At the Brainary, we’re big proponents of accessibility and inclusion for all — and this is why we’re so excited to hear from Debbie Marshall and the team at Adelaide West Special Education Centre. Read below how their TAPit has reimagined and uplifted their digital technology engagement.

Introduce your school and tell us about the school’s technology focus

Adelaide West Special Education Centre is a specialist school in the western suburbs of Adelaide. It is a Reception – Year 12 school that caters for students with complex needs and severe and multiple disabilities. Our site is very well resourced for Augmented Assistive Communication technologies. We have become increasingly aware that our students live in a digital world and they have many digital skills. However, we acknowledged that much of the technology resources at our school were not designed with additional, complex needs in mind. As an example, a student with complex communication needs and a physical disability was unable to access a laptop as they required a much larger device to accommodate their physical needs. Our vision in the beginning of 2021 was to provide more accessible digital learning for our students. As we began to invest in accessible digital learning technologies, it has encouraged our students, staff, parents and the community to see the evidence of student engagement, learning and emotional regulation. Families and carers have reacted with such joyful emotions to see their child engage, intentionally interact, navigate, learn and demonstrate much more than traditional technologies have been able to show.

Our vision is to resource the school with more of this digital technology that is inclusive for all. Focusing on disabilities such as autism, physical, developmental and sensory needs with technologies that are accessible for young people to stand, sit and adjust whilst accommodating wheelchairs, walkers and more! We are committed to providing digital technologies on the same basis as our peers in mainstream classrooms to support our students through their schooling and in preparation for their world outside of a school.

Why is there a focus on technology? 

We are in a digital world and education has embraced digital learning for well over 25 years an yet much of the technologies in schools do not include students with physical disabilities, students with significant developmental delays and students with excitable and sometimes unpredictable behaviours. Our focus is sourcing technologies that address the need for:

  • Significantly larger, adjustable computers that are inclusive of a range of physical disabilities impacting on coordination and dexterity
  • Reduction in possibility of damage due to emotional dysregulation in students — sturdier, robust equipment
  • Software that caters for the developmental need of students ranging from pre-intentional communicators to critical thinkers independently researching and presenting learning

Our investment in one initial TAPit in 2021 achieved immediate results with many, many students, but especially with students with severe and multiple disabilities. Videos, photographs and anecdotal observations created such a buzz as they demonstrated how interactive, engaged and intentional our students were in navigating the pathways.

Through this trial we have seen skills, engagement, high interest and abilities within our students not yet able to show them as accessible technology was not yet provided.

What goals are you trying to achieve with tech?

We hope to engage our students with multi-modal texts including digital literacies, on the same basis as their mainstream peers, to:

  • Promote engagement with stories and texts on a screen large enough for them to navigate the pages and interact with the words and pictures
  • Provide accessible technology that allows them to navigate the internet and engage in search engines
  • Provide an alternative pencil/keyboard that is inclusive for students with coordination needs
  • Promote independence for our students and autonomy of choice

What are the important factors the school takes into account when purchasing and implementing digital technologies?

Functionality: It needs to meet the needs of the whole school.

Accessible: Can be used with growing independence by students with physical disabilities?

Adaptable: Compatible with assistive technology for our students

Durable: Built to withstand a lot of force

Affordable: Technology and special education come at a high cost which limits our options or ability to purchase the amount we want

Research: Needs thorough investigation as stock-standard tech doesn’t always work in special education — in other words, assistive technology research

What is TAPit and why did the school decide to go down this path? 

The TAPit has engaged a large cohort of students whose previous use of technology was hindered by a physical disability and the size, mobility and adaptability of the technology precluded them for accessing it successfully and with appropriate independence.

The reason we chose the Tap it was because of its multitude of functions in making it accessible for all our students. Its switch access allows our students with physical restrictions the exact same opportunity as those with direct access. The durability was a major factor for us; the TAPit is extremely sturdy, strong and able to be used by students with sensory dysregulation that may involve some heavy hitting or pushing. The mobility, being able to move it and position it flexibly for each individual student to be able to enjoy, was a major reason we were keen to develop our TAPit resources.

What does success look like with TAPit? 

Our vision for the TAPit has not only been brought to fruition, it has exceeded what we imagined for all of our students. Parents, carers, staff and students have been overjoyed to see:

  • Students who have had limited access to technology to engage, create and interact have embraced the TAPit with such delight and intentionality that their faces light up
  • Students previously not engaged with laptops, iPads or computers, would intentionality navigate the TAPit to choose sites, games or stories independently with joy
  • Students can sit on the floor or a chair, stand or have the TAPit at their height for the wheelchairs and independently engage in the learning tasks to meet their needs or sensory profile
  • Peer coaching and assistance is evident daily
  • Teachers have shifted from thinking it was a ‘games’ tool and are now intentionally planning for learning tasks for individual students or small groups as part of their learning programs
  • Parents have shared how excited they are to see their child, previously not accessing technology, navigating and interacting for purpose and meaning

Which students are we planning on using TAPit with? 

Whilst the aim is for all students to have access to the TAPit for the learning, the priority is access for students with physical disabilities and students with significant developmental delays.

What are some of the goals the school would like to achieve with TAPit in the future?

  • To become an innovative special education centre that showcases how digital literacies are embedded in our learning programs
  • To increase engagement in purposeful, intentional learning tasks for students with complex communication needs and developmental delays
  • To increase access to technologies for learning for students with physical disabilities

What do the students think of TAPit? 

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!