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Assistive technology offers the promise to ensure that all students who have a learning disability can access the regular curriculum. Assistive technology is any technology that allows a student to circumvent an area of weakness. The difficulty is, even though we know that the technology should be able to support students, the implementation of technology has not been very successful. Across Canadian schools we see the abandonment of assistive technology on a day-to-day basis. Through the lab we are investigating the variables that predict the abandonment of the technology. One of the key factors we have found this year is that training the teachers directly predicts the increased use of assistive technology in a classroom. This makes sense, because if a teacher does not understand how a technology integrates into the lesson that they're teaching, it's going to be hard for them to be able to support a student who requires it.

Evaluation of Assistive Technology

Dr. Todd Cunningham

Progress: Many Ongoing Studies

An ongoing project of our lab, which consists of many smaller studies, is the empirical evaluation of assistive technology on the market. Commercial products are developed faster than they can be tested, so we are working hard to prove the effectiveness of the many tools out there and show that they work!

We are currently testing some popular Word Prediction, OCR, Text To Speech, Annotation, Audiobook, and Calculator technologies using systematic protocols.

Dr. Todd Cunningham

Progress: Optimization

With over 400 different assistive technology products on the market, it can be incredibly difficult for consumers to make decisions about what AT is right for the individual who is using it. provides a decision-making protocol to guide clinicians, teachers or parents to the most appropriate AT for the individual’s needs. This protocol is adapted from research on the SETT framework by Zabala and colleagues (1994). On the website, users will find summaries of the available research literature on each AT tool as well as product recommendations based on our research, clinical experience, and what is available on the market.

Check out the site

Student & Teacher Perceptions of Assistive Technology

Bronwyn Lamond

Progress: Awaiting Dissertation Defense

The goal of this dissertation was to examine these barriers to classroom AT integration and the perceptions of teachers and students regarding AT use. Study 1 provided a systematic review of barriers to AT implementation for students with neurodevelopmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Building on Study 1, Study 2 examined Grade 6–10 teachers’ perceptions of AT and the variables that predict perceived usefulness of AT. Study 3 investigated the classroom use of AT by university and college students with learning. These studies provide an analysis of the barriers to AT implementation within classrooms, recommendations for improvement for teacher training on AT, and important directions for improvement of future research on AT.

Hypothesis Driven Integrated Psychological Assessment (HDIPA) Model
Harrison McNaughtan

Progress: Data Collection Evaluating and Validating an Assistive Technology (AT) Recommendation Protocol. ATSelect is a free-to-use website where teachers can access lay-accessible reviews of ATs that synthesize the findings of hundreds of peer-reviewed research articles to help them select the most appropriate AT for their students. We are currently conducting focus groups with teachers to collect their opinions of the tool, and then will be moving into a validation study. With these studies we hope to provide teachers with an evidence based tool for recommending AT, and as a result, we hope to increase the uptake of appropriate AT, reduce the abandonment of AT, and ensure that the AT being provided properly addresses each student’s learning needs. By contributing to these efforts, we are contributing to the circumstances that allow each Ontario student to demonstrate their achievement to the best of their ability.

Using Transdermal Optic Imaging To Measure Cognitive Load
Francis Ben Wall

Progress: Data Collection

Cognitive load is the amount of mental resources we expend completing a task. The use of assistive technology is thought to reduce cognitive load in students and thereby make schoolwork more manageable. However, learning how to use these tools may actually increase cognitive load. This means new aids can make things worse before they get better. This project looks to measure cognitive load in students using transdermal optic imaging technology with a cellphone camera. Through this we are studying how students with disabilities react to using different assistive technologies and how these technologies impact the mental workload of students.  

Typing Skill Acquisition in School-Aged Children

Emily Staffiere

Progress: Data Collection

Utilizing a novel typing measure designed in the lab to obtain progress monitoring benchmarks, this study will explore the impact of direct typing intervention for students with and without learning disabilities on subsequent outcome measures of net characters per minute (typing speed) and performance on a written expression task (quality of writing). I will also examine the relationship between typing speed and other academic skills that have been implicated as affecting a student's typing performance, specifically handwriting fluency, reading ability, and spelling skills. 

