Technology Integration

Assistive Technology and the 1:1 Student

November 28, 2012
Photo credit: Sean MacEntee via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Much has been said about the iPad being a revolutionary device for education. There are even education conferences that are dedicated to its use. About a year ago, after the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs, 60 Minutes ran a piece on how the iPad was being used as an assistive technology with autistic students. This piece was eye opening for many -- it showed the potential for this device as an assistive technology and how it can change learning for students with disabilities or impairments.

Meaghan Roper, a junior at Burlington High School, shares a similar story with the iPad. When Meaghan was six years old, she was diagnosed with a visual impairment. In the eighth grade, she started to notice a decline in her vision. She sought out surgery to repair or delay her vision decline, and while successful, the procedure did not hold for very long.

The following year, Meaghan entered Burlington High School as a freshman. It was decided that she would have a laptop coupled with assistive software programs to assist with her visual impairment. She read all of her books on this laptop and was able to use several features in Microsoft Word. She had her teachers' documents scanned and printed in large fonts. Meaghan also used an audio book reader for some of her classes. In short, she had to be aware and proficient in many technologies and applications to stay current with her studies in all of her classes. This all changed at the beginning of her sophomore year -- the year that Burlington High School launched their 1:1 iPad initiative.

A Transformative Experience

Meaghan recalls her first moments with the iPad and how she and her liaison discovered the variety of new opportunities that this one device presented. One of the first things she used was the ability to invert the colors of the screen. The iPad gives users the opportunity to read predominantly black text on a lighter screen, or to invert the colors and overlay white text on a black screen. This one feature, Meaghan recalls, was "transformative" in her learning of what the iPad could offer her educational experience.

Aside from the color inversion, Meaghan utilizes the VoiceOver feature that will read any selected text on the screen, and the Zoom feature that requires a double-tap of three fingers.

Beyond the simple flip of a switch in the accessibility options, Meaghan soon found many new opportunities for her learning on this one device. In the past, she would have to get all of her teachers' handouts enlarged and reprinted. Obviously, this was time-consuming and took lots of paper. A typical one-page handout would on average become four to five large-print pages before Meaghan could work with it. With the iPad, she can take a screenshot of the PDF file her teachers embed on their websites or share through Google Drive or Dropbox, and simply pinch the screen to enlarge. She also uses the camera application to take pictures of teachers' notes or homework on the board so that she can pinch zoom to clearly see every letter. She says this approach is not only more efficient but has also helped her to organize her schoolwork more effectively. Plus, her schoolwork is viewable offline and is accessible on one device that's "much lighter than a laptop."

Apps for Every Need

In Meaghan's day-to-day operation of the iPad, she uses several applications to manage her content. It doesn't take her too many apps to get through her school day. She's thankful that, along with transitioning to the iPad, Burlington also married the Google Apps for Education suite with this device. She finds ease in accessing Google Docs from multiple devices and knowing that her work will always be safe, secure and not dependent on a machine's functionality.

Any photo or screenshot she takes can be easily uploaded to the cloud through the Google Drive for iPad app. This eliminates the process of having to email a Word document to yourself, download it to a machine (that hopefully has a corresponding version of Word), and then edit . . . and then repeat this process for every document. With the Google Drive app and Google Apps Suite, Meaghan is able to move everything she needs seamlessly throughout her day without the cumbersome processes associated with Microsoft Office documents.

When Meaghan has to annotate a document and return the markup to a teacher, she will call on the free application Paperport Notes (formerly Noterize). This application allows her to easily access documents from her teachers, download them to this app, organize them accordingly, annotate and submit for review. The whole process, she says, "has made me a more organized student," and she doesn't feel like she is lagging behind in any of her classes because of her vision.

For texts that are required reading for her classes, Meaghan uses an application called Read 2 Go, which lets her download a single app and access a variety of books via Bookshare. She can listen to these books, controlling the visual enhancements, background colors and highlighting options as she reads along.

In Geometry, Meaghan finds ease in keeping up with a visual subject by using This app allows her Geometry teacher, Ms. Palmer, to share her projected computer screen directly onto Meaghan's iPad. Meaghan can pinch and zoom in real-time as Ms. Palmer presents material to the class on the SmartBoad. This application, Meaghan attests, "has really improved my experience in Geometry class. Geometry is a very visual subject, and having this app on my iPad has given me an opportunity to keep pace and see Geometry more clearly."

Overall, Meaghan regards the iPad as a transformative device in her learning experience. While many debate what device is best, or if any technology is really necessary, I ask you to reflect on what you just read. Meaghan's story is by no means limited. There are many students who benefit from assistive technology on a daily basis; however, some may never get to experience the iPad. I'm not writing this as a pitch for Apple, but simply stating that incorporating one thousand iPads at Burlington High School has transformed Meaghan Roper's learning experience. And that alone is reason enough to give thanks for this device in our school.

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