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Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities


This chapter reviews some of the low-tech as well as the high-tech devices available for a wide variety of students with special learning needs. A history of assistive technology devices is explored and defined. Assistive technology has increased in use in recent decades due to accessibility of computers and the digital age. Digital devices such as hand held scanners, online learning environments, and digital resources have changed the educational experiences for students with special needs and disabilities. In response, teacher in-service programs and ongoing professional development programs need to be involved to understand and develop appropriate 21st-century learning opportunities and curricula. Future trends, such as virtual reality (VR) environments, allow opportunities for safe, effective learning. To assist in understanding and choosing the appropriate devices, multiple resources, such as global and national organizations, and online resources are provided.
Copyright © 2020, IGI Global. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.
Chapter 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1431-3.ch012
This chapter reviews some of the low-tech as well as the high-tech devices available
for a wide variety of students with special learning needs. A history of assistive
technology devices is explored and defined. Assistive technology has increased in
use in recent decades due to accessibility of computers and the digital age. Digital
devices such as hand held scanners, online learning environments, and digital
resources have changed the educational experiences for students with special needs
and disabilities. In response, teacher in-service programs and ongoing professional
development programs need to be involved to understand and develop appropriate
21st-century learning opportunities and curricula. Future trends, such as virtual
reality (VR) environments, allow opportunities for safe, effective learning. To assist
in understanding and choosing the appropriate devices, multiple resources, such as
global and national organizations, and online resources are provided.
Assistive Technology to Help
Students With Disabilities
Mark Viner
Eastern New Mexico University, USA
Ajay Singh
Texas A&M International University, USA
Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University, USA
Copyright © 2020, IGI Global. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
The field of Assistive Technology (AT) over the past three decades has been growing
by leaps and bounds from slides, filmstrips, and overhead projectors to current 21st-
century technologies, such as 3D simulations and virtual reality (VR). Both low-tech
to high-tech devices are used consistently to assist students with a wide variety of
learning challenges. This chapter focuses on some of the recent developments in
teaching aids/technology devices in the remediation and assistance of students with
Low to high tech devices will be explored to provide insight into creating
learning environments for students with disabilities. Future directions in this realm
will investigate the rapid change of technology and the implications for students
with disabilities. Areas, such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, (VR)
and simulated environments will be described. Also, the continual need for quality
professional development in training for the general education classroom teacher as
well as for the special education is addressed. For example, specialists and classrooms
teachers will need to collaborate and consult with each other to maximize the use
of assistive technology devices to assist in the student’s growth, development, and
in promoting a productive learning environment.
Chapter Outline
1. What is Assistive Technology?
2. The History of Assitive Technology Devices
3. Why Use Assistive Technology Devices?
4. The Digital Generations and 21st Century Learning
5. Teacher Education and Professional Development
6. Trends and Resources
7. Assistive Technology Content Areas Mathematics and Reading
8. Expressive Language and Writing
9. Future Directions
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology is an umbrella term, and the International Classification of
Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) defines assistive products and technology as
any product, instrument, equipment or technology adapted or specially designed for
improving the functioning of a person with a disability (Ellis, 2016). The definition
of Assistive Technology can vary slightly around the world. According to the United
States U.S. Department of Education, IDEA 1998, revised in 2004, the description
of an assistive technology device is ‘‘any item, piece of equipment, or product
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that
is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with
There are also several types of assistive technology categories to be considered
when choosing a device. These can include low technology (low tech) to high
technology (high tech) devices. Cook and Polgar (2008) describe low technology
devices as ‘‘inexpensive devices that are simple to make and easy to obtain” (p. 6).
Examples include head pointers, whiteboards, using pictures for communication, and
modified eating utensils. An additional category of devices as, stated by Glennen and
DeCoste (1997), point out strategies with no technology (no tech). They report, “No
tech strategies involve no equipment, low tech strategies involve simple equipment,
and high-tech strategies involve more sophisticated, usually programmable, types
of equipment’’ (p. 379). From this perspective, any computer device can represent
high technology. According to Dyal, Carpenter, and Wright (2009), a technology
assistive device can be considered light tech or high tech. For example, they illustrate
using special paper to help students read, write, or use a simple pencil grip as a light
tech device. A high-tech device would include computers with extended keyboards
and modified screens.
High tech devices can often be cost prohibitive along with the programs needed to
make the students with disabilities successful. Due to the high costs of digital devices,
such as hardware and software, it is essential to identify the assistive technology
needs of the student. This process, in some countries, might begin with an effective
Individual Education Plan (IEP) before an assistive technology device is chosen.
Once an effective IEP has been developed, it can be used as a guide in choosing the
appropriate device for the student. Finally, resources for that individual from the
local school, district, state, or national agency need to be located and obtained. In
the United States, the school has the responsibility to pay for the assistive technology
device for the student. However, each state may have free or inexpensive loan
programs for both schools and community members (see Appendix B).
Globally, over 75% of low-income countries across the world have no prosthetic
and orthotics training programs. Countries with the highest prevalence of disability-
related health conditions tend to be those with the lowest supply of skilled health
professionals who are involved in the provision of assistive technology (as little
as two professionals per 10, 000 population) (Gupta, Castillo-Laborde, & Landry,
2011). The World Health Organization (WHO) (2017) estimates that more than
one billion people around the world (mostly elderly and persons with disabilities)
need one or more assistive technology products. With populations aging and the
rise in non-communicable diseases, this number is expected to increase to beyond
two billion in the world by 2050 (WHO, 2017).
