Author: Jessica Drechsler

How Assistive Technology Has Changed Special Education

With the growing span of technology in modern society many aspects of society are being changed. For example, at the grocery store we now have the option to scan our own items at the self check out which 30 years ago was never thought of. This same idea applies to the field of Special Education which is the education of students with diverse abilities. Special Education was established relatively recently which many find shocking, in 1975 the first public law pertaining to educating those with disabilities entitled “The Education for all Handicapped Children Act”. Before this act many children were institutionalized and lived in horrible conditions and this was documented by Geraldo Rivera’s “Willowbrook” expose. This law was later changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990 and gave students with disabilities the right to free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. I personally find this shocking that the education of students with disabilities was ignored for so long but in the classrooms today it is much improved.

Special Education has benefited so much from technology and without it many students would be unable to even communicate let alone learn. Assistive Technology are devices that assist those with disabilities in their everyday lives as well as in the classroom. For example, a child with cerebral palsy could have trouble producing speech and their motor functions and with a device that uses what is called “eye gaze” they can simply look at a specific word or picture on a screen and the device will produce speech. If a child with a disability has great motor skills they can use an Ipad app called “Proloquo2go” which allows for them to form sentences by choosing from pictures on a screen and it will generate speech for them. Speech generation devices are so powerful because so many individuals with disabilities before this assistive technology were unable to express their thoughts and learn in the classroom and now they finally have a voice and that is so powerful. Another example of an assistive technology device is navigation assistance so that students with visual impairments can navigate their school and other environments with ease. This device speaks aloud to you while you are walking and tells you what you are near and how far you are away from where you are trying to go. Special Educators now can use this assistive technology in the classroom and can easily adapt their instruction to their students. There are forms of this technology that can help individuals with various types of disabilities learn in the classroom and in life and without technology the education of these individuals would be completely different.

A Difference in Perspective

When beginning this class I thought I was well versed in technology. I had always been the person that my friends and family would confide in with their technological problems and I was almost always able to solve any problem. After taking this class and exploring new technological as well as conceptual ideas I now realize that the knowledge I possessed at the beginning of the semester is such a small part of all the knowledge available pertaining to technology and that I did not know as much as I had previously thought. My view of technology has now become so much broader and I can see the different ways in which it can be utilized. I connected during class discussion the ways in which this class allowed us to use our computers in different ways to Walden in Thoreau’s description of the change in use of wood. In Walden by Thoreau, he describes the importance of wood, saying that “It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age” and that “after all our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile of wood”. The material of wood is still just as valuable today as it was in the time in which Walden was written but what has changed is the usage of the material. For example, many of us do not use wood to warm our houses as Thoreau did during winter at the pond but we still use wood for things such as building. This exact logic can be applied to the way in which we are using our computers in this class. Our computer has not changed in importance but the way in which we are using the technology has changed causing us to view it in a new way. The ways in which we use our computers and technology will continue to change as time progresses just as the uses of natural resources such as wood have changed.

The novel Metadata truly encompasses how this class has changed my perspective on technology and the way in which I look at data in general. The quote which I find myself constantly referring back to is “a roomful of books is not a library” (p.13). The concept of Metadata is one that was entirely new to me prior to this class and the idea that the organizational system used in a library is a form of metadata is fascinating to me. Organizational systems are all around us and we have been trained in the ability of “coding” these systems. For example we understand that a space in between two chunks of text signifies two separate paragraphs, we have been trained in the ability to “code” the system of “text organization”.  Without the Dewey Decimal System a library is simply a room full of books just as when we were editing text in XML we had to follow a strict coding pattern or else it is simply jumbled letters, numbers and symbols. In order to know where to find the book you are looking for you must possess the knowledge of the “Dewey Decimal System” and in order to understand XML you must possess the knowledge of the specific syntax/system used in XML. When participating in the “hands on” aspects of this course such as exploring the command line in VirtualBox or plain text editing in Atom I have learned that our computers are so much more powerful than we think. As a society many of us are using only a small part of what our computers are truly capable of simply because of ignorance and this course has taught me to seek out different ways in which we can utilize technology. Metadata is all around us, society is made up of metadata and certain organizational systems and once you open your mind to seeing these organizational semiotic systems it is impossible to “unsee” it.

Knowing but not Understanding

On the first day of class when we were asked about the relationship between the humanities and the digital age/computers I thought that the relationship was one that was growing with the advancement of technology and the way in which we consume information. I found the connection of the humanities and computers to be a concept that I had never once thought in depth about. This I found to be especially interesting because the humanities is being changed because of the growing prevalence of technology. As a digitally based society we are in constant exposure to information and the way in which we receive information is different now than it was 50 years ago. When coming into the course however I never truly had to think about and connect the two subjects of humanities and computers together, they were always two separate entities addressed separately in my previous courses. When exploring the humanities I have always focused on texts and related that to the subject instead of focusing on the more broad definition of the humanities in which were brought to my attention on the first day. The only thing that can possibly connect the humanities and the digital age that I have participated in is the finding of primary sources using the Milne library databases. These archival databases act as a sort of digital library full of information and texts that pertain to the humanities.

My knowledge of computing that I brought with me into this course pertains to my love for video games. I from a young age loved computer games, I would sit at our family computer for hours as a child playing games. This is a hobby that could classify myself as a “nerd” in modern society but I had always found the computer and the internet to be fascinating. I had many games as a child that I would modify or “hack” if you will by downloading files and moving them to a folder in the games hard-drive called “mods”. I would do this “modding”  for a game called The Sims (yes I know, nerdy), where I would download custom content online and they would show up in the game after I had downloaded them and put them into the games hard-drive. This knowledge has helped me a great deal in knowing the inner workings of games, especially on a computer. I have always been the person in my family who was able to solve “tech” issues, if someone has a problem I am usually able to solve it, (unless it is an issue pertaining to the Mac computer in which my skills would be rendered useless).

If I am given a task pertaining to my computer I am generally able to solve it however, I find a lot of the time especially in this class I am doing something, and understanding how to complete the steps and get to the end result, but at the same time I have absolutely no idea what I am actually doing. When I would download custom content and drag it into the mods folder I understood that by putting these files into the modifications folder in the games hard-drive I was then putting these files into the game where they would show up. However, in class where we are downloading various programs such as the virtual box I am able to follow the steps and get the end result that I am supposed to I just don’t truly understand what it is I am doing. This class is in turn helping me develop more of an understanding of my computer and what it is capable of. My relationship to my computer coming into the course was one of simplicity. I would use my computer for gaming, YouTube, course work and simply to surf the web. A computer can be compared to the human brain, it is speculated that humans are only using a small percentage of their brain when we are capable of using much more, it is the same with a computer. Humans are only using a certain percentage of their computer when it is capable of doing so much more. I feel as if this course will help me to see just how much my computer is capable of and how I can use it in ways that I have not previously thought of. At the beginning of this course I thought I was very familiar with my computer and how to use it and at this point in the course I am finding that assumption to be incorrect.