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The Need for Assistive Technologies
Not every student can become a Helen Keller. But most young students who are limited by their visual impairment can eventually achieve personal independence, career fulfillment, and economic stability during their adult life. Special education laws, such as the IDEA, are already set in place to assure that visually impaired students get enough opportunities to develop their maximum potential. Each of these students will have a unique IEP or individualized education plan, a strategy created by a special education team composed by the teachers, the parents, the school counselor, and other key professionals.The successful implementation of the IEP, however, depends on many factors, including the severity of the visual impairment, the skills of the teacher, the usefulness of current scientific researches, and the determination of the special child. Another factor that is deemed important, but sometimes taken for granted, is the availability of assistive technologies or helpful tools for the visually impaired. In a classroom where visually impaired students are included, the special education teacher will need technology devices for assistive learning. Many of these devices serve to stimulate other senses, particularly the tactile and auditory senses. On the part of the teacher, the choice of devices will depend on whether the visual impairment is partial or complete.
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Examples of Assistive Technologies
- Visual aids that have highly contrasting colors - The contrasting colors make it easy for low-vision students to distinguish the shapes of letters and figures from their background.
- Magnifiers - These simple tools can enlarge letters, illustrations, and various objects that a partially blind student may not see well, even up close.
- Books with large types - When choosing textbooks, a teacher in an inclusion classroom must consider those that have editions with large types.
- Screen enlargers - These are utilized with computers. The student with partial visual impairment can use a screen enlarger to magnify all or parts of the computer screen.
If the student has complete blindness, some of the common devices that are needed and must be specified on the IEP are the following:
- Books on tape - These books will enable the special student to use the auditory senses to study lessons.
- Braillers - These are also called Braillewriters, a specially designed machine that can print Braille
- Tactile graphics - These are also known as thermoform graphics. Some teachers who have artistic abilities can even create their own tactile graphics. Using an embosser or Perkins machine, Braille can be embedded on these three-dimensional teaching aids.
- Screen reader - This device is especially useful and convenient when the visually impaired student is learning side by side with mainstream ones in an inclusion classroom. While the teacher is discussing the topic and the mainstream students are following the teacher's discussion using computer screens, the visually impaired student can follow and participate in the discussion using the screen reader.