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
The History of Assistive Technology Devices
Assistive Technology has been helping individuals to live and learn for thousands
of years. For example, early assistive technology devices include tools that allowed
individuals to make a living or improve their daily life. James and Thrope (1994) point
to initial devices that include hand tools to access food, and water, and dentures to
enable chewing. In addition, original prosthetics (artificial limbs) for arms and legs
for movement and mobile devices, such as wheelchairs, are considered early forms
of assistive technology. According to Robitaille (2010), around 1000 A. D., handheld
lenses were used for the visually impaired and eyeglasses were being used in the
13th century. In the 15th century, Gutenberg’s printing press made print materials
available and accessible to many people. Robitaille also tells us that during the 19th
century, after the Civil War in the United States prosthetics advancement improved to
help veterans, and in the early 20th century, Alexander Graham Bell invented Braille.
After World War II, the Korean and the Vietnam conflicts, there were additional
advancements in assistive technology to help veteran’s function in their daily lives.
Modern assistive technology devices that help people with disabilities live, teach,
and learn are relatively new phenomena.
According to Robitaille (2010), less than 30 years ago, there were fewer than
1000 commercially available devices on the market. However, with the advent of new
computers and digital technologies, that number has increased exponentially in the
last few decades. Fichten, Asuncion, and Scapin (2014) found that since the 1990s
in post-secondary education, technology (i.e., the Internet), Web-based learning,
and collaborative software programs (i.e., Powerpoint) were having a positive
impact on students with disabilities. Fichten et al. point out that higher education
organizations became early adopters of technology with their students. This early
adaptation of technology for teaching and learning included the authorship of digital
presentations, the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the Internet for
learning (webpages). However, Vanderheiden, Boyd, Mendenhall, and Ford (1991
as cited in Fichten, Asuncion, & Scapin, 2014) also point out that early assistive
technology in the last several decades was mainly focused on people with visual
impairments. For example, in the past, assignments were handed out and submitted
in a paper format. Now, in the digital age, students with visual impairments can
view, create, and submit assignments online digitally. While digital technology and
assistive technology may have helped students in higher education, it was often
found to be expensive, and specific hardware and software systems did not always
communicate with each other making assessing and utilizing digital devices for
students with disabilities problematic.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
Why Use Assistive Technology Devices?
When appropriate to the user and the user’s environment, assistive technology is
a powerful tool to increase independence and improve participation (Funk, 2012).
It allows children with special needs to become independent and to participate
in learning activities with their peers. Children with special needs have a variety
of specialized issues that need to be addressed to make them successful in the
inclusive classroom. Choice of the appropriate assistive technology device is
paramount in effectively helping students with disabilities succeed in the learning
process. Brown et al. (2011) indicate that assistive technology devices when used
effectively with students with disabilities, have produced positive results in students
performing day-to-day operations. Brown et al. suggest that game-based learning
and location-based services (high tech) can be useful in helping users navigate the
“real-world”. Tamakloe and Agbenyega (2017) concur and tell us that AT devices
can create a positive environment for the independence and improvement of skills
for students with disabilities. They state, “… studies have shown that effective use
of ATD enable young children with disability to bypass their weaknesses because
the devices augment children’s strength to reach their potential …” (p. 29). Also,
Robitaille (2010) claims that a positive attitude towards assistive technology by the
children using the technology positively affects the motivation of both the children
using assistive technology devices and their classroom teacher.
One of the goals in education for children with disabilities should be to make all
children successful within the inclusive general education classroom. That means
providing an environment and opportunities where all students can learn. Classroom
teachers and special education professionals need to create positive and effective
learning environments for all students, not just the student with disabilities. For
this positive learning environment to happen, educational leaders need to develop
a culture of diversity and learning for all students (an inclusive classroom).
Educational leaders and administrators are an essential part of creating an inclusive
culture in schools. They are involved in the decision-making process in developing
and evaluating a student’s IEP. To make appropriate decisions regarding a student’s
IEP, educational leaders and administrators need the necessary knowledge and skills
to make good choices for the students to succeed in the general education curriculum.
Also, educational leaders need to be aware of available assistive technology devices
and services in their regional or local area. According to Dyal et al. (2009), to have
a positive impact on assistive technology on learning, school leaders and educators
should have the following essential skills:
a) Defining assistive technology
b) Following assistive technology laws and legislation
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
c) Participating in an IEP team
d) Recognizing assistive technology devices and services
e) Identifying assistive technology funding sources
f) Providing professional development in assistive technology
g) Following ethical guidelines (p. 2).
School leaders are only one part of the team that develops an Individual Education
Plan (IEP). Additional personnel can include a special education teacher, a general
classroom instructor, a parent or legal guardian, and when appropriate, the student
may have a voice or insight in using a particular technology device. This team
needs to give an accurate assessment of the student’s needs to be able to choose the
right device that is the best fit for the student. It is also essential to consider how
the devices will be utilized, in what environments and then connect them to the
curriculum. High tech devices, such as computers and digital technologies, can be
expensive, and the consequences of selecting the wrong devices and services can be
detrimental to the student’s learning. Grandin (2013) and Hutinger, Bell, Daytner,
and Johanson (2006) concur and point out that choosing the right assistive device
for an individual relies on the support staffs’ and teachers’ knowledge, values, and
philosophy as to how they view the educational process and effective learning.
