Welcome to my final blog entry for EC&I 833, summer semester of 2021!
In my first blog entry, I shared a summary of my career as an educator. I began my career teaching in inclusive education settings where I was exposed to various assistive technologies that were utilized by the students I served. It is important to mention that I did not have any prior experiences or knowledge of the use or integration of these assistive technologies. I certainly had to learn on the fly and rely on my colleagues to help me better understand these technologies and how they were to be used most efficiently and correctly. Our colleagues, Janeen, Darcy, Daniel, and Reid shared an engaging presentation on assistive technologies that I will connect to it this blog.
One of the assistive technologies that I have worked with and wanted to highlight is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). This system is based on behavioural scientist B.F. Skinner’s 1957 book Verbal Behaviour. Andy Bondy and Lori Frost (2001) explain PECS as,
an alternative/augmentative communication system that was developed to teach functional communication to children with limited speech. The approach is unique in that it teaches children to initiate communicative interactions within a social framework (p. 725).
My initial observation of this system was that not all students who used PECS had the same visuals; it was individualized. I also recognized that PECS gave students a voice to interact with peers and adults based on their wants, this was so empowering to witness! It also taught students the foundations upon which conversations are built. However, I also came to realize that the organization of each page was easy to disrupt and the importance of placing each picture back on the correct page for future use was crucial. Furthermore, I also saw the inaccuracies of picture selection and the associated frustration for many of the users due to their disabilities (i.e. cerebral palsy). Additionally, I found the system to limit vocabulary and the developed dependency of adult-initiated questions or speech to engage in conversation using the Picture Exchange Communication System.
PECS is a more cost-effective technology as opposed to the application: Proloquo2Go. This assistive technology is closely relatable to the Picture Exchange Communication System. The biggest difference is that this application provides a digital platform for its users. The students who used this program were taught to tap images on a screen to develop sentences or statements to communicate. The application would provide a voice to speak the created sentences. I recently researched the application and see that there have been upgrades to provide a more natural-sounding voice as opposed to the computerized one presented twelve years earlier. In my opinion, Proloquo2Go was aimed towards emerging or advanced communicators, but could certainly be tailored to beginners. This application also comes at a price. As of today, Proloquo2Go costs about $350.00.
We often think of assistive technology as complex and expensive. I appreciated Reid’s input in debunking common misconceptions associated with assistive technology. Two that stuck out for me were there who? And the where? As I mentioned, the Picture Exchange Communication System and the Proloquo2Go application were used with students with intensive needs. The misconception that assistive technology is only aimed at these students is misleading. I think about the day-to-day adaptations that are implemented with mainstream students that would be considered tier one interventions. Assistive technology is presented in many forms in the classroom such as calculators, hundredth charts, basic manipulatives, and standard speech-to-text options, and is not necessarily targeting students with intensive needs. This brings me to the where? Assistive technology is typically introduced in the classroom but it is expected that it is used as a strategy beyond the walls of the classroom and integrated into day-to-day living. I feel the biggest challenge is shaping society’s views on assistive technology (to ‘normalize’ assistive technologies and accept them as tools for success). Think of building a home. We cannot build a house without the use of tools, the same can be said about learning. Each student requires a different set of tools to meet their goals and experience success. Janeen shared Joy Zabala’s (2005) S.E.T.T. Framework in which I investigated further and hope to integrate the proposed questions when considering assistive technology for my students.
When selecting assistive technologies, it is important to consider the philosophical and theoretical aspects that back each technology. The theory behind PECS and Proloquo2Go is to promote and provide an outlet for communication for the individual. The philosophy behind any assistive technology is to promote independence. It is also important to consider accessibility. The goal of independence can be costly, therefore those who would benefit from these technologies may not be able to access them. How do we ensure that each student has access to the best programs to meet their needs as a basic right?