Assistive Technology in Education

October 31, 2021

Brett discusses assistive technology in education by exploring the Internet of Things and the need for accessibility.  

Assistive Technology in Education

It is no stretch to say that the IoT (Internet of Things) has rapidly become central to all aspects of life and has changed the way we learn, work and live.

At the turn of the last century, innovations in construction design and building materials meant that we could build ever taller buildings. We could live in multi-storey homes and work in huge skyscrapers. Stairs enabled us to ascend these storeys. However, while stairs have some people access to new heights many others were relegated to the ground floor. In some cases, they could not even get in the front door.

Change was needed.

The development of industry standards, the public support of improved ‘inclusive design’ and further innovations in construction and building materials meant those who were previously excluded from the higher levels could now have equal access.

With the IoT (Internet of Things) a similar situation has presented itself. Inclusive design must be incorporated into the evolving innovation. The IoT must be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities. Being able to access information through technology is necessary to operate in a modern world.

Educators have become quite adept and ‘reverse engineering’ digital products to find their educational purpose. Items like the Sphero robot and Merge Cube were originally marketed as consumer toys however educators found their purpose. Work apps like Google Drive that were built to increase corporate output have become classroom essentials. Teachers are now able to connect with their students in ways that were not possible a decade ago. The COVID pandemic accelerated the uptake of digital solutions and now even the most traditional classrooms have a heavy infiltration of digital teaching and learning.

This seismic shift in the integration of technology has enhanced the digital divide. Some have access to all manner of digital solutions while others are left without as a result of economics, geographic isolation or disability.

The launch of the very popular Clubhouse app that allows audio sharing in real-time is an example of this. While the app has experienced immense success in participation numbers through the millions of users who engage with it regularly, it has also isolated many with a hearing impairment. The design and development of this innovative product failed to include features that would have made it more inclusive.

As educators, we know the importance of ‘tech-equity’. We understand that leveraging technology to more effectively teach the curriculum means that ALL students need to benefit from its integration not just some.


Accessibility is an important concept to consider when integrating technology into a learning environment. Digital solutions need to support all abilities, overcome socio-economic realities and ensure that geography challenges don’t result in rural and remote students being disadvantaged.

It is universally understood that the needs of individual students vary greatly. As such it is incumbent on teachers and education systems to ensure that any digital solutions being incorporated into the teaching and learning cycle must be accessible to all and meet the specific individual needs of the students in our care.

Too often websites and digital tools are developed with accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use in a learning environment which unfairly (and illegally) make learning prohibitive!

In solving the digital divide, we need to reframe the conversation. By addressing digital inclusion and accessibility issues we can work to bridge the gap. Previously the digital divide was often associated with wealth and socio-economic factors however by ensuring the concept of inclusion and accessibility we can meet the needs of all.


Recently I was introduced to a tool called TextHelp. I had seen this digital resource online but I had never really had a chance to explore it. However, once I had seen it in action, I needed to share what I had learned.

Most importantly, Texthelp is FREE!!!

Free for individual teachers with an edu email. If schools or systems want to purchase a license that option is available.

Texthelp itself works across platforms meaning you can use it on any type of machine and on either google docs or MS Word.

The Texthelp product itself is actually a collection of assistive technology tools that help teachers provide inclusive solutions for their students.

The standout features for me are:

  1. Screen masking. This tool creates a digital ruler or band across the page and helps students who have difficulties tracking text. The colour of the ruler and background can be altered to additional support any student who may be colour blind.
  2. Voice Note. Want to provide students with feedback? Just use the Voice Note feature. Here you record your spoken feedback, and it saves it as an audio comment that the student can playback and listen to. It also generates transcripts for those students needing that support.
  3. Vocabulary Tool. Want to customise your vocab lesson or spelling list. Simply highlight keywords in the text that your student will be reading. The vocabulary tool then auto-generates a new doc with a table. It populates the word, its meaning, imports an image or symbol and gives you a column to write your own notes. All this personalised learning happens instantly.
  4. Collect Highlights. Want to teach students how to efficiently take notes. If they have the Texthelp ‘Collect Highlights’ tool on, they can visit multiple web pages and PDFs, etc while highlighting the important information. The tool then generates a new doc with the highlighted information from different sources and creates an immediate bibliography too.

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