Assistive Technology Blog: Accessibility Features on My Computer

I use a computer with Windows 7.  There are four assistive technology tools available. There is also an Ease of Access Center that has seven features.

Assistive Technology

Magnifier – Magnifier allows the use to magnify part of the screen.  I am familiar with this technology because my wife has vision issues and uses this feature.  There are three settings:  full screen, lens and docked.  Full screen makes the whole screen larger by a chosen percent.  Lens places an on-screen magnifying lens that moves with the cursor.  Docked splits the screen and has a magnified version at the top.

Narrator – Narrator reads the text on your screen.  Another tool for people with vision issues or reading difficulties.  As someone who likes to hear the words that I am reading, I thought this would be a helpful tool for me, but I have yet to figure out how to get it to work right.  All it will read is the narrator window or the Ease of Access panel.  I have never gotten it to work on a word document or a website.  In researching on the Internet, it appears this is a common problem that was never fixed by Microsoft.  If you need a screen reader, I would suggest finding another one.

On-Screen Keyboard – I have typed this sentence with the on-screen keyboard.  If you do not have or can not use a keyboard, it is a helpful tool.  However, unless you have a touch screen, it is very time consuming.

High Contrast – This is another tool for people with vision issues.  This will heighten the contrast of items on the screen to make them more distinct from others.  It changes to white text on a black background, which is handy when working in very bright area (such as outdoors).

Ease of Access Center

The Ease of Access Center allows the user to make adjustments to the computer for the following purposes:

  • Use the computer without a display
  • Make the computer easier to see
  • Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard
  • Make the mouse easier to use
  • Make the keyboard easier to use
  • Use text or visual alternative for sound
  • Make it easier to focus on tasks –

There are features designed for people who are blind, like text to speech and audio description.  I have used text to speech before (because I never learned to touch type) and it is helpful.  Speech recognition can also be used to control the computer without a mouse.  To use this tool, you need to train your computer to understand your voice.  From what I could find, audio description tells what is happening in a video, but only if the video has an audio description track. There are other features to help people who have other vision difficulties like color blindness and farsightedness.  They allow you to change the thickness of the focus rectangle and the blinking cursor, turn off unnecessary animations and remove background images.  You can also change the cursor’s color and size.

Just as there are accessibility features for those with vision issues, there some for those with hearing impairments.  Visual notifications can replace sound and text captions can be displayed for multimedia presentations.

There are functions available for managing your keyboard and mouse or even using your computer without a keyboard and mouse.  You can turn on the mouse keypad to control the mouse and manage access to windows, like preventing windows from automatically resizing when moved to the edge of the screen.  This is helpful for people who have difficulty using a mouse.  Sticky, toggle and filter keys can be activated and you can adjust the keyboard shortcuts to make them easier to use.  Sticky keys allow you to assign multiple key controls to just one key.  This is would benefit people who may have only one hand available to them.  Toggle keys send alerts to notify the user that certain keys were pressed that turned on features that might be unwanted.  Filter keys benefit those with unsteady hands by ignoring repetitive keystrokes or ones held down too long.

References

Setting accessibility options in Windows 7. (n.d.). its-knowledge01.campus.ad.csulb.edu. Retrieved from  <https://its-knowledge01.campus.ad.csulb.edu/display/help/Setting+Accessibility+Options+in+Windows+7>.

What accessibility features does Windows offer? – Microsoft Windows Help.” (n.d.). windows.microsoft.com. Retrieved from  <http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/what-accessibility-features-windows-offer#1TC=windows-7>.

Obstacles and Solutions to Integrating Technology

“I’m petrified that we’ll apply new technology to old pedagogy,” Professor Elliot Soloway at the University of Michigan said…. “We are not exploiting the affordances of the new technology to give kids new kinds of learn-by-doing activities….What a waste!” (Cuban, 2012).

In this statement, we find the obstacles to integrating technology in the mathematics classroom.  The question is, “Why?”  Why are we applying new technology to old pedagogy?  Why are we not exploiting new technology?  The answers can be simplified as lack of time and lack of resources, but that only begs more questions of “Why?” Therefore, it might be better to answer the questions of “Who?”  Who is responsible for these obstacles?  That is an easier one.  It is everyone involved in education.

Technology is ever evolving.  What is capable today was not available when today’s teachers were going through school as a student (Dickey, 1997).  For many of them, it is a foreign language and they feel comfortable with doing things they have always done.  They have also developed ideals that are contradicted by technology in the math classroom. One of the major ideals they believe is that students need to be able to do mathematics without use of a calculator (Roblyer & Doering, 2013).  Breaking through this barrier is necessary, but it won’t solve anything if we stop there.  Even if we could get every math teacher in the world to become educational technology experts, we still face other challenges.

