The Future of Assistive Technology – Where Might We Be Going Next?

Think about the types of technology your students (and you!) were using just 10 years ago. What did assistive technology (AT) look like? What is possible now that wasn’t possible then? What might be possible in the next 5 years?

The last decade has seen an explosion of technologies that has changed the way we work, shop, play games, communicate and learn. With these changes have come advances that create new opportunities for students with disabilities. Where once AT was available only in specialized and often expensive devices like screen readers, we now see many AT features built-in to mainstream technology tools. Several game-changing innovations hold promise for the future of AT: 

  • Smaller and less expensive hardware (e.g., compact devices and wearable electronics)
  • Reductions in power needs and availability of cheaper, smaller power sources make AT more portable and flexible
  • The “Internet of Things” (everyday objects that are networked and connected to the internet) may provide new opportunities for supporting students with cognitive, physical and health disabilities. Given the data collected, privacy and security will be a critical issue.
  • Improvements in Internet networks and broadband capabilities mean that students can access supports in more places and are not tethered to one place or computer
  • New developments in user interfaces and input options (e.g., touch screens, gesture recognition, brain-computer interfaces, haptic/touch feedback) give students with disabilities more options for interacting with devices
  • Open-source and community development (e.g., Arduino, DIY and Makerspaces) have made it easier than ever before for users with disabilities to collaborate on custom assistive technology solutions
  • Access to tools of creation (e.g., 3D printers, Raspberry Pi, app development tools) give people with disabilities the chance to build or design AT that specifically meets their needs

These changes have moved us closer to a vision of state-of-the-art assistive and educational technology for students with disabilities: development of tools that are more flexible, portable, customizable, and interoperable (work together with other devices). Going forward, these changes will drive development of tools that user-created, data-driven, flexible, wearable, embeddable, networked, and able to work on any device.

None of us can predict the future, but these technologies point to future innovations in AT – is your school or district ready to embrace them? Though some of these tools are still in emerging markets and not yet common in our schools, many of them are already on their way to our classrooms. Within a few years, most of them will have become integral in the daily lives of your students.

What technologies do you think will have the biggest potential for diverse learners? How might we prepare our teaching, classrooms and schools for maximizing these technologies?

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