The Digital Generation and 21st Century Learning
Digital technology devices are prevalent in the culture of today’s students and the
general education classroom. With this increased use and availability of technology
in the general education classroom, teachers are expected to make learning successful
and engaging for all students. According to Judge and Simms (2009) and Lee and
Vega (2005), because of the lack of training, teacher proficiency has lagged in
assistive technology devices and appropriate use for students with disabilities. The
authors claim that while marginal training and curriculum are being provided, there
are additional needs for assistive technology knowledge and skills to be incorporated
into teacher education programs and professional development activities.
In today’s modern society, students are living and learning in a digital world. The
culture of today’s student is different from past generations. Today, students connect
to digital devices for communication and information daily. Students are growing
up with digital hand-held devices that previous generations did not have. Lin (2008)
points out that children are now embracing technology as a part of their everyday
life and to effectively educate this new generation of students, teachers need to move
away from the didactic/behavioral model of teaching to an active learner approach
that is hands-on and engaging. Lindsey-Glenn and Gentry (2008) concur and point
out that students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could benefit from learning
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
literature and language by using active engagement techniques. They suggest that
because students with ASD have unique challenges with their limited ability to speak
and communicate, in addition to social challenges, they need to engage with visual
support systems, such as visual aids/technology and hands-on activities. Glaeser,
Pierson, and Fritschmann (2003) and Rao and Gagie (2006) agree and point out
that visual activities using active learning and engagement reduces anxiety and
provides a learning environment that engages students by allowing them to express
themselves with technology. Technology use for expression can include e-books for
learning and other computerized support systems. Positive, visual learning strategies
can consist of digital storytelling using multimedia software/presentations or story
creation websites. By actively engaging in digital storytelling and providing visual
support, students have the advantage of creating through their own words, drawings,
and photographs. Rao and Gagie (2006) explain why the use of visual supports (VS)
for learning is critical:
1. VS are part of everyone’s communication system
2. VS can attract and hold a student’s attention
3. VS enable the students to focus on the message and reduce anxiety
4. VS make abstract concepts more concrete for the student
5. VS assist the student expresses his or her thoughts (p. 26).
Teacher Education and Professional Development
According to Van Laarhoven et al. (2008), the lack of availability, affordability, and
accessibility of assistive technology devices are no longer an obstruction for not using
assistive technology devices is in the classroom. They point out that the problem
is often a lack of a teacher’s knowledge and skills as to how to assess students with
disabilities. They suggest that teachers need knowledge of when, and how, to use the
appropriate assistive technology device to benefit their students. For this to happen,
Van Laarhoven et al. claim that teachers need to be provided professional development
activities to learn how to use “the right tool, for the right job” to reach students with
disabilities effectively. Abner and Lahn (2002) and Huang, Suggen, and Beveridge
(2009) point out that when teachers lack knowledge of assistive technology, they
will become frustrated with students of diverse populations. The lack of knowledge
results in teachers using assistive technology inefficiently with their students. Alves,
Monteiro, Rabello, Gasparetto, and de Carvalho (2009) found that while teachers
view technology beneficial to their students with visual impairment, a majority of
teachers do not use it appropriately if at all. According to Kelly (2009), teachers
are often overwhelmed in their everyday classroom and are not trained as to how
to effectively work with students with disabilities and assistive technologies. Kelly
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
suggests that teachers do not feel competent to integrate regular technology in the
classroom, let alone assistive technologies with students with diverse abilities. Lack
of training and or knowledge of diverse learners can inhibit teachers from using
technology effectively for diverse populations. One possible explanation found by
Corn and Wall (2002) is that knowledge about assistive technology use affects a
teacher’s ability to use it with children who have visual impairments. They found
that teachers of students with visual impairments often just used “regular” classroom
technology because teachers felt comfortable using technology they already knew
how to use, resulting in a less effective learning environment for visually impaired
Teachers knowledge and beliefs about assistive technology are an essential
aspect of selecting the appropriate assistive technology device. A direct result in
choosing the proper assistive technology device according to Abbott, Evertt, Brown,
Standen, and Wright (2011 as cited in Tamakloe and Agbenyega, 2017) is that
an appropriate assistive technology device can decrease the student’s frustration
levels, which in turn enhances the learning process. Grandin (2013) and Hutinge
et al. (2006) agree and suggest that a teacher’s professional knowledge, value, and
teaching philosophy profoundly affects the effectiveness levels of selecting and
using assistive technology devices.
Edyburn (2003, as cited in Jost and Mosley, 2011) points out that general
classroom teachers are usually the primary teacher of students with disabilities.
To assist teachers, Edyburn provides three categories of what every teacher should
know about assistive technology: 1. Awareness, 2. Working Knowledge, and 3.
Level 1. Awareness of assistive technology devices and students with disabilities
can come in the form of professional development workshops and low-level courses.
