enables children to have an access to the normal curriculum. Technology is, therefore, an essential contributor to the overall childhood learning and development (Mertler & Charles, 2011). It enables to present the children with the access to the curriculum that has some well-outlined goals. They are, consequently, able to grow up into contributing and valuable members of the community, members who are emotionally and socially enriched to undergo schooling in a satisfactory manner. This paper proposes a research on the benefits of assistive technologies in education and the other aspect of the childhood development, as well as the ethics and legislations that guide their application.

benefits

Assistive Technology and the Special Education Law

The provision of special technology and services to elementary school pupils with special needs is regulated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. The acts govern the manner in which the technology is introduced into educational settings that cater for students with special needs. The law requires every learning institution to evaluate the need for incorporating the assistive technology when catering for pupils with special needs. The use of the assistive technology was first defined by the Assistive Technology Act of 1988. The Assistive Technology Act of 1988 laid the groundwork for some further legal provisions which culminated into the 2004″s Disabilities Education Improvement Act (Boyd, 2007).

The legal definition of the assistive technology falls under two categories. Firstly, the technology is regarded as an item, equipment, or a system that facilitates the improvement, maintenance, as well as the increase of the functional capability of children with special needs. The equipment may be acquirable off-the-shelf or through the customization. This leads to the definition of the assistive technology service. This service is meant to assist children with special needs to undergo schooling like their normal counterparts. Learning institutions are tasked with the responsibility of assisting the pupils with special needs during the selection and acquisition of the assisting technology. They are also expected to help them learning how to utilize the technology they have acquired in the most effective manner so as to enable them learning in a curriculum which is as similar to that of their normal counterparts as possible (Mertler & Charles, 2011).

The law requires the assistive technology to have a universal design. Being designed for the use by pupils at the elementary level of schooling, the developers are required to consider the chances of a child transferring to a school in another state. Such child would find it difficult to get used to a new set of technology and the time he/she wastes learning how to use it impacting heavily on the overall confidence and performance in the normal learning practices. The aim of having a universal design, therefore, is to enhance the convenience of use. The design should also be developed in a manner that enhances the usability by pupils with the normal development. The universal utility plays a key role in facilitating teamwork in a learning environment. It downplays the fact that some pupils in the team require special attention, and, as such, they make their contributions like everyone else. As such, their social bond grows as they advance their academic participation (McGregor, et al., 1996).

Methodology

Overview

The research will be conducted with the intention of determining the effectiveness of assistive technologies during the elementary schooling of pupils with special needs. The research will seek to reveal the advantages, disadvantages, and reliability of these technologies and their impact on the pupils during later years of schooling. In the attempt to meet these exploratory goals, there will be a procedure of obtaining the views of the teachers and the pupils regarding the issue in question. Specifically, the respondents in this research will be randomly chosen to participate in an in-depth interview. A substantial amount of data will also be collected through the observation of pupils as they engage into various classroom activities. The research will also utilize the secondary data that have been collected from such sources as published articles, as well as textbooks. Data from all sources will then be computed and interpreted to derive comprehensive results (McGregor, et al., 1996).

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Research Design

This study will be using the constant comparative method. This method will assist in establishing causality, i.e. the relationship that exists between one event and another (the effect). In this case, the effect is taken to be the result of the causing event. The candidates for causes and effects will include facts such as the social-demographic data, the learning environment, and various types of the assistive technology. In addition, the study will involve the combination and application of various methodological analyses (Cahn, 2011). Through the combination of multiple observations, empirical materials and methods, the study will overcome the problems and intrinsic biases that may result whenever a single observation, theory, and method are applied in a study. During the research works, multiple methodological analyses have emerged as suitable alternatives to other traditional procedures. The principle behind the constant comparative method will be neither deductive nor inductive, but will aim at combining both in order to come up with an abductively developed theory. This will result into a process where data sampling, analysis, and the theory development will be seen as indistinct (McGregor, et al., 1996).

During data gathering, the information of interest will help to interpret the prevailing circumstances. This will allow the flexibility such that even if more questions and issues arise during the study, they will be easily investigated and incorporated in the analysis with ease. In this study, the constant comparative method will be used to establish the significance of having assistive technologies in elementary schools (Edyburn, 2006). The constant comparative method is opted for as it allows greater options, while selecting the tools for gathering data. For example, in addition to interviews, the notes on observations will also be taken. This will facilitate the formulation of the researchers view the point on the situation in elementary schools where pupils with special needs are admitted. The qualitative information collecting strategies will centre on the qualification of inter-relationships between variables (Keith, et al., 1996). The instruments used in gathering the data will help in establishing these inter-relationships because the research process will seek the clarifications from the participants. Moreover, by using these methods, a researcher will not be detached from the research work and its final output, like it would be the case if the deductive reasoning technique had been utilized.