In the 1970’s, “New Math” was introduced.  In the 1990’s, graphing calculators made their appearance.  Both of these events had a commonality to them:  professionally generated curriculum material came with them (Norris & Soloway, 2011).  Math teachers did not need to re-write all of their lesson plans; they were provided new ones to use.  Today, technology changes are coming so fast and without curriculum that the teachers are being overwhelmed.  I personally experienced this twice in the past 5 years.  First, when we received interactive whiteboards.   We were provided a week of training on how to use them.  However, designing activities was entirely left up to us.  I dived in and tried to create constructive lessons, but quickly saw how much time it took and was forced to scale back considerably.  You can imagine how the rest of my colleagues, who aren’t as technologically inclined, felt.  Then, this past year, they introduced a new GED test.  The test went under an intensive makeover from low-level skills on Bloom’s Taxonomy to one requiring higher-order thinking in Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.  All of my lessons became obsolete.  In this case, new curriculum has been developed, but it was not available until recently and my school has yet to purchase much of it.  All of this despite the fact that we are four months into the new GED Test.

What are the solutions?  Unfortunately, real solutions can only be accomplished at administrative level and require a complete reversal in educational philosophy.  This does not mean that a math teacher can’t have any solutions to the challenges of integrating technology into the curriculum.  The first step is to understand the limitations and work within them.  Select technology that can be used for long periods of time and develop it completely to create an active learning experience for your students (Roblyer & Doering, 2013).  Refine this technology before adding more.  Expand your network by subscribing to blogs of like-minded teachers, where you can get ideas.  If you don’t have the resources to replace your curriculum, look for technology to support your current one.  Most importantly, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and look how good that turned out.

References

Cuban, L. (2012). Integrating technology into a math lesson. Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice. Retrieved from http://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/integrating-technology-into-a-math-lesson/

Dickey, E. (1997). Challenges of mathematics teaching today. Retrieved from http://ed.sc.edu/ite/dickey/nassp/nassp.html

Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2011). The 10 barriers to technology adoption. District Administration Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.districtadministration.com/article/10-barriers-technology-adoption

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed., New International ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

Relative Advantage of Using Technology to Make the Content Areas More Engaging, Relevant and Authentic

You are taking a walk and you come upon an emergency.  It might be a house on fire, someone is unconscious or an act of violence is being perpetuated.  What could you do? Did I mention it is 1914?  In 1914, if you needed to get help, chances are they will arrive too late. However, in 2014, most people have cell phones and help can be there in minutes. Technology today helps us in so many positive ways outside of school.  Why should we not use it to help our students in positive ways inside the school?

Today’s students have grown up on technology.  It has been apart of their lives as far as they can remember.  Not always a good thing, but a real thing.  Since it is so real, by using technology in the classroom, we can tie what we are teaching our students to their lives and make learning a part of their lives.  And that is a good thing.

Ever notice students talking about a movie they saw?  It might have been designed to purely entertain, but often times it will spark a conversation about the topic of the movie that leads to inquiry.  A teaching moment has been created.  Technology in the classroom can do that, too.  It can spark an inquisitive discussion.  Students become engage and participate.  They receive immediate feedback, not just from the teacher, but the other students (Raju, 2013).

What about the students who have difficulties learning?  Students with low attention spans will be aided by switching activities (Raju, 2013).  This is much easier to accomplish with technology.  A short video followed by a mini quiz on the material using clickers can prepare them for an interactive lesson on the computer.  If students have physical challenges, close captioning can be used for those with hearing impairments or text to speech software can aid a student with little or no manual skills.

What impact does technology have on students’ learning?  Instead of listening to a lecture, students who are involved in the learning by creating videos on the subject – on a historical figure, a mathematical concept, interviewing an expert in their field or a time-lapse representation of a phenomenon occurring in nature – will better retain the information (Bernard, 2009).  As a side benefit, while working with technological tools, the students will acquire non-content area skills that will benefit them in their future (Raju, 2013).  This could be using Word in a math class to create a glossary of terms or Excel in a social studies or language arts class to create charts and graphs to support a position. Frequently asked questions can be placed on a class blog, wiki or webpage that students can access again later or if they were absent, thus saving class time (Bernard, 2009).

With technology, the classroom does not have to be contained inside four walls.  Students can connect with people who are using the what they learned in school in their careers (Raju, 2013).  They can  see what engineers, archaeologists, botanists and others do in a typical day (or not so typical day).  They can learn about other cultures by communicating with other students around the world (Raju, 2013).

Even a little bit of technology in your class, regardless of the content area, can have a dramatic effect on students.  I teach students who left school without getting a diploma.  A few years ago, my school purchased interactive whiteboards.  In order to quickly use them, I created flipcharts that were practice problems.  The students would read the problem and answer a multiple choice question using a student response system.  This was rote memorization and drill and practice put on a big screen.  My students began to work harder in class.  They were more involved in the lesson.  They enjoyed coming to my class more than some others who weren’t using the technology as much.  Did it help? Every year, the percent of students who passed the GED test went up a couple of points. This past year, over ⅔ of my students achieved their GED.  These were students who were unsuccessful in the traditional school setting.  With the change to the GED 2014 Test, students will need to have higher-ordered thinking skills and even more technological skills.  Thus the biggest advantage to using technology in all content areas is because the future depends upon it.

Bernard, S. (2009). How to teach with technology. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-lesson-ideas

Raju, S. (2013). Top 10 reasons to use technology in education: iPad, tablet, computer, listening centers. YouTube. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulb4jl3xqs8