In this article series, learning software and apps are presented that enable barrier-free access to learning content and support inclusive learning. The first article introduces the topic, compares the pros and cons of software for PC, laptop, Mac and tablet apps, offers a small overview of the iPad’s operating aids and explains guided access. The second article deals with apps and software that enable barrier-free access to learning content.
The use of digital media in pedagogical practice is now the subject of much discussion. While some have been dreaming of paperless classrooms for years and rave about the creative and knowledge-imparting potential of apps and the like, others are sceptical: the everyday lives of children and young people are already massively influenced by digital media, and school must therefore remain one of the few digital-free zones.
Specialists are increasingly called upon to design their educational offers for adolescents with very different physical and mental prerequisites. But how can children who, for example, are not able to write with a pen, who have difficulties reading (learning) or who cannot see, take part in lessons? Barrier-free learning software and apps can support children in capturing and editing learning content and in this way support inclusive settings.
But what software and apps are there that are suitable for children and adolescents with sensory, physical and learning disabilities? And what can you do with them? What is often missing is clear information. With these contributions, we would like to offer pedagogical specialists an easy introduction and to make the first steps into the often confusing app jungle. Individual apps are also mentioned: These are based either on our own experience or on our research. They are to be understood as examples among others, in order to clarify which possibilities there are for individualized learning as well as “disability compensation”.
We can’t avoid a pre-selection or follow recommendations of others, for example the recommendations of the UK App Blog, the app tips of LIFEtool as well as the app recommendations of parents of disabled children from the RehaKids forum. It is highly likely that we will overlook other, equally good apps and software. We are therefore very happy about your app tips!
Software for PC/ Laptop/ Mac or Tablet-App?
This depends very much on the individual requirements and needs of the learner. Software (PC/ Laptop/ Mac) is often mature and offers extensive functions and support. PCs, laptops and Macs are sometimes easier to use for people with severe disabilities (e.g. severe motor disabilities), as there are more specialised input aids available (e.g. mouth mouse, eye control).
Both hardware and software are often much more expensive than tablets and apps. However, certain software that has been specially developed and approved for the compensation of limitations and disabilities often has a so-called aid number: this can be used to cover the costs of a cost unit.
Tablet apps also have advantages:
They are often very easy and intuitive to use, which reduces the operational hurdles for ALL parties involved – the users, pedagogical specialists, parents…. If a handicapped child can use a tablet, it does not use a “special technology” that compensates for the handicap, but rather a hip all-rounder that significantly increases acceptance.
There are many apps for different needs, but this variety is also perceived as confusing and not every app is mature and stable. A further disadvantage of apps is that many are dependent on an Internet connection and there is by no means a good WLAN connection in every school and KITA.
iPad operating aids for people with disabilities
As part of our Media Competence Centre project in mid-2017, we are exclusively using iPads. Many “good” learning apps or apps that help people with disabilities access information are developed by small developers first or foremost for the iOS system – despite the fact that Android-based tablets are now much more widespread due to their lower price.
One of the reasons for this is that the iPad already offers very good adaptability to the various needs of people with disabilities. The operating aids can be found in the settings under “General”, for example:
VoiceOver: Screenreader that enables blind people to operate the iPad.
Zoom magnification : Magnifying glass, display adjustments, larger text, increased contrast help visually impaired people.
Voice output: Which can be used to read a selection of texts or the entire screen content, also helps visually impaired people – but is just as exciting for people with learning and reading difficulties.
For people who have difficulties with touch operation due to motor restrictions, the “Interaction” section offers the options “AssistiveTouch” and “Touch Adjustments” to adapt the display to their needs. For example, you can define your own gestures and adjust touch sensitivity. In case of tremors, the touch surface can be set to ignore repeated touches.