In addition to generating verbal information, there will be a statistical analysis of the generated numerical values. This will facilitate the utilization of the holistic or content analysis which makes it difficult to comprehend and explain the findings following a research. Deductive reasoning has been opted for due to its ease of explicating issues. The research will, therefore, be conclusive because of the opportunity to apply scientific hypotheses. The qualitative information gathering apparatus are highly flexible, and, therefore, they will facilitate the accommodation of the probability of changes as the research progresses (Keith, et al., 1996). With the constant comparative method, the focus will be on understanding the prevailing circumstances as they are. Explanations and descriptions will be well-grounded and rich in content. The apparatus for gathering data will evoke the feelings which are realistic to the research settings. In the end, it will be possible to present the findings in a holistic view.

The constant comparative method and the qualitative approaches being used in this research study some cons. A researcher using these approaches may be biased during the information gathering and finding the presentations. Furthermore, these techniques may be difficult to employ when a researcher intends to evaluate the cause and effect relations that are evident between the discrete and pre-selected variables. These are the reasons why some researchers favour the quantitative approaches as they avoid subjectivity when collecting and exploring the information about the phenomenon under study. Moreover, quantitative techniques constitute the specific research methodologies. However, these methods are easy to follow through as they do not require a lot of longitudinal measurements in the subsequent respondents” performance (“Comparative Effects of Computer-Assisted Instruction”).

Participants

To facilitate the determination of the effects resulting from the use of assistive technologies in the pupils” elementary schooling, the data will be gathered in a comprehensive manner. To achieve this, the inclusion criteria in a focus group will be imposed. The respondents who will qualify for the sample selection will have to be the pupils or teachers of the elementary schools in the targeted locality. The elementary schools will have to be utilizing the various types of the assistive technology. These qualifications will be imposed to ensure that the respondents fully understand the nature of interviews and the intended information with regard to the assistive technologies. This will make the items under survey easy for them to respond to without having to guess a lot, a scenario which would reduce the credibility and ethical standards of the results. I will pick out small groups of individuals having some important characteristics in common such as similar special needs, similar assistive technologies, and a control group that does not utilize the technologies. This will be in order to reduce a great deal of variations of the data collected from the focus group. The participants will be of both genders. The data collected from teachers will be placed in its own category that is separate from that which will hold the pupils” data. Since this research will require the great coordination and cooperation; and since some of participants have special needs, I will adhere to the ethical values such as the non-disclosure of sensitive information about an individual in order to promote trust, collaborative effort, accountability, fairness, and mutual respect.

A simple randomized sampling will be conducted where each participant in every focus group will have an equal chance of becoming the part of the sample. As all participants in a focus group will have equal chances, this sampling procedure will be the most effective. During the sampling strategy, the first duty will be to define the targeted population. All members in the population will be listed before continuing with the sample selection. The study will utilize the fishbowl or the lottery sampling technique during the selection process. As of now, however, the preference is in the fishbowl techniques as it is a method which involves selecting the samples randomly from sampling frames through the application of distributed number tables. It will be easy as numbers will be assigned to all pupils and teachers in the master list. These numbers will then be written on small pieces of paper, which will then be used in the selection. This process will be repeated till the sample size for the focus group has been reached.

Instruments

Interviews and observations will be the basic data gathering tools for this research. The interviews will be exploring the participants” perception on the effectiveness of the assistive technology, especially their reliability and usability in the enhancing performance. They will also be aimed at establishing the advantages and disadvantages of using the technologies in the elementary schooling. The questions will be open, and the participants will be able to give widely responses. There will be no scale used in the interpretation of the responses because the aim is not to develop statistics like the ones used in the quantitative surveys.

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Data Processing and Analysis

After gathering every completed interview, all responses per item will be obtained. Consequently, a reverse directed hypothesis, which appears to contradict the traditional hypothesis, will be utilized, where the theoretical frameworks will be used in modeling the phenomenon intended for study. In this case, the key points will continue to be marked so that they can be categorized in a manner that facilitates the formulation of hypothesis. This process will be repeated until satisfactory results have been established.

Conclusion

Over the years, technology has been presenting numerous benefits to individuals with special needs. It has been of benefit in language, social, and complex cognitive domains. It is the said benefits that inspired the developers into devising instruments and systems that can be utilized in assisting pupils at the elementary level of schooling. The various assistive technologies have been utilized to help children with special needs to participate in child sports and games. In fact, researchers have noticed that, without these technologies, the children feel sidelined, and this reduces them into spectators. Moreover, their special needs reduce the number of opportunities that they can explore, a fact that, in one way or the other, can deny them a chance to develop normally. As a tool for playing, assistive technologies have been effective in facilitating social bonds between pupils at the elementary level of schooling (Parette, 1993).

