A PHILOSOPHY OF INCLUSIVE TECHNOLOGY FOR PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, AND ITS APPLICATION IN A COURSE USING MOBILE COMPUTING DEVICES FOR UNDERGRADUATES AT THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS, UK
Canterbury Christ Church University / London School of Economics (both UK) (UNITED KINGDOM)
The context of the article:
In this article it is argued that Computing and Information Systems (CIS) is one of the last academic disciplines working with human subjects in a social capacity to promote a philosophy of including people with special needs in mainstream environments. This is most apparent in the design and engineering of assistive technologies, which are a class apart from mainstream hardware and software. These are designed without thought of aesthetics or the social acceptability which mainstream technologies take into account during their development. Therefore it is argued that many assistive technologies add to a feeling of social exclusion from mainstream society.
The article discusses recent research, which stands in contrast to the promotion of assistive technologies as a technology apart. For example, case studies of blind software developers have found that developers who were excluded from using technologies in early life, often found it difficult to learn the skills necessary to use newer technologies later on. This exclusion, it was discovered, also affected their educational self-esteem and impeded their career progression. Recent research has also shown that mobile computing devices have the potential to be a powerful tool for including people with special needs. Similarly, although traditional computer companies prefer to follow an assistive technology model, other companies such as Apple have preferred to include features in their newer technologies that can be used by mainstream and special needs users alike, or at least do not single out users of their technologies as significantly different.
The development of an course on inclusive technologies at the London School of Economics (LSE):
The article continues by describing how, in order to address this lack of inclusivity in traditional assistive technologies, it was decided to develop a course at the LSE based on the philosophy of inclusive mobile technologies. Unlike its traditional bespoke assistive technology training with undergraduate students with special needs, this project aims to create seminars for students solely using mainstream mobile technologies and apps through a number of seminars for new undergraduates. In addition, the teaching staff at the LSE will also be informed how these students are utilising these mainstream technologies. The project will be evaluated through action research during classes, and a small scale survey of undergraduates and staff before and after the course.
The teaching of this project will focus on three aspects of mobile devices that can be useful to people with special needs. These are:
1) the use of tablet computers, MP3/4 players and recorders, and smartphones to enable inclusion for people with the following impairments: sensory impairments (such as blindness and deafness), learning difficulties (such as dyslexia) and physical impairments (such as problems with mobility caused by impaired arms and legs)
2) the use of inbuilt accessible features in these devices, which are offered at no cost to the student
3) apps that can assist students with particularly defined impairments, such as signing software for students with hearing impairments
The project’s aims are to:
• investigate the educational uses of tablets and smartphones in the context of the LSE
• evaluate the claims of accessibility by manufacturers, such as Apple
• examine mobile technologies within the context of inclusive technologies