Although I make it sound like it’s been a million years since I attended school, the reality is that it has BARELY been a decade since I last forced myself out of bed and into a classroom five days a week. And let’s be honest, not too much has changed in the interim, school is still school. However, when I compare my experience with some of my older peers at Stenberg, I have a better understanding of why the transition from high school at the turn of the millennium, to college in 2016, was so much more fluid for me and others my age, as opposed to those who last attended school in the eighties and early nineties – technology.
Technology HAS advanced a lot in the last decade, but it’s not alien to me. The Internet was a part of my life, research was done in the library and on a computer, my friends started getting cell phones, and social media became a thing. Technology connected me to the larger world and allowed me to communicate with people on the other side of the planet; our latest course in the Education Assistant program has been teaching us about the kinds of technologies that exist today that help children in the classroom connect to their peers, and communicate with people right in front of them.
I am a loud person, I have never struggled to be heard, so naturally I haven’t really thought about what it would be like to struggle to be understood – to feel like I had no voice. There are quite a few disabilities that rob people of this very thing, the ability to speak coherent words and make themselves heard. Not that many years ago, there would have been limited options for these individuals. Thankfully, with the progress of modern technological invention, there are nearly unlimited options nowadays to help someone communicate without the luxury of a voice: machines that can speak back what someone is able to type, computer navigation systems that can be controlled by tracking the movement of an eye, ankle bracelets that can read the changes in heart rate that indicate someone is about to have a behavioral meltdown. In cases where someone is, for any reason, unable to produce speech or express themselves verbally, there is modern technology ready to help them share who they are.
The school system is not what it used to be, thanks to technology. Students are able to type assignments if writing is difficult for them, they are able to speak to a machine and have it type for them if typing is beyond their fine motor skill control. At Stenberg, not only are we learning about the types of technological assistance our future students will be using, we’re being exposed to ways we may be able to help a child find their own voice.
I am grateful to have been exposed to technology at a young age, I even feel like maybe I didn’t take advantage of what was available to me back in high school! Now that I know what exists for those who struggle with something as fundamental as communicating, I will go out of my way to ensure every student I am privileged to work with has access to assistive technology. I want to help them, and I can’t do that without knowing who they are and what they need. To hear it from them first hand will be nothing short of amazing. Oh, technology…