Assistive Know-how can change training expertise and likewise outcomes

CHANGING how children with learning disabilities experience education is my passion in life. I turned that passion into UrAbility, an award-winning company providing training and support in Assistive Technology.

I was a child who faltered in school because I had dyslexia and ADHD. Through my own challenges I know what it is like not to be able to succeed in an education system in which there is an emphasis on results rather than embracing diversity in learning.

After a long road and support from my parents and some forward-thinking teachers, my eyes were opened to the potential in Assistive Technology and I now have a degree, a masters and I was a Marie Curie research fellow in a top university in the USA . I lead a successful, innovative and growing business.

I can testify as to how effective and appropriate Assistive Technology can be the key to changing the whole educational experience and in turn educational outcomes.

It is my aim to do the same for as many children and young people as possible into the future.

I believe real change in education will develop through: embracing Assistive Technology, providing effective training for all stakeholders in education, focusing on children’s strengths, creating innovative solutions and networks of support and raising our expectations of what students with learning disabilities can do.

I still use Assistive Technology to do my work, I can carry it in my pocket on my smartphone. Assistive Technology can be any technology that makes learning or working easier from a laptop or tablet or smartphone to all the apps and software that can be used on them from simple setting changes to specific software.

James Northridge, founder of UrAbility. Picture: Darragh Kane

Embracing Assistance Technology is vital in enhancing the learning experience of students. To do this effectively the whole school community need to be equipped with the knowledge and expertise to support students appropriately with Assistive Technology so that students feel empowered and encouraged to use a device and its associated software every day if they need to, just like others might use a pen. This is why it is important that parents, teachers, principals Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) and all other educators have training in Assistive Technology. Practical knowledge and good networks will enable all stakeholders to ensure students can use technology and also feel confident in harnessing the technology to play to their strengths. We often focus too much on what children can’t do or what they struggle with.

Assistive Technology not only levels the playing field but it allows children to focus on what they are good at, produce excellent work and have a sense of wellbeing too.

Through delivering training courses to parents, I learned how valuable support at home can be. Parents are our first port of call when we need help as children, we turn to them for solutions and for acceptance. When parents have the tools to support their children in their learning, the day to day experience gets better for everyone. We have a strong online network of parents who have participated in UrAbility’s training. We have very active social media groups with a wealth of information for everyone. That is something I am truly proud of.

Parents of children with additional needs often feel a lot of stress trying to do the right thing for their kids. I want to play my part in dispelling myths and showing parents how the technology we have on our computers can make all the difference in the world. We provide online training courses with weekly support and lots of resources to dip in and out of whenever they are needed.

Teachers and SNAs also play pivotal roles in supporting children in the classroom. Assistive Technology evolves quickly. As well as that, each child will have their own individual needs which might require only slight adjustments to settings or a whole different device or something in between. When teachers and SNA’s have engaged with UrAbility, they know how to figure out how to help a child make an iPad or tablet or laptop or a particular piece of software work for that child.

With the evolution of technology, we too need to change what we provide to families and educators.

We are developing an Assistive Technology Selection tool to help find the right piece of technology at the right time for each child.

Finally, as stakeholders in the education of children with additional needs, we all need to raise our expectations for what kids can achieve when they are empowered in the right way. As the only Irish awardee of the United Nations Zero Project competing with 450 other innovative education projects in 80 countries, I realize we can be leaders in changing the educational experience of children around the world and that is an immense privilege.



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