Hi my name is Maddie and I am a third-year student at the University of Bristol studying Theatre and Performance. I love acting, and I am really interested in doing an MA specialising in acting after I finish my undergraduate degree. My hidden disabilities are anxiety and depression, and I am currently being tested for ASD.
Assistive technology is a form of digital support for people with disabilities. There are many different forms of assistive technology – these can range from simple colour filters, that can make it easier to read from a screen, to advanced speech-to-text software. The main purpose of the technology is to support people with disabilities in their everyday lives. This can be assisting students in planning assignments, using a mind mapping software, or assisting those with visual impairments to read using a read-aloud software. These are only a few of the many uses and benefits assistive technology can provide!
I have only recently begun my journey into support with assistive technology. My hidden disabilities are anxiety and depression, but my anxiety definitely has more of an effect on my day-to-day life. This can range from tasks like going to the shop, to having an impact on my university studies. I believe the main challenge I faced before having some assistive technology was to do with studying, as when I am struggling with anxiety and I feel overwhelmed, it can make doing things like university readings and university assignments more difficult to manage.
For example, one of the main barriers for me is putting words to paper. I find it much easier to convey my point when speaking as I am clearer, so this made writing my final term assessments and essays quite difficult. Most of the time I would have to speak my thoughts and record them and then go back and write them down, or ask someone to act as a scribe. This had a significant impact on my time management in this exam period, as it meant I was constantly having to go back and forth from speech to text, writing and rewriting my points based on what I had said in these recorded clips.
Alongside this, I'm a slow reader which makes reading academic journals and chapters quite difficult and they tend to be very time-consuming. This can mean that I spend hours on a reading that was only supposed to take around 30 minutes, making it quite difficult for me to manage my time effectively. Reading extensively is one of the main ways to do well in an essay on my course as it shows that you have engaged with lots of academic material. However, because of the barriers from my disabilities, I found this extremely difficult.
I received my assistive technology package in September and despite only having the different software for a month, I can already see how much of a positive impact it has had in my daily life. I have already found that my time management skills are much better, through my support I have been given a printer scanner which means I can print out all my readings. This makes reading much easier as I have always found it difficult to read from a screen, and it also means I can make any notes directly onto the paper. This has made it much easier to manage the amount of reading I have to do each week, meaning I now have additional free time where previously I would have been chasing deadlines.
Alongside my printer, I have also been introduced to a software called claro read which reads things to you. I use this software for a range of different things. I can use it when browsing the web to read out long paragraphs of text, I can use it when reading academic journals and I also use it to read my own notes back to me, to make sure that they make sense. I find that this software helps significantly in retaining information, I feel I now reread much less in comparison to before I had this software.
Another influential piece of software I have been given is a text-to-speech software. For me, I feel that this has been the most significant as it makes taking notes much easier, as I simply have to speak and the software will write down all of my ideas. In comparison to my previous method of having to record myself speaking and writing it down, this software will do all the work for me, saving me lots of time and additional work.
Visual mind-mapping software
The final software I feel has had a significant impact is a visual mind-mapping software. This has made coping with my anxiety much easier, as I can now officially map out all of my tasks, making it much easier to see what I have to do and leaving me feeling much less overwhelmed by my workload.
How to access assistive technology
Although it has had a very positive impact, gaining access to this assistive technology was a bit of a challenge. I began the process in 2020 through my Disabled Students Allowance (funding you are entitled to as a Disabled Student through Student Finance England). However, throughout this process, I could not find the information or the actual evidence I needed to provide to gain access to this funding. It was only when I spoke to my university’s disability coordinator that they provided me with this knowledge so I could begin my application with the correct evidence. This then led me to reapply in my second year. However, due to time constraints I did not manage to get this support put in place until this year. In September, I had my needs assessment, which is a meeting with a disability coordinator where they determine what assistive technology would be best to support you as an individual. This assessment was then passed on to the DSA who provided me with the funding to then purchase all of my equipment which means I'm now able to use it today.
Despite the process of getting my assistive technology being somewhat difficult, I would definitely recommend seeking this help to anyone who believes it would positively impact their day-to-day life. If you are a student, I would suggest speaking to your disability coordinator to find out exactly what evidence you would need before sending off your application (a key step I missed out on when I first applied for my funding). After only using this technology for one month, I believe that it has made a drastic change in my day-to-day life, especially when acting as a helping hand to guide me through my final year at university.