A discussion with assistive technology coordinator Patrick Turnage
Part 1 in a two-part series
Patrick Turnage is the Assistive Technology Coordinator at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. He will be presenting at the 2020 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Miami to share the latest on emerging assistive technologies to support all students.
Turnage was born with congenital glaucoma, and even though he was born legally blind, he still had some usable vision. His condition worsened, and by the spring of his eighth-grade year, he became completely blind. Turnage recognized early on that the only way to accept and adapt to his reality was to become a lifelong learner; technology gave him the ability to learn and communicate freely.
He has taken his learning and passion for assistive technologies into the classroom to teach and demonstrate helpful skills to students with disabilities from the perspective of someone who shares in their assistive needs. As he explains, “One of the things that makes me want to come to work every day is [being] a grownup in an environment that is the same as my students. I recognize the value of being visually impaired allows me to bring to my job every day. It allows me to understand what my students need and how I can help them. The technology skills I work with them on are the same technology skills I go home to and depend on in my daily life to accomplish everyday tasks.”
According to Turnage, the assistive technology industry is experiencing significant growth. Many products are available from mainstream providers such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google. “Basically, every modern platform has assistive technology tools built in so that people who don’t need the more expensive commercial options have access – where before they wouldn’t have had access,” he adds.
While the availability of products has seen improvement, Turnage recognizes a need for better professional development. He explains, “Some of the gaps I see are in what people understand the role of assistive technology to be—the training that’s available for teachers who are responsible for helping integrate assistive technologies into the classroom.”
Turnage enjoys conferences like FETC because they provide a place for professionals to share their collective knowledge and passion for technology. In particular, he is encouraged by the increased acceptance of universal design and the progress assistive technologies are making.
“I think we are actually in a position where more edtech companies are recognizing the value of serving a diverse population and inclusivity. Less and less are saying, ‘Oh, I had no idea that a disabled student or a visually impaired student, for example, is using our technology.’ They are actively working with the operating system vendors and looking at the standards to make sure that they meet the standards. More companies are doing that.”