Playing with toys has been recognized as one of the most effective chances of the speech development. In America, it is highly likely that children converse in English as they are playing. The effective casual communication facilitates a proper sentence construction when it comes to regarding English as a subject. Playing consumes a considerable amount of time for children in the elementary school. In this regard, it is important that children are provided with the right kind of toys and technology, especially those that enhances their communications and social bonds. For pupils with special needs, it is necessary for the learning institutions and parents to make extra considerations while acquiring the technology. For instance, the parents may consider acquiring toys which are easily activated and that can respond with moving parts, sounds, and lights. The aim of such a careful selection is to avoid a situation that can appear too complicated for a child with special needs (Woodward, et al., 1997).

One of the best ways of advancing the learning of the English language is to utilize the assistive technology that aids the language development through some alternative and augmentative communication devices. These devices facilitate the adaptation of gestural and vocal capabilities into the meaningful forms of communication. Pupils with, let”s say, limited verbal abilities can utilize high tech-communication devices to express what they mean. These devices are thought to be as helpful in a classroom environment as they have been to children with the developmental delays, autism, as well as some language and speech delays. A simple visual support is believed to have an effect in attracting and holding a child”s attention, a situation that enables a pupil to focus on the message that the teacher is attempting to put across. Additionally, they help in making some of the concepts concrete so that the pupil can express him/herself like the normal kids (Sailor, 1991).

Assistive technologies like the “talking books” have been the effective facilitators of literacy and the English language development. Whether commercially acquired or teacher-made, this technology has been assisting with the emergent literacy through filling the gap that many language impaired pupils have. It has been an effective supplement during the elementary schooling, especially while studying the English subject. Standard computer programs like PowerTalk and PowerPoint have been utilized in the preparation of the talking books. The books foster team approaches to learning, where elementary school teachers become the facilitators towards the team effort. The learning of the English subject, as a standard medium of communication, can be enhanced through communication (Niemiec, et al., 1987).

Recommendations

A number of elementary school pupils have the limited motor abilities. For the effective learning to take place, these pupils need to have the capacity to avail themselves to the teaching locations in an appropriate time. The use of assistive technologies would facilitate their quick adaptation to the learning environment because the elimination of assistance detriments their level of performance in school. Enabling the pupils to explore the surroundings like their normal counterparts will minimize the risk of developing further delays during the development. Several research studies have indicated that should such delays persist, an individual may find it challenging to cope with college life and studies, a situation that would impact detrimentally on his/her life. The most common assistive technologies include ring walkers, gait trainers, wheel walkers, and supreme standers (Lane, et al., 1996). Several other low-tech devices have proven to be helpful in assisting pupils with special needs coping with the elementary schooling environment.

Several assistive technologies have been aiding pupils with visual impairments. They include extra-normal print books, taped books, as well as the translational software. Equipping students with such items as stereo headphones, speech output, and talking calculators have facilitated the learning of the English language. There are other pieces of technology that target people with hearing impairments. The gadgets include the audio amplification gadgets and electronic boards. These devices, therefore, need to be designed in a manner that is geared towards effective communication so as to enable pupils with special needs to learn the English language just like any other normal kid (Alper & Raharinirina, 2006).

A significant number of studies have suggested that the use of assistive technologies would help promoting the social development amongst young children. For instance, some computer programs can facilitate the social interaction among children with special needs making it easy for them to adapt to the school environment. According to Steven Cahn (2011), pupils spend more of their time talking with peers than solving puzzles. As such, learning institutions need to utilize this opportunity by developing the programs that enhance the communication amongst children. Nevertheless, the pupils” social interactions are affected by the environment that their assistive technologies have been placed into. For instance, placing two computers side-by-side would optimize the social interaction amongst the pupils as they are able to pause and engage in other activities at will. The various research studies have indicated that the effective use of technology can result in the enhanced social interaction. The interaction, therefore, would enable the children to learn how to use such devices as augmentative communication gadgets as they move closer to their colleagues. Such interactions would boost their self-esteem, a situation that enables them to have confidence as they participate in class (Fisher, et al., 2003).

Exposing pupils with special needs to their successful peers, makes them begin to appreciate the fact that they can overcome their challenges and learn like everyone else. The association amongst pupils with disability enables them to understand that everyone is uniquely talented, and their special needs cannot obstruct them from achieving their goals. They are, therefore, able to fit in their classroom community as they feel connected, a situation that enables them internalizing much of the concepts that their teachers present in class. As such, the right kinds of assistive technologies ought to be introduced in elementary schools with pupils having special needs so as to enhance the performance (Lewis, 2009).