Friday, June 21, 2024

The Use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication for Differently-abled Learners

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Developmental Dyslexia is the most common neuro-biological disorder affecting children with prevalence rates ranging from 5% to 10%. This is a chronic condition characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, by poor spelling and decoding abilities. This results in difficulty in learning to utilize correspondence regularities between graphemes and phonemes and in poor phonological awareness making the child a slow learner. Many children having this difficulty find it impossible to cope up with the current education system and the teachers also find it extremely difficult to make the children understand their teaching. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is using the communication methods used to supplement or replace speech or writing for those with impairments in the production or comprehension of spoken or written language. Teaching through signs, symbols and other visual media is a current research topic finding much interest in developed countries.

People with special needs, particularly children with learning disorders are difficult to train for career life and hence their financial independence is difficult to attain. Our education system demands a high degree of reading and writing skills to get a degree and train for a job. Though vocational rehabilitation methods are used for training them through special education, these are not available for the children with mild disorders who study in the normal curriculum.

Assistive Technology provides access to the learning through the technology such as audio book players, talking pens, talking spell checkers etc. Presently smart phones and tablets form an important part of students’ lives, through their ability to house a large amount of data and applications. Storage and retrieval of data, access to web services, multimedia applications, and communication are some of the highly used applications. Hence in this line it is proposed to use this technology to overcome the difficulty of reading and writing and help the children with mild as well as acute disorders. Providing an interface for text to speech and speech to text conversion with these gadgets and enhancing the usage using symbol based education is the target of this research. The easy availability of the necessary platform in both hardware as well as software makes this application feasible.

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Educating people with disorders to fend for themselves is a slow process and requires a lot of efforts from the parents, teachers as well as the child. Even then it may not be fully possible for them to overcome the disability and lead a normal life. The objective is to devise methods of providing them a technology assisted career oriented education so as to make them socially and financially independent. At the same time the disability of the children is converted into ability by educating them through technology. Smart phones and Tablets have become innovative tools of education in day today life. Children are fascinated by these tools because of the different applications on entertainment like movies, games, music etc. Even the children who need special education find it easier to operate these gadgets and hence it is proposed to introduce education through these technologies. The Text to Speech conversion part of the application will be able to convert any e-notes, e-books etc. to children understandable speech and facilitate the special children to listen and learn rather than read and learn. The Speech to text conversion part of the application can be used to help the child to prepare the documentation or write examination by speaking into the gadgets.

A large body of research has been conducted on the relation between phonological awareness and learning to read. Strong support has been provided that lack of phonological awareness can cause difficulties with the acquisition of reading and writing. Being able to distinguish and identify the different phonemes in a word is part of this awareness. Research in the past decades has provided ample evidence that dyslexic children have problems with phonological awareness and other aspects of phonological processing.

In India, special education and training centers have opened to provide the necessary therapy and training to the children who need special attention but they are not focused on any research to devise new methodology for training them. Hence research on this topic to help the trainers will be welcomed by the trainers as well as the trainees alike. Special gadgets used for improving the education are also very minimal. Though therapy and training methods are used to overcome these disorders, the percentage of children benefitted is very less. Mastering the usage of smart phones, tablets and other gadgets is not uncommon among these children and hence educating them through these devices would definitely be a welcome change.

Many pioneering institutions like Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) etc have been modeling on Text-to-speech and Speech to text systems successfully for many decades. For example, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) is conducting R & D on Indian English Text-to-Speech (TTS) systems. Text-to-speech synthesis in Indian English is useful for delivering messages stored in computers and web to the Indian users unfamiliar with Standard English accent.


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