Vodacom ICT Resource Centre’s Special Needs and Inclusive Education Technology
The Minister of Basic Education has declared 2013 the year of Inclusive Education. In line with this, in partnership with Edit Microsystems, Vodacom has donated technology for inclusive education and special needs to each of the nine ICT resource centres, enabling these centres to cater to learners of all abilities.
Besides a selection of hardware equipment, each resource centre has loaded ten computers with software and accessibility devices suitable for learners with special needs. Each computer is equipped with an internet connection, giving learners with special needs the power to access a whole new world of information and communication.
Award-Winning Literacy Program
Each of the computers has been installed with award-winning Clicker 6 literacy software, which can be used by 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 for special needs. Thousands of lessons and resources for Clicker can be downloaded, modified and even created from scratch by educators, and then shared amongst other educators over the internet.
Multifunctional Reading Equipment
The Eye-Pal Solo is a reading machine that scans printed text using a digital camera with optical character recognition (OCR) and allows students to listen to the output over its built-in speakers using a natural sounding voice. The output can also be saved to an external flash drive for further editing. The Solo is useful not only for blind or visually impaired individuals, but also slow readers, early readers and individuals suffering from dyslexia.
Computer accessibility is now available to learners of all abilities. Dolphin Supernova Access Suite software enables blind or visually impaired individuals to access the text and images displayed on the computer monitor in various ways.
A selection of switches and other accessibility devices will enable physically disabled learners to access the computers at the centre. Switch-It and Choose-It software is also loaded on each of the computers for novice switch users to practice and become accustomed to their new devices.
The Grid 2 software program has a built-in speech engine that allows non-speakers to communicate through switch access and symbol assistance. The Grid 2 also enables a switch user to access any software on their computer, their cellphones and even social media applications such as Facebook and YouTube.
Boardmaker is a communication tool that can be used to create interactive or printable communication boards using widely recognised symbols. Both boardmaker and The Grid 2 are customisable so that unique solutions can be created for each learner.
Where computer-based communication is not the ideal solution for an individual, the Supertalker is a portable, easy-to-use, touch or switch-accessible piece of hardware for communication or recognition activities.
Devices for the Visually Impaired
For individuals suffering from low vision or other visual impairments, the centres have received two other multifunctional hardware devices – the HumanWare Smart View Synergy and ILowView.
The Synergy is a desktop video magnifier that magnifies and enlarges text, objects and actions, enabling visually impaired users suffering from macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or many other low vision eye conditions to read and write. Similarly, the ILowView is a portable video magnifier that enables low vision learners to make their reading mobile. The ILowView can even be used to zoom in and focus on text or images that are far away, enabling learners with low vision to see the writing on the classroom board.
At each resource centre, Edit Microsystems has provided introductory training to staff and inclusive education stakeholders from the surrounding community. Educators and district officials that attended the training were amazed and excited by the possibilities that this new technology could hold for their learners. Feedback from the training shared over Vodacom’s DigitalClassroom online discussion forums was extremely positive.
Edit Microsystems has set up Skype accounts for each of the Resource Centres, allowing for on-going training and support for the project, and is committed to ensuring sustainability for the project.
The enthusiasm of all stakeholders involved in this project points the way for an inclusive, accessible future for all South African learners with special needs.