The awareness level becomes an exposure level and should encourage teachers to
learn more. Awareness includes knowledge of services available and how assistive
technology devices fit with learners with disabilities. It can involve an understanding
of the process involved in identifying assistive technology and distinguishes between
services and devices.
Level 2. Working Knowledge of assistive technology is the identification of
the student with a disability, diagnosing the disability, and being able to choose
the appropriate assistive technology device. It involves the identification of what
is wrong and being able to make an evaluation and recommendation as part of a
team. It becomes the basis for making appropriate decisions on assistive technology
devices and services.
Level 3. Transformation involves teachers thinking beyond necessary skills and
identification of appropriate assistive technology devices. It represents teachers
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
promoting systematic change for adoption, evaluation, and inclusion of assistive
technology globally.
General education classroom teachers need assistance in using appropriate
assistive technology in part because they have only a general knowledge of assistive
technology for teaching and learning. To help alleviate this situation, training on
assistive technology should be provided for all general education instructors. Teachers
need professional development to learn how to use “the right tool for the right job”.
Educational leaders and administrators need to provide appropriate and ongoing
professional development in the area of effective assistive technology devices and
services. In addition, colleges of higher education need to provide assistive technology
curricula in their in-service teacher programs.
Effective assistive technology instruction needs to be a component of both in-
service and pre-service training programs. However, according to Koch (2017), in
general, in-service teacher education programs, whether for special education or in
general education preparation, do not adequately train teachers to implement assistive
technology into their classrooms. One issue at the pre-service level is that colleges
or universities often do not have sufficient resources or funding to stay current.
Koch suggests that by providing appropriate knowledge of assistive technology to
teacher candidates and general education classroom teachers, they will effectively
differentiate instruction and make accommodations to reach all students.
One issue for pre-service teaching programs is often the lack of curriculum to
support assistive technology knowledge and skills. Since teachers often have large
numbers of children in their classrooms, differentiated instruction for all students can
be challenging. This lack of training, materials, and funding can be an ongoing issue.
Chmiliar’s (2007) report on special education teachers, regarding their familiarity
of, and access to, assistive technology, notes that there are “serious shortcomings
in the pre-service training provided for teachers” (p. 14).
Teachers are busy individuals who often return home exhausted. They then have
to grade papers, create lesson plans, and prepare for the next Individual Education
Plan (IEP) meeting. Thus, they do not always have the time to learn new applications,
software, and programs to facilitate and assist with the learning of others. Therefore,
there is a need for relevant, salient professional development for teachers to enable
them to use assistive technology with students with disabilities included in the general
education classroom. In this regard, Lawless and Pellegrino (2007) have published a
literature review based on the need to integrate technology into the learning process.
The researchers have focused their work on what is currently known, what we do
not know, and have opened the discussion to the learning community in order to
assist educators in asking appropriate questions.
Time must be allocated for teachers to discuss, support, explore, and examine
both low tech and high-tech approaches to working with students with not just one
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
disability or exceptionality, but students with multiple needs. These needs can include
behavioral, social, interpersonal, and communication skills. Many students also need
assistance with daily living and pre-vocational skills. Teachers often need to think
long and hard about prioritizing their goals and objectives given the functioning
level of the student. Expediency is often crucial in today’s world unless of course,
at some point there is some decision to lengthen the school day or year. When time
is allocated, Jost and Mosley (2011) recommend developing Professional Learning
Communities (PLC) between general education teachers and special education
professionals. In their investigations, they found high-level discussions and interactions
between both groups, created positive learning environments.
Trends and Resources
Teachers are increasingly challenged to provide remediation and intervention to
assist with students’ academic success. For many students, assistance is minimal,
particularly for those with mild disabilities or challenges. For others, a massive
amount of intervention and support is required. Over time, some students may learn
to cope by adjusting and addressing their learning challenges or learning deficiencies
in other ways. Others may continue to need highly sophisticated technical assistance
According to the United States ‘Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA), assistive technology is, “any item, piece of equipment, or product system,
whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to
increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability”
(Smith, Polloway, Doughty, Patton, & Dowdy, 2016, p. 85). In general, this could be
seen as “high tech” as opposed to low tech assistance, such as a dictionary, thesaurus,
pen with a grip, clipboard, or some elementary concrete item.
There are two main groups of students who require accommodations or significant
modifications. One group is covered by IDEA and have a documented disability.
There are two subgroups - one group may have a physical or medical or sensory
difficulty (vision, hearing, health problems, etc.), and the second group has a cognitive
or intellectual disability. The terminology varies from state to state in the United
States and from district to district, making generalization difficult.
The second group is under Section 504 of the IDEA, and more recently, there
are additional “sections” that have come about due to the prevalence of online
classes. Some of the conditions covered under Section 504 are: Students with AIDS,
(Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), allergies, arthritis, asthma, attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, cancer, cerebral palsy, drug or alcohol addiction, epilepsy,
leukemia, obesity, orthopedically impaired, traumatic brain injury, conduct disorder,
any child with special health care needs, temporary disabilities, Tourettes syndrome,
Osgood Schlatters, and tuberculosis. There are many other acute as well as chronic
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
conditions that range from a broken arm, wrist, or leg to an extremely complicated
medical problem or a mild problem, such as benign congenital hypotonia, which
may or may not require extensive modifications or reasonable accommodations.
