By Elisabeth Galina
Accessibility is a term thrown around in the education space that is often misunderstood. It involves more than outfitting schools with ramps and elevators.
Although those factors are important in ensuring that students with limited or less mobility than others can have the same in-person experience as their peers, accessibility also pertains to learning.
Accessible learning gives students the tools they need for their educational development. And for students with special needs, AI-assisted education can provide a foundation for inclusive learning that allows those students to excel.
“But wait, I want to become a special education teacher!” you cry, unsure about this whole AI business. “Isn’t artificial intelligence going to take my future job?”
Take a breath and relax because AI isn’t here to remove the teacher from the classroom altogether. AI is here to create a better learning experience for all, even the educators themselves.
AI Tools in Schools: The Great Education Equalizer?
According to a UNESCO report (AI in Education: Guidance for Policy Makers), the market size for AI in the educational space was valued at $1.1 Billion (USD) in 2020. By 2024, it’s expected to grow to approximately $6.6 billion.
With those numbers in mind, it’s important to break down exactly why AI can help create an inclusive and accessible learning atmosphere in classrooms and at home. Here’s how:
There are various learning methodologies in classrooms. What works for one student may only work for one student. With artificial intelligence, educators can create personalized learning plans for students with special needs.
For example, hard-of-hearing children may need an AI program to transcribe the teacher's words in real-time to help them understand the lesson.
A student who may respond better to visual clues can use an AI system that provides accompanying images to the lesson.
For special needs teachers - who are in high demand due to many states facing shortages of special needs educators - grading can be an interesting process. Often, this process doesn’t take into account the child’s disability in a personalized way but looks at how they stack up to others.
Instead, AI tools that are created for grading can use a combination of language- and visual-based models to come up with a grade that makes sense for the individual.
A child who struggles with oral understanding but excels at written comprehension would be graded against other students with similar backgrounds instead of being graded against the entire class.
This creates a fair grading model and allows teachers to focus on what each child needs to improve on.
At-home Education Made Easy
Today, the classroom spills over into the home. Children of all backgrounds can use AI tutoring bots to help them improve their educational vulnerabilities.
A special needs child can benefit from accessible learning techniques at home with minimal intervention from their parents as long as the artificial intelligence system is easy to use. Most are designed to be used without supervision and can be tailored to the individual who is using the program.
A chatbot specializing in conversational learning can give children struggling with their verbal skills a chance to have a non-biased conversation.
For example, some AI tools will prompt a response like, “Can you repeat after me?” or “Can you say that again?” to give children a chance to respond while the artificial intelligence looks for indications of where the child may be struggling.
The AI will then implore the child to focus on certain syllables or sounds to help them get their words out. Parents can enlist extra help for their kids with additional tutoring tools, and teachers can rest assured that when one of their students uses an AI tutoring tool, the child gets a specialized lesson that focuses on their unique needs.
Hiring online tutors and taking advantage of AI tutor chatbots can be the powerful learning combination your students need to feel more confident.
Inclusion Leads to Belonging
As a special needs teacher, inclusion and belonging will be on your mind 24/7. Plus, as an educator, your role is to shape young minds and prepare them for the world outside their door.
However, classrooms can be overcrowded and a teacher may not have the time needed to ensure that each child feels included no matter how hard they try. This isn’t a failure on the teacher’s part, nor it is a failure of the educational system as a whole. Unfortunately, you can’t spend all day with one child, making sure they’re getting the most of out the lesson.
There is hope! Special needs children can feel included in the lessons with AI tools in the classroom (and at home). Moreover, inclusion leads to more children having access to the same programs as their peers.
Even if those programs are modified for the individual, special needs students can follow along in class and feel like they belong - because they do belong!
Are We On Board with AI in the Classroom? Yes!
The advantages of using AI technologies to help children with special needs far outweigh the cons. As technological advances continue to surge, the threat of artificial intelligence controlling us or taking over is fading fast.
We no longer have to concern ourselves with plagiarism since most of the latest writing programs now come with their own datasets to check for copying.
Additionally, gesture-based text prediction programs now allow children with cognitive impairments or verbal issues to communicate with others easily.
For those with limited mobility, AI systems that use minimal touch like blowing into a straw attachment or EEG-based brain-computer interfaces give these children a form of independence. These students can blow into the straw to move a mouse to draw, type out words, and even speak.
If the goal in every classroom is for students to thrive, why not incorporate artificial intelligence? Special needs children and their respective educators can benefit from using these tools whether it’s for grading, creating new accessible learning techniques, or simply helping the child feel a sense of belonging amongst their peers.
It’s a win-win.