I am using a relatively new Toshiba laptop with a Windows 7 operating system. The standard Microsoft “East of Access Center” is part of the programming with tools for: disabling the display (for blind operators), optimizing visual displays through contrast control or magnification, disabling mouse and keyboard (through onscreen keyboards used with joystick or voice commands), keyboard and mouse optimization for speed of use or dexterity, and visual notifications for sound (for the hearing impaired).
The display disabling is a nice feature that save battery life, but unless it is being used in coordination with several other tools it is basically just turning your monitor off. The innate accessibility tools I found the most useful for use with students with special needs were the mouse and keyboard tools. Slowing down the mouse movements or clicks for a student with dexterity control issues would be a great feature to help decrease frustration I often see when students are asked to double click or maneuver across the screen. Likewise, the “sticky key” option was great. At my school every student is required to hold and click CTRL+ALT+DELETE upon starting the computer and logging in. This is a difficult task for some students requiring them to ask other students or a teacher to open the computer for them, but the “sticky key” function would solve that. Another great tool was the magnifier, which enables a visually impaired student to magnify a screen for better reading when not on the internet. Internet Explorer and Google Chrome both have native magnification tools within their programs.
The Microsoft tool I found the least useful and the most upsetting was the Narrator function. Basically, it is a text to speech screen reader application. However, the setting functions leave much to be desired. After several attempts I had to just turn it off, because it was just reading everything: web addresses, buttons, key strokes, everything. I did a few more searches online and found several reviews with similar complaints regarding its lack of user control. This is really a shame, because I feel that this tool of all others, could have added accessibility to highest number of students: visually impaired, low readers, and ELLs.
Another feature pre-installed on my laptop was Voice Recognition software. O’Connor (2011) suggests that “For students who struggle with the writing process because of physical access difficulties, vision impairments or specific learning difficulties, this software is a possible assisitive technology solution.” After a quick tutorial, I was able to enable the software and began using it right away using only the microphone installed on my laptop. I even typed several sentences in this essay using the voice recognition software. The only problem I had was with my children talking in the background; however that problem would have been solved by a headset microphone. The major downfall of voice recognition software are the long lists of varying commands. It certainly would not be accessible to a young child. O’Connor (2011) recommends vetting a number of other options for students with special needs “before tackling the challenge of learning how to use speech recognition.”
Though my computer came pre-installed with many accessibility tools, they were all very generic. Obviously, schools will need to think more specifically to the needs of their special education students. Roblyer and Doering (2013) discuss the two types of technology that districts need to consider: assisitive technology and instructional technology. Where “no-tech” solutions are possible, that is the clear advantage. However, some students’ needs are so great that “high-tech” solutions must be considered, and sometime they must be considered specifically for the individual students. The goal is to “make the curriculum accessible, [so] students with disabilities have the same opportunities to learn as their peers” (Roblyer and Doering, 2013).
O’Connor, G. (2011, February 27). Speech Recognition Software – An Assistive Technology Solution for the Classroom | The Spectronics Blog. Retrieved April 21, 2013, from http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/blog/web-links/1796/
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.