There are many “low tech” straightforward interventions for students. In terms
of assisting students with a learning disability in reading, teachers can provide
books that are developmentally appropriate. For example, a student in the 8th grade,
reading at a 4th-grade level could read a similar text written at their current reading
or academic level. A teacher could provide an outline of the material. In addition,
a teacher could provide definitions of words that might be difficult for that student,
or the teacher could review the content and submit a written or typed note or outline
of the chapter or material.
Low-tech interventions are generally less expensive and more readily available
than high tech software and applications. Further, there is much to be said for concrete
objects, such as index cards and laminated sheets, which can be used repeatedly.
While e-books are available and seem to be the current trend, a paperback book can
also be underlined, highlighted, and marked in the margins for review.
Assistive Technology and Content Areas
Mathematics and Reading
Teachers are expected to facilitate a warm, nurturing environment to make all
students feel accepted and respected. While low-tech interventions might help some
students, they may not be beneficial for the 21st-century learner and those with low
incidence conditions, such as children with autism, children who are both deaf and
blind and those with traumatic brain injury.
In terms of high tech assistance, there are both ancillary materials that could
be used to assist the student at home, as well as materials that could help in the
classroom. There is a vast array of educational software that can be utilized for the
enhancement of reading skills. These include The Waterford Early Reading program
(, Headsprout Early Reading (, PLATO
Focus (, Academy of Reading (, LeapTrack
(, READ 180 (,
Scholastic (, Knowledge Box Central (www., and Pearson Digital Learning (www.pearsonschool.
com). It should be noted that companies, websites, and software programs come
and go, are revised, and often are replaced with other software or websites.
In terms of students who have difficulty with arithmetic and math, there are both
low tech and high-tech elements of assistance. In terms of low tech, the student does
have ten fingers to utilize to learn to count and to make simple subtraction under
ten units, for example, 8-4=4. Teachers can use low tech items, such as pennies,
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
nickels, dimes, and quarters, to teach basic units and to convey meaning. In other
words, 5 pennies make a nickel, 10 pennies comprise a dime, and 25 pennies or 5
nickels equal a quarter. In this way, students are exposed to concepts, such as equal
and subtraction. In the multiplication realm, there are times tables that students can
write from 2 x 1=2 to 2 x 12=24.
In terms of high tech strategies, the calculator and the cell phone, which typically
has a calculator function, can assist the child in checking their work and performing
simple routine functions. At a more advanced level, Texas Instruments calculators
can compute means and standard deviations.
There are more advanced resources, such as MathPad, which facilitates pupils
performing arithmetic functions on the computer or cell phone. These types of
applications are particularly useful for those students with cerebral palsy, who
have difficulty performing math with paper and pencil due to fine motor issues.
Access to MathPad provides a talking math program that assists students with a
wide variety of functions, such as organization, sequencing and making certain
numbers are lined up in columns. This program can expedite printed worksheets
for specific student needs.
There are several portable calculators with a talking multiplication table found
at One is a small calculator that assists with basic
arithmetic functions. Also, GTCalc Scientific Calculator is a software program
that utilizes a keyboard or mouse with both input and output spoken. There are four
different levels of screen magnification for those who may have visual problems
or difficulties. The Talking Pocket Calculator is a relatively small, thin folding
calculator with precise numbers and all the setting functions speak. The Talking
Texas Instruments Scientific Calculator offers a choice of either silent or speaking
operations and provides earphones and volume controls. The keys are tactile for
those who may respond better to this mode. Big: Calc provides six specific calculator
layouts for this talking calculator, font size and color can be adjusted for better
visibility and those with figure/ground difficulties.
Expressive Language and Writing
Expressive writing is inextricably linked to one’s expressive language, and thus, if
a student is lagging seriously behind in expressive or receptive language, speech
therapy may be a beginning point. Further, for ELL (English Language Learners), an
additional assessment will be needed to see if they respond to a teacher’s intervention.
Low-tech interventions can include simple activities as actually having a
conversation with the student on a daily basis to enhance their vocabulary, including
nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Language development kits can improve
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
this process, as well as simple reading. The readings should be at the student’s
developmental level, be high interest, and low vocabulary based.
In terms of writing, the student may be asked to write less, but write neater. Some
low-tech strategies, which can facilitate not just better writing but neater, might be to
use a clipboard or procuring a better writing tool, or instruments such as a Pilot fine
point pen or a pen with a very large grip. In some instances, a piece of paper can be
scotch-taped to the student’s desk so that it does not move, and the student does not
have to spend time holding it down, thus losing concentration on the task at hand.
The pupil may receive the accommodation of writing using a word processor,
which contains spell and grammar check. The student may still have to have someone
proofread their work since spell check often recognizes a word as being spelled
correctly when it is not. A student who complained about their grade on a writing
assignment indicated to one instructor that they had used Spell Cheek and their paper
was written correctly. However, this was not the case. The problem occurs when
a student inordinately uses the words to, two, and too, to communicate a concept.
A dictionary or thesaurus is also a low-tech assistance mechanism. There are
dictionaries in some cell phones, and of course, the student can attempt to ask Siri
questions. However, the student needs to understand that Siri is not receiving a grade
for the assignment or course.
