Concentrating on the Fundamentals of Assistive Technology

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A conversation with Patrick Turnage, Assistive Technology Coordinator

Part two in a two-part series

Patrick Turnage, the Assistive Technology Coordinator at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, will be presenting the latest on emerging assistive technologies at the 2020 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Miami.

In part 2 of his interview, Turnage goes into detail about the data requirements necessary for universal design in technology as well as the need to prepare students with the skills to be prepared for future success. As edtech companies venture into creating more assistive technology products, there are data points to consider in making them universally compatible. Turnage touches on the process from his perspective of working with companies.

“The nice thing about the companies that are doing development is that they follow the standards related to universal design principles,” he says. “They look at the specific standards for compatibility with assistive technology such as Fiber 8 or WCAG, and if they build their product to those standards, then they are going to work with assistive technology.” 

User-focused testing is critical for all products, not just assistive technology, and Turnage recognizes that a full spectrum approach is necessary. As companies make sure people using assistive tech test their products, they can follow a checklist procedure that comfortably answers the following: “Yes, we looked at the accessibility checker. We followed all the standards. We think we know what we’re doing. We think we’ve designed a product that is compatible and meets all the standards and principles of universal design.”

The bridge between public education and the proverbial “what’s next?” is a big step for all students, including those with disabilities. Turnage elaborates, “A lot of our kids are going to go to college, so we need to prepare them for that. We even look at their technology and teach them fundamental skills for critical thinking and self-advocacy, so they understand what they need, and they have the critical thinking skills to develop.”

Not every technology can be taught or anticipated, so it’s vital to concentrate on the fundamentals. “It’s important to teach them the building blocks and give them the tools to ensure that they have the critical thinking,” says Turnage. “They can look at an application, an interface, a piece of assistive technology or even a new device that we haven’t even imagined yet and [they have] the critical thinking skills to ask, ‘What will happen if I do this? What will happen if I do that?’”

The players in assistive technology have a better seat at the education table today than in the past. Conferences like FETC present a platform for advocates’ voices to be heard. Turnage explains, “I’m looking forward to meeting people who will be coming to the presentation to hear about virtual assistance [opportunities] and how we’re using new and emerging technology in the classroom to allow students to speak [by using] their own voice to learn and obtain information.”

About Patrick Turnage

Patrick Turnage wearing white button down shirt in front of blue background.