When he founded Facebook in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg probably did not realize what he was doing for the world of assistive technology (AT).
In the early days of social media, Facebook was primarily used to keep tabs on the comings and goings of friends and acquaintances. Nobody knew that it would evolve into one of the most helpful informational resources for many professional fields.
Assistive technology development has paralleled that of social media. During the last 10 years, the number of technology tools that have become available for people with learning disabilities has grown at a staggering rate. Trying to stay abreast of every new development is difficult. By leveraging various social media outlets, however, students, parents, and assistive technology professionals can keep up with the best available tools.
Services like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are free to use, and the information they provide is available 24 hours a day — features that make them valuable to anyone in the community who uses or provides assistive technology.
One of the best ways to keep up with assistive technology is to follow the many AT professionals, companies, and organizations using Twitter to share information and learn from each other. It is simple to use and extremely powerful. Users can find links to helpful articles and videos, be informed of new software versions and updates, and have conversations with like-minded people about various aspects of AT use.
There is also a weekly Twitter chat on Wednesday evenings called #ATchat. Led by Karen Janowski (@KarenJan), it starts at 8:00 pm ET and brings together many of the top AT professionals in the country to share ideas, tips, and strategies. While not a complete list, the following people and organizations regularly post valuable information on Twitter:
- Mike Marotta (@mmatp)
- Sharon LePage Plante (@iplante)
- Chris Bugaj (@attipscast)
- Ron Houtman (@ronhoutman)
- Mary Keeney (@mkeeneyAT)
- Marvin Williams (@mwilliamsAT)
- ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) (@ATIAorg)
- Closing The Gap (@ATClosingTheGap)
- Learning Ally (@Learning_Ally)
Having started as a means of communication for Harvard University students, Facebook has grown into a popular and practical way for assistive technology information to be shared. There are several organizations that regularly post discussion questions, article and video links, and community-event information pertaining to AT:
- Learning Ally
- Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities
- The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia
- Eye to Eye
- Headstrong Nation
- Parents Education Network
- Dyslexic Advantage
There is also a parent-led grassroots organization called Decoding Dyslexia that is very supportive of assistive technology. The organization has chapters in all 50 U.S. states (along with a branch in Canada); and each chapter has its own Facebook page. They all periodically post information about AT.
Primarily a professional networking service, LinkedIn has a unique feature that should be of interest to those following the developments in assistive technology. Members of the site can join groups that host articles and discussions on specific topics. There are several groups that focus on AT and learning disabilities, including the following:
- Assistive Technology Professionals
- K12 Assistive Technology Professionals
- Dyslexic Advantage
- LD Online
- Learning Ally
While social media outlets still let users share photos of birthday parties and post amusing videos, they also have a higher purpose. Services like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have become clearinghouses for useful information. For assistive technology — where the information changes quickly — these are vitally important.