Parallel 2: Themed Presentations

A collection of presentations - both snapshots and deeper dives - concerned with this week's conference theme, Assistive Technology (AT) and Customised Learning.

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Study Tools for All: Is it Time to Rename Assistive Technology?

Snapshot Session – 10-min presentation

In an academic year defined by digital learning and assessment, more emphasis than ever before was placed on good IT awareness and study literacy. In March 2020, Imperial College London, in collaboration with Diversity & Ability (D&A), set up and delivered anticipatory initiatives to provide all students with assistive technology, training, and mentoring - with the aim to identify technologies and training resources that all students can access instantly and independently. Over the course of the partnership project, we encountered challenges and had to refine our own understanding of what assistive technology is. 

The session will be a deep dive into some of the challenges we encountered and how we overcame them. The sessions format will be a fifteen-minute live presentation of the initiative and the challenges we encountered, a five-minute video of user voice, and will finish with a short Q&A. 

We aim to explain how we identified engagement barriers that were a result of loaded language fostering biases in the target audiences, and our re-evaluation on how to overcome preconceived perceptions on what assistive technology means - for staff, students, and disabled people.  

We will raise and discuss the issues of needing to build a change in culture so students see themselves reflected in services and resources. That whilst we've grasped the value of user voice, we need to address prospective users and why they aren't engaging. We equip students with the technology tools, but not the tools to recognise the value of the technology. Finally, we propose the question: is it time to rename Assistive Technology?

Piers Wilkinson

Higher Education and Student Partnerships Coordinator, Diversity and Ability

Speaker Bio

Charlie Wood

Higher Education Relations Lead, Diversity and Ability

Speaker Bio

David Mooney

Senior Inclusive Consultant and SpLD Tutor, Imperial College London

Speaker Bio

Supporting Students Online: Inclusive Digital Learning with Blackboard Ally at NUI Galway

Deeper Dive  – 25 min presentation

As part of a National Forum-funded Inclusive Learning project, NUI Galway was the first University in Ireland to launch Ally for LMS, an accessibility tool that is compatible with multiple online learning platforms. When our campuses closed suddenly in March 2020, the project team pushed forward the planned launch of Ally to urgently provide more accessibility options for students learning online.  

NUI Galway's Strategy 2020-2025 pledges to adopt the Principles of Universal Design in our learning and working environment to increase accessibility, accommodate different approaches to learning and enable students to fulfil their potential. The move to online learning has both enhanced and created challenges for accessibility. Blackboard Ally has enabled those who teach at NUI Galway to create more accessible learning materials and provided students with the agency to choose alternative formats best suited to their needs. It helps to create staff awareness of accessibility issues and encourages best practice. It also provides institutional-level accessibility data.

Last summer, the project team hosted a series of workshops for those who teach at NUI Galway, supported by Blackboard, to identify the benefits of alternative formats for students, make changes to existing content to improve accessibility, and identify common accessibility issues within digital content. The sessions were facilitated by staff and students. The workshops highlighted the lack of professional development opportunities previously offered in this area. Ally is a simple, straightforward tool to use, which has helped staff to improve accessibility with relative ease. 

In this session, those involved in the rollout will discuss the impact that Blackboard Ally has had since its launch at NUI Galway from both the staff and student perspective. Participants will also have the opportunity to examine alternative content formats and discuss the potential benefits of their use in the online learning space. 

Kate Molloy

National University of Ireland, Galway

Speaker Bio

Cameron Keighron

PhD Candidate, National University of Ireland, Galway

Speaker Bio

Jane Ennis

National University of Ireland, Galway

Speaker Bio

Is Assistive Technology Everyone’s Business?

Deeper Dive  – 25 min presentation

As inclusion, Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility becomes everyone’s business, is it time to ask the question ‘Is Assistive Technology everyone's business?’ 

Assistive Technology, or AT, has never been more mainstream as we can experience it’s possibilities in Smartphones, Tablets and Laptops (via inbuilt features and apps) as well Office 365, Gmail and websites. To highlight this expanding arsenal of AT we in AHEAD have created an AT resource called ‘AT Hive’ with 12 categories of technologies to generate awareness of these paid and free inclusive technologies. 

This availability of AT across devices and platforms for reading, writing, organisation, communication and more, has the potential for AT to be embedded into the Educational Culture to support all types of learners with different abilities in the wider education community. 

Readily available assistive technology is giving us an opportunity to mainstream supports that can make a real impact on the academic tasks and expectations of students. So, are we all embedding Assistive Technology in our practices and if not, how can we get started? 

This presentation aims to pose a number of AT scenarios, regarding Students use of AT, to generate conversations about how AT can overcome barriers to learning, how it already empowers learners, can be flexible and effective both in and outside the classroom. 

By the end of the presentation, it is intended that attendees will have a few ideas about how they can be part of embedding AT in the Classroom and Institution culture. 

A Google Doc with AT suggestions - Feel free to add more suggestions

Trevor Boland

Dublin City University

Speaker Bio

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This article appeared in the AHEAD website. Visit for more information