In terms of advanced writing resources, the following are some suggestions:
1. Co-Writer Universal ( The program
encompasses word prediction, grammar, and vocabulary to the student’s word
processor. FlexSpell assists those pupils who spell phonetically by expediting
the recognition and prediction of words that are fairly consistent with the letters
and sounds of the letters. This program also assists in such realms as subject-
verb agreement, word usage, and proper nouns.
2. EZKeys ( The program
provides options to using a mouse and has an expanded keyboard. It provides a
dual word prediction that tells the pupil the six most frequently utilized words
that begin with a similar letter typed by the student.
3. Gus!Word Predictions (
php?product_id=9670). This program facilitates typing speed by suggesting
word completion and also word prediction. It assists those who might be slow
typists, those who may have cerebral palsy, or perhaps even missing fingers.
A dictionary and abbreviation expansion is also available.
4. WordQWriting Aid Software ( This is used with a standard
word processor and provides spoken feedback. Feedback includes suggesting
alternative words via word prediction.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
5. Write Outloud ( This program provides
immediate feedback as the pupil types words, then sentences, and paragraphs.
They can hear proper word use and possible misspellings. Students with
documented disabilities can function more autonomously from listening and
then seeing what they have written.
6. Draft:Builder ( This specific tool assists
students through various important steps in formulating a beginning draft. It
assists in organizing, taking specific notes, and then completing a draft. A
framework or structure is provided to begin, organize, and link basic ideas
and information.
The traditional modes of teaching and learning are changing for both teachers and
students, not just people with disabilities. With the introduction of the Internet,
approaches to teaching and learning have opened up opportunities for multiple
ways of knowing and doing in a digital world. Increasing advancements in digital
technology devices are now becoming standard, available, and affordable for all
students. Digital devices and technology (hardware and software) are transforming
the way students access information, communicate, learn, and function in daily life.
For example, note-taking devices, such as digital pens, can allow individuals to
upload handwritten notes to a computer. Also, certain types of pens will playback
audio of text listened to in a lecture. Digital devices/computers have built-in assistive
technology functions within their operating systems. For example, the Standard PC
Software, Windows 10 comes with several built-in features including Narrator (a
screen reader), a Magnifier, Closed Captioning, adjustable on-screen keyboards,
and alternative options for mouse control. The Apple/Mac Standard Software OS10
provides adjustable magnifiers and keyboards, speech recognition including text to
speech, and a “Universal Access” in Preferences that includes voice over, zooming,
a flash screen option, and adjustable displays. An additional trend for education is
the advent of cloud computing.
Cloud Computing involves using software programs, websites, and storage space
located on the Internet. Access to cloud computing means schools and individuals
no longer have to buy expensive equipment to access and use digital programs.
The cloud allows schools and individuals to avoid buying expensive hardware to
store programs and files. With cloud programs, students can share information
and communicate collaboratively across the world in a digital format. It involves
anytime, anywhere learning as long as there is access to the Internet. Examples of
cloud computing can include Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and similar
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
programs or e-learning courses. It can also include digital presentation software like
Prezi and Google docs, which provides opportunities for collaborating, sharing, and
creating documents online. Cloud computing offers universal access to files as long
as there is an Internet connection. It can also involve access to shared simulated
environments, such as virtual reality applications. Cloud computing can provide
engaging opportunities for students with disabilities to create, collaborative, and
share documents and visual presentations online.
Other applications include Virtual Reality (VR) environments. VR has the
potential to improve daily life skills and to learn in a safe 3D environment. Pareto,
Sharkey, and Merrick, (2016) states “Virtual Reality technology possesses several
strengths in terms of potential application to ASD intervention, including malleability,
controllability, replicability, modifiable sensory stimulation, and the capacity to
implement individualized intervention approaches and reinforcement strategies”
(p. 920). Skylar (2007) agrees and points to virtual reality applications that provide
simulated environments that help people experience situations that are too far away or
not practical to physically access. For example, a virtual field trip to a geographical
location to study flora and fauna could include various VR environments, including
biomes, such as deserts, rainforests, ocean shorelines, and estuaries. Skylar also
suggests practical VR applications for people to learn how to travel city streets by
learning how to ride a bus for transportation. Skylar points us to
as a website that allows teachers to create code to design VR environments. She
suggested that programming VR will enable teachers to create virtual environments
for their students in addition to providing opportunities to interact with other
educators globally. Virtual Reality has the affordability of providing opportunities
for repeated training scenarios for learning new concepts and skills to function in the
”real-world” and a safe environment. For example, Inman, Loge, Cram, and Peterson
(2011) found that children who spent time in a virtual safe environment learning to
use wheelchairs had gains in the “real-world” when it came to their driving skills as
they moved out of the simulated environment. Virtual Reality can also be used as a
diagnostic tool. Students with disabilities can be placed in a virtual environment to
see how they react to given situations, and then the situation or environment can be
modified. With all the advantages VR has to offer, Krueger and Stineman (2011)
caution us that there is still a need for universal design of interfaces and design
standards for VR environments to enable accessibility for all students. Similar to
VR environments, the use of humanoid robots can also provide opportunities for
safe, controlled environments for learning.
