Opportunities and Challenges of Assistive Technology during the COVID-19 Pandemic

NcNicholl, Aoife Opportunities and Challenges of Assistive Technology during the COVID-19 Pandemic.


Covid-19 heralded an emergency pivot to remote teaching in third level institutions across Ireland in March 2019. This paper explores the experiences of assistive technology (AT) users in the transition to remote learning. Semi-structured interviews (n =13) were conducted with students who were already recruited to an ongoing qualitative longitudinal study exploring the role of AT in the identity of students with disabilities in higher education. Students with any type of disability using any type of AT, enrolled in a Higher Education Authority funded Higher Education Institution in Ireland were eligible to take part. Data reported here are drawn from the second interview with each participant which were carried out between May and June 2019. Thematic analysis was used to interpret the data. Emerging themes identified include: 1) Reduced sense of autonomy due to difficulties with AT and unavailability of personal assistance support; 2) Positive and negative experiences with AT and remote learning; 3) Greater reliance on and appreciation of AT due to deteriorations in health and/or learning remotely; 4) Changes in perspectives on AT with reference to universal design for learning practices; and 5) Opportunities and challenges of AT and disability beyond remote learning in a COVID-19 world. The findings underscore to the need to ensure equitable attention to the voices of students with disabilities in sectoral responses to crisis mitigation and in planning of supports to empower and enable continued participation.

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