Kellie Mote finds sound practical tips for needs assessors and assistive technology practitioners in ‘Connecting to Learn: Educational and Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities’ by Marcia J. Scherer (American Psychological Association, 2003)
At the core of Connecting to Learn is the importance of matching the right assistive technology with the learner. It isn’t immediately clear from the title, but the focus here is on the needs of students who are d/Deaf, or visually impaired. Initial chapters are therefore dedicated to providing background information on the needs of students with sensory disabilities.
The book primarily focuses on strategies to use with the individual – little of the content is dedicated to broader strategies such as creating more inclusive learning environments. However, many of the tips will be of use to practitioners providing assistive technology support in an educational context.
British readers should note that almost all examples of legislation, organisations, funding advice, statistics and case studies in the book are drawn from the USA and some of the terminology will seem dated. Obviously, no printed text could be a reference of currently available technology. The interesting content in this book concerns the approach to matching the technology to the learner.
A useful chapter is 10: Individual Learner Preferences and Needs, in particular starting with the section ‘The need to match students with the most appropriate technologies for their educational success.’ From this point on, the book contains detailed guidance on:
- Assessing the readiness of the student to use the technology
- Which characteristics of the technology to evaluate prior to a trial
- Questions to ask when planning to implement assistive technology
- Evaluating the usability of technology throughout a trial
- Assessment models (including samples of different assessment forms)
- Models to measure assistive technology usage
The value of this book lies in extracting the information that is relevant to your practice. For some background on the experiences, and types of support typically required by students with sensory disabilities, spend time on the initial chapters. For tips to enhance your practice in matching technology to individuals, focus on chapters 10, 11 and 12, and the appendices.
Technology is only part of the solution for many students. Policies, attitudes, staff skill levels and day-to-day practices of an education provider will all have a critical impact upon the individual’s experience. While this book provides very good tips for working at the individual level, readers should also keep in mind the importance of creating an inclusive environment in which it will be easier to meet the needs of all learners.