Can technology give children with learning disabilities a voice?

There’s no doubt that computers, especially laptop computers with innovative technology, have played a major role in accelerating the learning and communication ability of children with disabilities.

According to Janice Light, Professor of Communication Sciences at Penn State University in America, “More than 2 million Americans are unable to use speech to communicate, and children form a substantial percentage of that group.”

Children learn through speech by trying new words and forming sentences – if they have a disability that makes them unable to do this, it becomes extremely difficult for them to learn to be literate, make friends or even communicate their basic needs.

Although computer-based technology that provides speech output is increasingly being used to assist such children in communicating, it has not fully served its purpose.

Professor Light believes that the design of many of these devices and computers is based on the way adults think – which unfortunately means that the very devices that should be helping children are so complicated that children take years to learn how to use them effectively. The end result is that these children land up missing out on years of fundamentally important learning time while falling further and further behind able-bodied children.

Light and her colleagues decided to do something about the situation and are currently working on redesigning assistive technology to improve the ability of disabled children to learn and communicate in a more meaningful way. Based on feedback from children, the designs make use of fun sounds and bright colours. Since very young children are not readers, the child’s experiences are represented interactively through digital photos and storybook cartoons.

Early trials with 15 and 25-month old children show an improvement of about 20 to 50 times in communication skills, as well as a significant increase in vocabulary.

With such great developments on the horizon, the future for these children looks very bright indeed!

Remember that Sunshine Association’s team of trained, friendly staff is available to guide you through difficulties and offer advice. We are always here for you.