Digital Competency has been a priority for education in Wales and when Professor Graham Donaldson was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly to report on new assessment and curriculum arrangements for Wales, this was certainly explicit.
The report aims to develop ambitious, capable learners, preparing them for the learning they will face throughout the rest of their lives. In this day and age, digital literacy is a necessity in the modern workplace, where the role of technology is vital to everyday operations. This need to develop digital literacy applies to all, including those learners with Additional Learning Needs. As educators, it is our duty to be aware of the countless applications and tools available to support their learning and development, securing equal opportunities for all.
Learners with disabilities such as those that include limited sensory perception, reading, writing and mobility may face obstacles upon beginning their careers. With the right guidance whilst in education, these pupils can equip themselves with an effective toolkit of technologies in order to conquer limitations. Therefore, ensuring a brighter future and a wealth of opportunities when it’s time to enter the world of work.
You have probably used Microsoft Word a million times without ever having realised the accessibility features available within it, and these features make documents far more accessible for any learners who have Additional Learning Needs. Providers, such as Apple and Microsoft signpost educators to guidance documents, which show how to do all sorts of modifications such as enabling voice activation, screen magnification and even text reader facilities.
For learners who find reading challenging, there are emerging technologies that are groundbreaking! For example, text that once lay dormant and inaccessible for learners with ALN can now come to life via tools such as Microsoft Immersive Reader or the iOS app, Prizmo Go. All formats of texts can be read aloud to the learner, enabling them to fully access the resources available to themselves and their peers. Learners can independently access these features, meaning they will no longer need to rely on support staff to help them, and can take ownership of their own learning, thus boosting confidence and self-esteem.
Teacher’s in-depth planning can therefore offer all pupils an opportunity to complete a task knowing that they have the tools to complete it. For example, a learner with literacy difficulties may record audio via a dictation app rather than complete a written assignment.
The skills embedded throughout their schooling can then support individuals through their higher education and then into their working lives. The ability to independently read resources, type with your voice, record and even dictate notes and assignments can have a major impact on an individual with Additional Learning Needs. The simple option of being textbook free can also empower learners with ALN, and can provide provide parallel learning experiences and readiness for the workplace.
Providing these high impact, rich learning experiences which includes using assistive technologies in Welsh Schools from an early age will allow individuals with Additional Learning Needs to develop in confidence. Learners who have had these technological experiences are far more likely to be comfortable working independently at a higher education level and then consequently, a career.
There is no doubt that our lives have become increasingly reliant on technology, in both a personal and professional manner, and whilst we are amidst another revolutionary advance, it is becoming imperative for all learners to have opportunities to work with technology in their classrooms. Technology is evolving daily and the accessibility options and specialised programs available may soon be combined with technologies that can do even more for those learners with ALN.