Assistive technology has the power to transform students’ lives.
Below, we hear from one of our member colleges, Catcote Futures, about the way assistive technology is integrated into their provision.
Assistive Technology at Catcote Futures
At Catcote Futures in Hartlepool, a college for students with complex, severe and/or profound and multiple learning difficulties, assistive technology is embedded in everything we do. We truly believe in celebrating what our students can do, as opposed to focusing on what they cannot.
As it should be, assistive technology is a natural part of our students’ daily life. We offer a broad and exciting curriculum with a host of learning opportunities that are offered to all students, regardless of need. If a student has expressed a preference to join the Catcote Cooks Crew to help to make our weekly TV-style cooking show, then they are more than welcome to do so, no matter what their physical or cognitive limitations may be.
Our PMLD learners following the ‘Sensory Explorers’ pathway, and use assistive technology every morning as an integral part of their Senseology morning routine. This includes using single switch communicator devices such as BigMacks to greet peers and staff, or share exciting news of their adventures. They use specialist switches to mark themselves present in the register as well as ChooseIT Maker 3 to answer questions on things such as the weather. As part of their daily routine, our Sensory Explorers take part in a vibrant and technology-rich sensory story. Here, the students use switches to allow them to tell a multimedia version of the story, with assistive technology forming the basis of many of the sensory props and cues. Examples include using a switch linked to an Inclusive Click-On 2 to power a hairdryer with voile attached to simulate a dragon’s fiery breath, using the Snapchat app on an iPad to turn the students into hideous witches or interacting with the ‘Fluid Simulation’ app to give the illusion of a bubbling cauldron!
Enterprise skills are a key feature at Catcote Futures and all students are given the opportunity to create and sell variety of items. This year our Sensory Explorers used the food mixer and microwave linked to a PowerLink 4 to create a range of animal treats such as dog and cat biscuits and bird feeders. The money raised from the venture paid for the class to visit Hartlepool’s Special Needs Support Group’s Sensory Room for an amazing day.
Catcote Futures has a vibrant media department, with assistive technology giving all students the opportunity to create a range of multimedia products. James is one of the top presenters of our Catcote Cooks TV show and has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This means his movement is limited to his head and his thumbs. Using micro switches linked to his Mac, James was able to use the Mac’s scanning feature with GarageBand to compose the catchy theme tune for the show. James has also used a variety of kitchen appliances linked to his switches to make everything from pancakes to toasties to scrambled eggs.
Daniel is a lifelong learner at Catcote Futures who has cerebral palsy which profoundly impedes both his movement and speech. Dan is very sociable and thoroughly enjoys working on reception and in the Bistro, our vibrant café. Dan uses an iTalk2 to both greet customers and thank them for their service. He can also use switches with the toaster and microwave to help prepare arrange meals and snacks for customers.
Daniel is also part of the Catcote News team, and has presented several episodes of the programme, using a BigMack Step by Step to deliver both the headlines and conduct interviews with staff and peers. When Daniel got a new personal assistant, he was part of the interview process, again, using a single switch communicator to ask questions and give feedback about the candidates.
Dylan has complex autism and follows our ‘Aiming High’ pathway, our semi-formal curriculum. Dylan has recently undertaken a weekly enterprise and ICT skills session called ‘Sweet Summer Treats.’ During this lesson, Dylan has used a blender and an ice cream maker linked to a switch to make the most marvellous banana ice cream. Dylan is pre-verbal but has been able to advertise his wares by visiting classes and delivering his sales pitch using a single switch communicator. Sales have been excellent and Dylan, who has always been a popular student, has seen his popularity rise yet further!
Photography is a popular lesson at Catcote Futures and students with physical difficulties are a valued member of the team. Students from across the college were able to use a Blue2 Switch, linked to an iPad Pro to take a range of beautiful photographs of several picturesque sites in Hartlepool. The photographs were then used by students in the reprographics department to create stunning A3 calendars, which have been sold for a tidy profit in our Catcote Metro shop in the town centre. Students were also able to use apps such as ‘Oil Painter’ and ‘Waterlogue’ to create realistic looking digital paintings from the photographs they had taken, to make arty variant versions of the calendars.
Of course, this is just the very tip of the iceberg. Every day Catcote Futures students are using assistive technology to take control, to make meaningful choices, to entertain, to communicate and interact in many ways, using a range of VOCAs, apps and devices, in an ever more natural way. Assistive technology truly enables our students to show the world just what they can do, and we couldn’t ask for more than that!
This piece was written for us by Pete Wells, Curriculum Manager at Catcote Futures. You may be interested in checking out Pete’s Sensory Stories podcast and his other interactive story-telling resources.
Are you interested in learning more about how to use assistive technology effectively in your provision? Our TechAbility Conference – Raising Standards in Birmingham on the 21 November is aimed at doing exactly that and we are taking bookings now. You might also be interested in checking out our TechAbility resources, or watching one of our webinars.