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Tomorrow (Thursday 25 May) at 4pm, members of the House of Lords will examine the use of assistive technology to support those with special educational needs (SEN).

One Thursday each month, the House of Lords holds four short debates in Grand Committee. As part of the debates tomorrow, Lord Addington, a Liberal Democrat, proposed exploring the use of assistive technology for students with SEN.

The debate can be watched on Parliament TV or Lords Hansard transcripts can be read from three hours after the debates take place.

The House of Lords is due to debate the following question for short debate in Grand Committee: “Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat) to ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the use of assistive technology to support those with special educational needs.”

According to the House of Lords: “Special educational needs (SEN) and disability often, but not always, overlap and interconnect. People can have special educational needs but no disability, while those with a disability may not have a special educational need. Some have both, which can mean they have complex needs.

“This briefing explores the challenges faced by individuals with a special educational need and/or disability (SEND) in the areas of education and employment and how assistive technology can be helpful.”

The House of Lords recognises that assistive technologies can be used to support students with SEND. This includes by improving their happiness and wellbeing; allowing them to become more self-reliant and increasing their sense of independence; helping them to communicate with teachers and classmates and become more involved with lessons; boosting their confidence and helping them expand their comfort zone; and helping them master life skills which lead to a more successful transition into adulthood.

According to telecommunications firm BT, there are four broad areas of need which students may require support in and which assistive technologies may be able to help with. These are: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; social, emotion and mental health; and sensory and/or physical disabilities.

Some of the devices that may help in these four areas are text-to-speech software, which could be helpful for students who struggle with speech but are more capable of typing; voice recognition and dictation software, which could support students who are visually impaired or blind; and personal devices and interactive whiteboards, which can assist students with typing and who struggle to understand the meaning behind words.

Similar to students, adults with SEND may also face challenges in employment that assistive technologies could help with, the House of Lords highlights.

On the barriers to hiring disabled people, POST reported that employers mentioned a variety of issues, including cost and practicalities of making adjustments; impact on other staff; lack of applications from disabled people; risk to health and safety; inaccessible application processes; low employer capability; and potential for mistreatment from co-workers.

In addition, some recruitment processes have been found to be inaccessible and inadvertently discouraging for prospective disabled applicants, the House of Lords highlights.

Other common workplace policies, such as inflexible work hours and location, have also been found to be problematic for disabled individuals. POST further highlighted that public services linked to employment, such as transport, have been found to be a barrier to participation in work and education for disabled individuals.

To support this area, the House of Lords underlined some of the ways in which assistive technology can help adults with SEND in employment. For example, assistive technology could enable disabled people to do jobs that were previously impossible or inaccessible, remove digital barriers, and open up opportunities for education, training, and work for disabled people.

Despite this, the House of Lords flagged recent movement on the topic of issues with some forms of assistive technology and access to the technology. Issues raised include: current systems of assistive technology provision could be unintentionally creating barriers; assistive technology is expensive, which can prohibit people owning such devices; and inadequate assistive technologies that can be problematic.

Recently, the UK Government published its ‘Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan’. It is designed to give children and young people with SEND or in AP across England access to high-quality, early support wherever they live.

However, the British Dyslexia Association feels that the plan deserves a bigger commitment to assistive technology training opportunities, describing it as a “missed opportunity” for assistive technology.

British Dyslexia Association and Curia believe that every child in every school should be introduced to assistive technology to help establish a common ground and equal footing among students and help raise awareness of the benefits of incorporating technology within mainstream teaching and learning.

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