According to Standen et al. (2016) and Diehl, Schmitt, Villano, and Crowell
(2012) humanoid robots have the potential to engage children with disabilities
because robots can be used to provide safe, predictable responses that engage
students. They point out that predictable responses by robots can be modified over
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
time based on individual responses. Also, they suggest that humanoid robots can
be used as diagnostic tools and then be reprogramed to provide specific treatments
based on individual children. Diehl and colleagues developed three broad categories
for applying robots in a clinical setting. These categories are (a) the elicitation
of behaviors, (b) modeling, teaching, and/or practicing a skill, (c) or providing
feedback (p. 260). For example, Standen et al. suggest the robots can perform
consistent, repeated behaviors (such as throwing a ball). This repeated, consistent
action elicits a response because it provides strong stimuli for the child to model
the preferred skill or behavior. Also, Lee and Hyun (2015) found that predictable,
repeated behavior by robots make children feel comfortable interacting with them in
speech-language therapy sessions. They found that children initiated conversations
with a robot and were able to exchange 2-way communications effectively based
on the robot’s consistent feedback. Kim (2013) concurs, and states, “We found that
children with ASD spoke more, in general, while interacting with a social robot
than with another adult or … the touchscreen computer game” (p. 1046). However,
Diehl et al. point out that when a robot is paired with a human partner, the effects
are more significant than with interactions with a robot.
It is essential to consider a variety of assistive technology devices to reach all students.
Not only does the general education classroom teacher need to be involved, but
also the special education professional, parent or guardian, and educational leader.
There are challenges involved in this, in that the process is often time-consuming,
labor-intensive, and usually requires highly specialized individuals to provide
guidance. Teachers are going to need training, and on occasion, supervision to be
able to appropriately apply a specific piece of software or assistive technology. There
are other issues such as cost, care, and maintenance of the devices. Theft can be a
concern, and while some devices may come with a guarantee, in certain instances,
warranties run out.
A team of dedicated individuals needs to work together to develop positive and
productive learning environments when choosing and utilizing assistive technology
devices. Modeling successful environments with assistive technology is a good
starting point for creating an awareness of appropriate use of assistive technology,
whether that is in a general classroom, or a teacher education program. Teacher
education programs need to be sensitive to these issues and make an adequate attempt
to prepare teachers to integrate assistive technology into their classrooms, and on
occasion, provide information to parents regarding the use of these devices and
their implementation. We are entering a “brave new world” of assistive technology
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
and teachers, and other professionals need to be prepared and indeed need to be
involved in continual lifelong learning to assist students with special needs and
provide appropriate educational opportunities.
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Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
Assistive Technology by Categories
Hearing Application
Dragon Dictation is voice recognition software for mobile devices. It works on PC
and Mac.
FM Sound Devices/Listening Systems provides a wireless listening system for
students in the classroom.
Text to Speech Applications and Software: allows highlighted text to be converted
to voice.
Talking Calculators: provides features to assist the visually and hearing impaired.
Visual Applications
Be My Eyes: is an application for IPad and iPhone that allow visually impaired
people to connect with online volunteers with video assistance.
Talkitt: is an application for people with a speech impairment to speak in a clear voice.
Look at Me: application for people with autism to assist in facial recognition, eye
contact, and social skills.
Read2Go: is an eBook reader that provides opportunities to enlarge, text, adjust
color provide text to speech for the IPad. iPhone and iPod. Read2Go works
with Bookshare.
Autism Applications
Scene Speak: is an iPad application that allows parents and teachers to create digital
books and a library of pictures to help students communicate.
Proloque2go: is an Augmented Alternative Communication (ACC) device that
converts pictures into voice. This application is for the iPhone and IPad.
ADHD Applications
MindNode: is a visual tool application that allows students to express themselves in
a visual format in the form of concept mapping and brainstorming in creating
a visual diagram of their thinking. IOS.
Inspiration: is a visual tool application that allows students to express themselves in
a visual format in the form of concept mapping and brainstorming in creating
a visual diagram of their thinking.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
Kidspiration: mind mapping tool for creating visual representations of students
thinking for younger students as compared to Inspiration. http://www.inspiration.
Math Applications
National Library for Virtual Manipulatives: provides virtual manipulatives for the
mathematics K12 classroom. is a commercial site that includes speech recognition software for
learning math and mathematical concepts.
Reading and Writing Applications
Reading Rockets: is a free online web-based resource to assist struggling readers.
The site provides articles, resources, professional development, and reading
Livescribe: is a “smartpen” that will capture the written or spoken word for later
playback and can be transcribed transferred to a computer. https://store.
Ghotit Dyslexia Writing and Reading Assistant: Windows and Mac allow highlighted
text and to fix grammar and spelling and with text to speech.
Bookshare provides online, accessible books for people with disabilities. Formats
include text to speech, highlighted written word and braille.
Standard Assistive Technology Features on Macintosh and PC
Standard PC Software, Windows 10: comes with several built-in features including
Narrator (a screen reader), a Magnifier, closed caption, adjustable on-screen
keyboards and alternative options for the mouse control.
Apple/Mac Standard Software OS10: Adjustable magnifiers and keyboards, speech
recognition including text to speech, and a Universal Access that includes voice
over, zooming and flash screen and adjustable display options.
