I’m not one to knock innovation, especially in the field of special needs where new technologies can have such profound impact for our students. Take eye gaze for example, originally developed to help sell food in supermarkets, now facilitating independence and communication for people with the most complex difficulties. Innovation is something to be encouraged.
We’ve learned a lot over the years about the design of assistive technologies. Who can forget the time when switches were made of wood and had levers, telephone dials and actions that were firmly focused on the student’s movements… push this … pull that … twist it … dial 999 … Were our students learning to control the computer or taking part in some physio session? We quickly learned that switches were a means to an end and not the focus of the activity.
This understanding saw the end of ‘interesting’ switches such as this frog which was given to students with very complex needs who were ‘mouthing’ objects. It was felt that the student could learn to operate the computer by chewing on the frog… or the cookie… yes it even came with a rubber cookie attachment. I can’t think of anything more silly than giving a student with profound and complex learning difficulties a rubber cookie to chew and expecting them to understand that by gnawing on it, they could control the computer.
Sadly every few years, companies looking for a unique selling point revisits the Isle of Stupid and produces a product which might make sense to them in their blue sky imagineering meetings, but has little or no relevance to the needs of students with complex physical or intellectual difficulties and how we as educators need to teach them. Here’s Zumo, a plush turtle toy with a built in wireless switch. Students can slap Zumo to operate a wide range of switch accessible apps and programs.
How does Zumo slapping contribute the long term goal of being able to uses switches to make independent choices? Will Zumo slapping help the student develop consistent switching skills? If a student can slap Zumo over and over, do they even need a switch?
Watch this video, have a giggle, then file it under stupid!
Watch the Zumo Video