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A.T. for Learning Environments
It's obvious to progressive educators that all “challenged” students can become better learners, and technology can provide much needed support--the real question is, what specific tools combined with instructional methods offer such empowerment? Although most people regard assistive technology as tools for “augmenting” or “compensating” for a learner’s challenges, more progressive educators understand that these tools are instead used to augment and compensate for “challenged” curriculum--lessons designed without consideration for the differentiated learning styles of students.

We need to recognize that assistive technology tools for educational use do not “fix” the users, they instead make otherwise limited curriculum more accessible to all so learning can occur. The goal is to provide an opportunity for students to learn, and not to complete tasks for them or dilute the value of lessons presented.

When using assistive technology tools, it helps to keep these thoughts in mind:

• Use A.T. tools to help students sharpen their critical thinking skills, develop learning strategies, and enhance their desire toward independent learning (i.e., too often we concentrate more on the diagnostic aspects of a learning challenge as an excuse for student performance, and spend insufficient time on helping them find strategies through obstacles impacting learning and focus on potential).

• Recognize that the 'window of opportunity' for students is not on their “learning potential”, rather it’s on their desire to become a lifelong learners (e.g., physically challenged or vision impaired students may not pursue literary activities in adult life--not because they don’t or can’t enjoy stories, but rather because their early experiences with the “culture” of literacy were tainted by inaccessible media and presented less opportunities for their participation).

• Understand that the medical model may define a disability, but it doesn’t prescribe a future for the student; a disability’s true nature lies in how it personally impacts a specific life (which is why Universal Design for Learning and Environments are so important to lessen the obstacles that create or magnify disabilities for some learners).

• Listen to a student’s perceptions of his/her challenges and find the tools and strategies to empower him/her to address them (for only they know how they perceive the challenges they face and understand the value of the strategies and tools they incorporate into their learning environments).

• Master your tools so that they work for you—they don’t “fix” the child, your intervention with the student matters far more (i.e., you cannot rely upon the tools or the restructured learning environment as the sole source of improving student performance, because your facilitation of the learning process is what makes the greatest impact).

All of these Challenges can be Supported in the Classroom through Universal Design and Assistive Technology
• Learning Challenges
• Neurological Challenges
• Physical Challenges
• Communication Challenges
• Hearing & Visual Challenges