The Equalizing Power of Assistive Technology versus the Reality

The Equalizing Power of Assistive Technology versus the Reality

Obviously, in today's world, computer technology is ubiquitous and digital literacy is crucial for successful everyday living, including work, academic and personal endeavors. The advantages for blind and visually impaired persons are enormous; a read of many of the topics here on the “Paths to Technology” blog will demonstrate the potential. Computer software and hardware manufacturers have come to realize that accessibility features are a necessary factor when designing their products. Specialized assistive technology also exists in numerous manifestations  to compensate for degree of visual ability, from blind to low vision.

In spite of this, a significant portion of BVI persons’ technology use lags significantly behind the general population, creating a dilemma of lost opportunities and self-actuation. Research demonstrates that 43% of students with vision loss use the Internet, compared with 95% of students without disabilities. (Kelly & Wolffe, 2012).Another survey found that roughly  40% of students with vision loss were not using assistive technology even though they could benefit and were even given opportunities to do so (Kapperman & Heinze, 2002). Also, many teachers and professionals who work with BVI persons are often inadequately prepared to provide sufficient training in the use of assistive or mainstream technology. According to a national study, 59% of teachers of BVI students reported little or no comfort with teaching technology. (Zhou, Ajuwon, Smith, Griffin-Shirley, Parker & Okungu, 2012).

These deficiencies were quite apparent when I first interviewed for a technology teacher position at a BVI school. When I told the director I had no experience or training in BVI education, he stated, “Nobody does”, meaning it was rare to find a credentialed TVI. I have found, in my short 5 years in TVI field that turnover of TVI’s is high and much work needs to be done to inform and educate local school districts of the equalizing power of technology for the visually impaired. It is often that we receive a student who is woefully behind, not only academically, but in the use of technology that would have ameliorated the academic lag.  

Parents and other concerned stakeholders who may read this “Paths to Technology” blog should be aware that local school districts often do not have or use the resources to properly educate BVI students regarding effective technology use and must advocate for those capabilities. After all, given all the hype about educational technology that is often hyperbole and marketing gimmicks, assistive technology can be an exception and must be a game changer, imparting equal capability to the visually impaired. Given the above facts, there appears to be a deficiency in advocacy of assitive technology training, practice and policy by all stakeholders. The old adage, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" may apply.

Kapperman, G., Sticken, J., & Heinze, T. (2002). Survey of the use of assistive technology by Illinois students who are visually impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 96 (2), 106-108.

Kelly, S. M., & Wolffe, K. E. (2012). Internet use by transition-aged youths with visual impairments in the United States: Assessing the impact of postsecondary predictors. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106(10), 597-608.

Zhou, L., Ajuwon, P. M., Smith, D. W., Griffin-Shirley, N., Parker, A. T., & Okungu, P. (2012). Assistive technology competencies for teachers of students with visual impairments: A national study. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106 (10), 656-665.