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Bringing tech accessibility features to classrooms

Like with any other technology with accessibility, the most crucial part is to have students practice the features to become fluent

Usually, in education, accessibility features are solely seen for students with disabilities, but the truth is that a wide variety of children can benefit from them.

Through the lens of universal learning design, accessibility features can benefit all learners as they minimise barriers and promote learning.

For example, text-to-speech tools benefit students with reading challenges and those learning a second language, proofreading their work, correcting errors, and auditory learners who can focus better while listening. Using accessibility features offers a multimodal learning opportunity for all learners.

Here are some of the accessibility features that can be used in any classroom.

iPad Accessibility Features:

Spoken Content: The iPad's text-to-speech feature can read aloud a section of the text or the entire screen. Children can also be taught to change the speech rate and the text's appearance. Under this setting, words and sentences can be highlighted in different colours to make reading easier. This feature also includes typing feedback, where the iPad can read text aloud while it is typed.

• Assistive Touch: This feature makes navigating and controlling the iPad easier and customises the actions according to need. It helps students add an action for the screenshot, making it easier to take screenshots on the device.

• Safari Reader: This feature eliminates distracting content from web pages (such as ads, menu bars, and banners). Students can customise the webpage's appearance, including the font size, background colour and font.

• Magnifier: Allows students to magnify objects in their environment, such as magnifying a page, an artifact in the classroom, or any object in nature that they like to examine up close.

• Dictation: It is the iPad's speech-to-text feature. With this feature, the iPad converts speech into text.

• Translate: The iPad has a built-in translation that does work across apps. The app allows students to highlight text on a webpage and translate it into another language. The Translate app for iPadOS 14 and higher allows students to translate text, voice, conversations, or texts on objects in their environment.

• Live Captions: It is a new feature in iPadOS 16 that allows captioning spoken content. Once enabled during a lesson, Live Captions can help students easily follow what the teachers say or help while listening to a podcast.

Google Accessibility Features:

• Voice Typing can convert speech into text in Google Docs and Google Slides.

• Google Translate can change Google Docs from one language to another.

• Students can use Captions to create captions when presenting using Google Slides.

• Google also offers full-page zoom for people with low vision.

• Keyboard shortcuts also can help students work faster.

Microsoft Accessibility Features:

• Dictation can be used in Word and PowerPoint to convert speech into text.

• Captions and subtitles can be used in a different language when giving presentations in PowerPoint.

• Immersive Reader has a wide range of options such as text read aloud, highlighting sentences on the screen, pronunciations, colour coding words option, picture dictionary and translation help. Also, display, font, font size, spacing and background colour can be changed. The feature is built in Office 365 and has a Chrome extension to read web pages.

Like with any other technology with Accessibility, the most crucial part is to have students practice the features to become fluent. The more the students practice, the more willing they will be to engage with the technology and harness it to their benefit.

Equipping students with technology tools makes learning efficient and faster. It empowers students and enables personalised learning.

Massrat Shaikh

The writer is an educational psychologist

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