Increasing Reading Pens in the Testing Centre

Andrea Zians

Progress: Manuscript Preparation

This project looked at the effects of enhanced training on assistive technology usage in an Ontario college's alternative testing centre.  Students with disabilities registered with Accessible Learning Services at Mohawk College located in Hamilton, Ontario were offered an opportunity to learn to use a Reading Pen for testing.  Students were randomly assigned to receive training in a regular appointment or in a workshop with enhanced training opportunities.  The workshop group reported more skills learned, used the pen more frequently in the testing centre, and booked more tests in the testing centre after the intervention.    

Teacher Identification of Emerging Mental Health Disorders

Damian Page

Progress: Data Collection

My doctoral dissertation will explore the impact of mental health literacy training for pre-service and in-service teachers on their ability to identify emerging mental health disorders in students.

Conscientização; Discerning Otherness: A Critical Lens on Educational Achievement, Perceptions of Belonging and Policy

Lisa Phyllis

Note: Conscientização refers to a rise in our collective consciousness to provide liberation from oppressive power structures reproduced through education (Andrews & Leonard, 2018, Freire, 1970). 

Progress: Data Analysis/Manuscript Preparation

Part 1: A longitudinal Study comparing mathematics achievement for students with and without identified special education needs. This investigation explores trends related to provision of individual education plans (IEP), identification, placement, and review committee (IPRC) placement and student participation in EQAO testing. Latent class analysis examines the relationship between mathematics self-concept and achievement in grades 3, 6 and 9 for both student groups.  

Part 2: A participatory action research project completed by a community research team, consisting of parents with children identified with special education needs, explores perceptions of accommodation and collaboration between home and school.  Analysis revealed themes related to barriers and successes for children and families.  Recommendations have been utilized to develop a family centred framework for sustained collaborative and accountable supports for children identified with special needs and their families.

School Engagement in Refugee Youth

Kunio Hessel

Progress: Study Design

This study will use student, teacher, and parent reports to determine the level of school engagement among refugee youth. The project will investigate the key factors that lead to disengagement, such as lack of a sense of belonging in school, low education prioritization, and family circumstances, as well as the types of disengagement behaviours shown by this population. Finally, the present study will consider strategies that can be employed by parents, teachers, and schools in order to promote school engagement in refugee youth.

Family Factors and Substance Use Treatment in Youth with and without Learning Disabilities

Shona Mistry

Progress: Study Design

Youth with learning disabilities experience difficulties in areas outside of academia. Some difficulties include mental health problems and risk-taking behaviours such as illicit substance use. This study examines if differences in family factors (e.g., parenting style, family functioning, and parent engagement during treatment) affect treatment outcomes between youth with and without learning disabilities. This project is in collaboration with the Pine River Institute, a unique residential care centre for youth with addictive behaviours and mental health concerns. By identifying key differences in these family factors, we hope to identify stronger evidence for specific family-specific treatment strategies for youth with learning disabilities struggling with substance use problems. 

Understanding the Factors that Impact Adolescent Students' with Learning Disabilities Use of Assistive Technology Use in the Classroom

Paige Vaccarella

Progress: Data Collection

This study will explore the lived experience of adolescents with LD using quantitative measures to determine how academic self-concept, perceived impact of AT, teacher support and stigma impact AT use in the general education classroom. Identifying what factors influence a student’s willingness to engage with AT can help educators introduce this vital academic accommodation in a way that mitigates factors that lead to abandonment (e.g., stigma) and add training in factors associated with AT use, such as improving academic self-concept and AT training.

Impact of Culturally Relevant Content on Student's Performance in Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM)

Jessica Wing Yee Ho

Progress: Data Collection

Her current research aims to understand the impact of using culturally-adapted assessment materials on Indigenous students' reading performance. She is in the process of connecting with Indigenous communities, conducting teacher training on assessment administration, and carrying out data collection with students.

Measuring Cognitive Load in Students During Handwriting Tasks

Liran Leiderschnaider

Progress: Ethics Submission

This study will use face-tracking technology that will monitor heart rate variation in order to assess differences in children's cognitive load when doing handwriting tasks. Cognitive load has been generally defined as the resources that the brain uses in order to complete a certain activity. However, how do we know when someone has reached their "maximum" cognitive load? This study will examine how to objectively measure maximum cognitive load by assessing different writing tasks that school-aged children will be completing (i.e., alphabet fluency, sentence copying, spelling, complex writing). We hypothesize that, with the occurence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to digital learning, children will have greater difficulties with handwriting tasks, and will therefore reach peak load sooner than expected. We hope that the face-tracking technology we use could be implemented in practical medical settings in the future, in order to more efficiently conduct pre-appointment assessments.

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