In recent years, advancements to assistive technology in the classroom have provided many opportunities to students with developmental disabilities. From communication to mobility aids, assistive technology has promoted greater independence and increased social interaction.
We were fortunate to interview Dr. Tammy Florek, a physical therapist at the Sun Prairie Area School District in south central Wisconsin. The Sun Prairie Area School District uses cutting-edge technology to support assistive technology in the classroom. Read the Q&A to learn more about how assistive technology in the classroom has improved the lives of Sun Prairie students.
Q: What kinds of individuals with disabilities do you work with?
A: I work with students who have gross motor functional limitations. Common diagnoses include Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome, and Muscular Dystrophy, among others.
Q: How long have you worked with disabled individuals?
A: I have worked with individuals with disabilities in the Sun Prairie School district for 30 years. Before that I was a PT at Meriter Hospital in Madison. While working for Meriter, I received my doctorate in physical therapy from Simmons College in Boston.
Q: How has assistive technology improved the lives of your students?
A: Assistive technology has been Invaluable, especially during Covid. The equipment including different styles of walkers and wheelchairs have allowed my students to do things they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to as they have grown. Assistive technology has opened up recreational, vocational, and social opportunities.
Q: How has assistive technology improved over time?
A: With wheelchairs now being Bluetooth-enabled, students are able to adjust the position of the wheelchair so they can get in and out more easily. Different styles of walkers have allowed students to walk who otherwise weren’t able to. Speech-to-text and voice recognition have allowed students to write using their voice which has allowed them to complete assignments at a faster pace and more independently. For students who can’t use their voice, technology that utilizes head taps enables them to communicate.
Q: What assistive technologies do you feel are important in the day-to-day life of your students?
A: Voice-to-text software has become increasingly critical, as well as modified keyboards that adjust to sensitivity. Electronic wheelchairs have been game-changing.
Q: Do your students enjoy the technology?
A: They love it. They all hated writing and now that it’s no longer an obstacle for them, they enjoy it. The non-ambulatory students also love the Bluetooth feature on their wheelchair.
Q: Has assistive technology improved some of your student’s social skills?
A: The voice-to-text and word prediction have allowed my students to participate in social media across continents to reach individuals with similar diagnoses as them. Parents have taken advantage of this as well. Assistive technology helps individuals with disabilities connect with one another, for sure.
Q: Has technology improved your student’s cognitive skills?
A: I’m not sure if technology improves cognitive skills, but it allows them to maximize the skills they do have, especially organizing their notes and notifications. My students have become more independent because they can rely on visuals and organizational apps rather than a person to help them complete a task.
Q: Has technology improved your student’s physical abilities?
A: Yes, I have students who in the past would not be able to walk anymore if it were not for new developments in mobility technology. I also have students who would not be able to work or even live at home with their parents if not for advancements in technology. Like I said, assistive technology is a game-changer.
Covey is a non-profit organization serving individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in Oshkosh and Appleton, Wisconsin. To learn more about how assistive technology promotes independence for individuals with developmental disabilities, check out Why Assistive Technology is Important for an Individual with a Disability.