Neil Beck, assistive technologist at TechAbility and National Star, explains how the recently developed standards can help providers ensure that their learners are making the most of assistive technology.
This article first appeared in Quality Times, Natspec’s member-only quality focussed publication.
What is assistive technology and why is it important?
When we talk about technology, people often think ‘cables and complex elements’ and that can be a turn-off, so I always prefer to talk about what technology can do for an individual, rather than what it is:
- a student writing poetry using their voice
- another reading emails for the first time, using a screen-reader and proudly replying
- a young person making choices to look through family holiday photos with switches
- a woman recovering from a stroke regaining lost independence: being able to communicate and return to work.
In our field we focus on assistive technology that improves educational and therapy outcomes for learners. It is a diverse field and covers everything from literacy tools to eye-gaze.
Where did the standards come from?
In the years that Fil McIntyre, my fellow assistive technologist, and I have been working for TechAbility we have found a wide unmet need around assistive technology. Support for assistive technology has come in waves for the specialist FE sector, with pockets of excellence and outstanding professionals driving this forward. We realised how important it is that colleges are able to take responsibility themselves for making effective use of assistive technology and for continuous improvement in this area, rather than relying on external support. Our focus has always been on making learners independent; now we realised we needed to improve the independence of colleges.
So, in the way that another Beck created the London Tube Map to simplify navigation, we decided to create a map to show how to navigate the technology out there – and the plethora of considerations to getting excellent outcomes. We wanted to demystify assistive technology for colleges. Our aim was to create a resource, available to everyone, that would lead to lasting improvements across the sector.
What are the standards?
The standards are a series of categories, which are then broken down further into specific recommendations with resources to help meet them. Let’s take an example:
The assessment standard recommends:
- trained staff
- standardised assessment
- review point
- appropriate environment
- accessible documentation
- appropriate equipment.
It then develops each of these points to explain how to achieve them and provides useful resources.
The categories cover everything from access skills to transition and are written to assume no prior knowledge.
Technology advances quickly, but the standards aim to provide guidance around the infrastructure and tools that have remained common.
How can the standards be used?
- as a self-audit tool
- to identify training needs
- as a guide for inspection
- to identify areas for improvement
Can I contribute to the standards?
Yes! The standards have been authored by Fil McIntyre, Rohan Slaughter and me, with the support of a wide range of groups and individuals who have contributed their feedback. We plan to update the standards periodically, so please send us any suggestions for improvements or additions, along with links to additional resources you think we could usefully reference. I’m also happy to field any questions you may have about the standards.
Where can I find the standards?
The standards were launched at the recent TechAbility Conference 2019 – Raising Standards, and are available on the TechAbility website.
We will consider if there is a demand to tailor this resource to fit mainstream education and if there are any omissions. We will also look to turning this resource into a specific online audit tool in future should there be call for this.
I hope the standards help you and that they give us all a platform to build from.
Neil and Fil are also going to be leading a workshop at Jisc’s Digifest on the 10 March about the TechAbility Standards, if you’re eager to learn more.