Clean out your technology cupboards

Teacher sitting beside student using assistive augmentative technologyAs assistive technology continues to grow and transform, we have a noticed a change in the type of enquiries that our ILC Tech team receives. The trends are for new, sleek and compact tablets, that need to be powerful and fast, yet accessible and software compatible.

Increasingly consumers are seeking wireless or Bluetooth options for keyboards, mice and switches- but is this always reliable? We see that software licenses or apps are now downloaded or subscribed to and accessed via the internet, rather than receiving a CD or DVD from the supplier. Does this limit access when internet is not available?

People want their technology to be flexible and easy to use. There is a need for technology that will integrate alternative access methods with a range of functions including communication, leisure, environmental control, social networking, and work or school work. Do we need to consider the impact of technology breaking down if all our functionality is built into one integrated device?

Technology has become more affordable and more portable. We now have access to devices that offer universal design with many accessibility features built in. These features are available to use straight out of the box without the need for expensive added software. It’s an exciting time to be able to assist families and schools to choose and problem solve their assistive technology and see what is possible!

However, what about the technology of the past? It is changing so quickly. I know many schools, therapy organisations and even families who have a box in the cupboard, or even a whole storeroom full of “old” technologies, sitting there collecting dust! We have the same challenge at ILC Tech- what do we do with this once “cutting edge” technology, that now sits on the shelf unused.

Do these technologies still have a place? Do they have any benefits above the new wireless and integrated technologies? Could we take a green approach and see how this technology can be reused or recycled? Or donated to those who would cherish owning this “older” technology that we take for granted and store away?

Do you remember these popular switching software titles– Big Bang, Choose It Maker, Switch It Maker?  Now we are seeing a trend where many students who require alternative access are not gaining this early switching experience. Rather they are beginning to explore computer access through touch screen cause and effect activities, with a range of affordable and exciting apps available.

Image of a big red switch buttonA few years ago, one of ILC Tech’s most  frequently requested appointments was for “switch access”, exploring the range of switches  and switch accessible software. Students explored switch access for access to the curriculum, to books and music, to onscreen keyboards, to their communication device, to toys and remote controls. Many students or schools would purchase a range of switch accessible software, a switch adapted mouse or switch interface and a switch, the standard “Big Red” or “Jelly Bean” switch were most common.

Do you have some of this gear tucked in the back of your school’s IT cupboard? Do you still use it now that you have iPads in your school? While switch access to tablets like the iPad is available and improving all the time, is there still a place for your old “wired” switch and using this software that provided a guide to developing switch access skills.

What about previously popular communication devices? While they may be larger and not as sleek as the current tablet range, could they still be useful, perhaps for a student who isn’t able to access a touch screen. Often these dedicated devices are more durable, and offer a range of access methods and accessories to suit people who require alternative access.

Image of a Big Mac swithch buttonDo you have an old “Big Mac” or “Go Talk” communication device that isn’t being used? Why not get it out and use it to engineer your environment for communication? Stick the Big Mac by the door, to ask to go outside to play, or to say goodbye to the receptionist at school as students leave to jump on the bus. Make an overlay for the Go Talk for a classroom or lesson that doesn’t have any communication aids yet- maybe put it in the library so the students can interact with the librarian when they loan out a book, or create a menu and chat words to speak to the staff in the canteen. There must be location within your school or home where these communication aids could be used to enhance interaction and communication, rather than sitting unused in the cupboard.

Just because the technology is older, it might not be useless! Pop in a new battery, do some testing and trouble shooting, do a google search to find the manual for the device so you know how to use it. When you are considering purchasing some new technology, take a look in the cupboard. Do you have something you could use already? Perhaps you have used it in the past and it didn’t work out for some reason. Think about why it didn’t work? Was it because of the technology or tool itself, or did you need some more training and support?

I do think that it’s important that we don’t burden families and educators with technology that is unreliable. We don’t want their technology or AAC experience to be dampened by technology that is frustrating and doesn’t work. So, be sure to test your old technology first, see if it works and then use it to enhance communication, participation and learning in your environment.

If you can’t find a use for it, find someone who can! It will just get older and older and more redundant sitting in the storage cupboard. Perhaps the university might want it for training teachers or allied health students, or they may know of an international project that is collecting donations before the next student trip. There may be another school who might have less of a technology budget than you that would really love to try some technology with their students.

Picture of a range of intellekeysSo, think about it. When you are packing up your classroom at the end of this year, or doing a spring clean at home and you come across some old assistive technology, before you throw it out or put it away think about the individual, the tool and the tasks that it could assist with. You might find an old favourite, like a Step-By-Step or Intellikeys …. that could have a new lease of life and provide some renewed participation and independence for someone. Caroline Musselwhite tells us to “dance with the girl you brought”, check out her blog post ‘AAC Girls’ here .  Caroline teaches us to appreciate, value and use the technology that we already have. At the same time, ILC Tech looks forward to the exciting innovations that the emerging technology market will bring in the future.

Image of two people dancing with wording above and below saying Dance! with the one you broughtILC Tech Private Options is available to provide schools and organisations with an assistive technology audit, to review the range of assistive technology that has been invested in and provide ideas, training and support to ensure your technology investment is used to it’s full potential.

For more information, please contact ILC Tech on (08) 9381 0600 or technology@ilc.com.au . You can also find out more about our training services from our Training webpage here and ‘Assistive Technology – Helping students to access the curriculum’ booklet.

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