The Vodacom ICT Resource Centres make Assistive Technology Accessible
Every child has the right to education, and inclusive education is a key focus for South Africa, if we are to build an inclusive society where every child is accommodated. Learners with barriers or special education needs, usually require enhanced support in order to access and participate fully in the classroom. Appropriate assistive technology has been shown to be instrumental in giving independence and improving the lives and productivity of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life.
Technology can be crucial in assisting learners with all sorts of barriers to achieve their potential. Children with physical barriers may benefit from the use of a computer with adapted mouse or keyboards for reading and writing, as well as for communication. Electronic braille computing and note taking devices, known as the Braillenote Apex, are being used in schools for the blind in Western Cape and Gauteng to great effect – giving visually impaired learners access to a whole new world of information at their fingertips! Communication devices that play recorded messages can help a child without the ability to speak to communicate in class – expressing understanding or asking for help. A text-to-speech software can enable a dyslexic child to have the exam paper read aloud to them without the use of a facilitator. These incredible devices, however, are just the tip of the iceberg when looking at the support structure needed for a child with barriers to learning.
Choosing the right device or combination of hardware and software to assist a child is a complex process, requiring input from various stakeholders including therapists, parents and teachers. It is almost always necessary for the child to spend some time trying out different devices before making a choice. Thankfully, in partmentship with IT Masters and Edit Microsystems, Vodacom have equipped an ICT Resource Centre in each province with a comprehensive basic basket of assistive technology – making the centre computers accessible to individuals with disabilities, but also allowing educators a space to come and let their learners try out the different devices, or even run inclusive lessons at the centre with whole classes.
Award-Winning Literacy Software
Each resource centre set aside 10 computers to be “accessible”. Each of these has been installed with award-winning Clicker 6 literacy software for learners of all ages and abilities, including those with dyslexia, learning difficulties, physical disabilities and other special needs. Clicker software integrates seamlessly with accessible switches and other accessibility hardware for special needs. The centres have been equipped with alternate keyboards, mouse devices, switches and even head tracking to enable accessiblity for individuals with physical disabilities.
At the Witbank resource centre, local schools have been taking full advantage of Clicker – giving lessons using the software and allowing learners to benefit from the support features to enhance their writing. Finally, learners with physical barriers to learning are able to write their answers.
Support for the Visually Impaired
The resource centres have been equipped with digital magnifiers (handheld and desktop-based), as well as specialised software to assist those with visual impairments. Individuals can use these devices to read documents or books at the centre, or to test out whether a certain device may be suitable. Dolphin Supernova Access Suite is a comprehensive package, installed on a single computer at each centre, that can magnify, read out loud and provide braille translation for a visually impaired computer user.
The EyePal SOLO reading device can read out loud any print-based text – benefiting not only the visually impaired but also individuals with dyslexia or othe reading difficulties.
AAC Communication Devices
Each resource centre is equipped with a Supertalker – an AAC device that can assist someone with complex communication requirements to communicate with individuals around them. Using pictures or symbols grids, you can create communication boards and record a message in any language for each picture. When the user presses on the image, the message plays.
Centre Staff Training
Upon installation, Edit Microsystems provided training to centre staff at each resource centre on how the devices work, and how they can assist individuals of different abilities. We also offer ongoing training and support via emote conferencing technology – training centre staff as well as educators in the community. Educators may also arrange their own link-up training sessions – during which they can connect with an Edit Microsystems trainer and receive information on how to effectively use the technology at the centre.
Accessing the Devices
Each centre has its own procedure for arranging visits from educators. Educators or therapists who would like to visit the centre in their province which has been equipped with the technology should contact the centre manager. Contact details can be found on the Vodacom Digital Classroom portal. Please see the list of provinces and the towns/areas in which the appropriate resource centre can be found below.
List of Resource Centres Equipped with Accessibility Technology
- Western Cape – Worcester
- Eastern Cape – Lady Frere
- Free State – Thaba Nchu
- KwaZulu Natal – Pinetown
- Limpopo – Vhembe
- Mpumalanga – Witbank
- North West – Ganyesa
- Northern Cape – Siyanda
- Gauteng – Sunnyside, Pretoria