With schools beginning to reopen their doors for classroom and virtual learning, there is a poignant fear that disabled students are being left behind. UNICEF estimates there are 93 million disabled children around the globe, although that number may be much larger thanks to the lack of data from some of the poorer countries.
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In the US, that number is about 7 million – almost 14 percent of the school population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For these children, there are still many challenges when it comes to accessing education whether it is classroom-based or they are enrolled in online learning. With this in mind, companies across the globe are moving to provide new and innovative assistive technologies like text and speech recognition technology aimed at helping children with disabilities overcome these barriers.
Speech Recognition And Text-Based Programs
Dictation or speech recognition helps children who may experience motor skills difficulties. Children with dyslexia, cerebral palsy, or learning difficulties often find it difficult to keep up with note-taking in classrooms or the production of reports and coursework. However, the market is now flooded with dictation software like Word Q+ Speak Q, CoWriter Universal, and Voxware.
More recently, students in India have been able to benefit from Avaz AAC, a picture and text-based app that is available in both Google Play and Apple Store. Aimed at improving the communication skills of disabled children, the app was designed primarily for those with non-verbal disorders such as cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and an autism spectrum disorder. It is also designed to be used in conjunction with speech therapy for cerebral palsy or autism to help children enjoy more access to educational settings.
Also, there is now text to speech technology like the Kurzweil 3000, being utilized in the classroom. The software helps to translate text to speech by scanning the words. It also comes with integrated text magnification and reference tools for those that are visually impaired or need help organizing their thoughts.
Attentive Listening Systems
It is estimated that 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children are born with hearing loss. While the use of hearing and cochlear implants have come a long way since their introduction to the market, children with hearing issues may still struggle to achieve optimal hearing levels during lecturers or instructions. Frequency Modulation systems can now be used discreetly in the classroom to amplify the hearing ability of the student.
The technology consists of a transmitter with a microphone and earpiece, which can be integrated into the child’s hearing device if they use one. The teacher usually wears the transmitter and can adjust the sound quality and level according to their needs and broadcast strength. For classrooms of larger sizes, these devices can be ideal. Newer models also come with Bluetooth and AI features, which paves the way for smart learning. This means the settings of the user are automatically saved and adjusted according to the environment.
Children with mobility disorders often find it too cumbersome to navigate the classroom and daily movement in school halls. In fact, it is a top reason parents may opt to homeschool. Children that are visually impaired or blind can now use technology like the Sunu Band, which uses vibrations and echolocation to direct students and warn them of oncoming dangers. Developed in Mexico, the Sunu Band comes as a smartwatch so it is easily fitted. Reviews of the technology have found it particularly useful for detecting doors, queues, and finding objects and door openings.
As the percent of students with special needs increases, there is now a more pronounced need to provide the aid required to help every child access a fair education. Development in assistive technology like these is just the tip of the iceberg in addressing these challenges and with them, it is hoped that the quality of education that children with disabilities experience will dramatically improve.
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