IPad Apps
40 amazing IPad applications for the Learning Disabled: this web-blog provides a
list of the top 40 IPad apps for the Learning Disabled.http://www.matchacollege.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
Sample Resources, United States by Region
Arkansas Disability Resource Center: Provides disability resources services for
Higher Education students at the University of Central Arkansas. https://uca.
Assistive Technology of Alaska (ATLA): Provides Assistive Technology Services
for qualified individuals. ATLA provides programs; resources and services
for parents; teachers, and communities across the State of Alaska. https://
State of California Department of Developmental Services: Provides support services
for people with disabilities. Disabilities include “intellectual disability, cerebral
palsy, epilepsy, autism, and related conditions.”
Georgia Project for Assistive Technology: Provides support and services for local
schools for the State of Georgia in connection with Georgia’s Department of
Iowa Department of Education Assistive Technology – Provides opportunities
and services for students with disabilities in general education, including
documentation and forms for developing IEPs. https://www.educateiowa.
Minnesota Department of Administration Assistive Technology: STAR Program
provides resources for assistive technology devices and services for personal
and educational use.
New York State, Office of Special Education: Provides IEP plans and forms in
several languages in addition to services and opportunities for students of K-12
New Mexico Technology Assistance Program (NMTAP): provides assistive technology
services; resources and opportunities for all residents living in the State of
New Mexico.
Virginia – Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority (ATLFA) - Provides access
to public funding to assist people with disabilities in obtaining assistive
technology devices.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) provides funding from the
Department of Public Instruction and is a voluntary network of assistive
technology. It offers professional assistive technology services and resources
for Wisconsin’s educational community.
Assistive Technology Resources, United States Government
Library of Congress - National Library Service for the Blind and Physically
Handicapped - provides services including free talking books and braille
resources for students with disabilities. They provide a network of lending
libraries that circulate resources in multiple formats such as braille and audio.
U.S. Department of Education - Office of Innovation and Improvement - Article
on the legal definition of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) 1997/
Services to Parentally Placed Private Schools Students with Disabilities.https://
U.S. Department of Education (IDEA) Part 300 - Assistance to States for the
Education of Children With Disabilities. Provides legal definition and policies
on the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
U.S. Department of Education (IDEA) Part 300.5 - Assistive Technology Defined
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - Describes the history of “The
Americans with Disability Act of 1990” which prohibits discrimination against
people with disabilities.
Federal Privacy Council (FPC) - Provides an overview of Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990 (ADA) & Rehabilitation Act of 1972 (Rehab Act). The site
provides legal definitions and policies that allow people with disabilities to
live a “normal” life and have a legal right against discrimination.https://www.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)- Section 300.6 Assistive
Technology Services Defined
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
National Institute of Health (NIH) - Provides examples of assistive technology devices
and appropriate uses.
Assistive Technology Organizations - Global
Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE)
- Provides publications, events, activities, manufacturing, policies, and
dissemination of assistive technology issues and research.
Australian Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Association (ARATA) - Provides
National assistive technology services, resources, support, and dissemination
of best practices in using assistive technology.
Ministry of Education (MOE)– Singapore, Assistive Technology - Provides schools
and individuals with policies, funding, applications, forms, and resources, for
assistive technology.
United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development, Article 32 –International
Cooperation - Provides policies for cooperation among States for sharing
information; research; and access to assistive technology for people with
World Health Organization (WHO) Assistive Devices and Technology - Provides
workshops, guidelines, and seminars in order to promote assistive technologies,
resources, and access throughout the world.
World Health Organization Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) -
Promotes assistive technology cooperation among multiple agencies, including
the United Nations, donors, professional organizations, and academia. http://
Adaptech Research Network - Based in Montreal, Canada, Adaptech is an assistive
technology research network that researches assistive technology use in higher
education for Canadian colleges and Universities.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
Adaptech Research Downloads - Provides a list and downloads of inexpensive
resources and databases on adaptive technology.
Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure - Promotes worldwide inclusion for digital
literacy and equal access to the Internet for all, including the aging and people
with disabilities.
Assistive Technology Resources/Organizations
Closing the Gap - Provides resources in the form of articles, a listing of devices,
webinars (for CEUs) and conferences. This is a membership site with a cost.
Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) - The Council for Exceptional Children
provides resources for exceptional children in the form of professional
development, publications, Standards and advocates for governmental reforms
and policies. In addition, resources and tools are provided for the classroom.
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) - is a website dedicated to providing information,
support guidance, accessibility strategies for people with disabilities in accessing
and using the World Wide Web.
Technology and Media Division (TAM) - Is a member organization connected with
the Council for Exceptional Children. Their goal is to promote the effective
use of technology for people with disabilities.
The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTAC) - Is a site based out of
the University of North Carolina and provides resources, access to legislation,
publications and recommended practices for early childhood and young children
with disabilities.
International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication - Is
an International membership-based organization that provides resources,
publication, conferences, and scholarships in order to promote AAC for
students with disabilities.
Assistive Technology to Help Students With Disabilities
National Rehabilitation Information Center - Provides publications, curricula,
articles, books, research, and resources for assistive technology and independent
Association on Higher Educations and Disability - Is a worldwide membership-
based organization committed to helping people with disabilities succeed in
Higher Education. .
Tech-Matrix - Provides a searchable database combining IDEA with subjects and
grade levels in order to locate and identify assistive technology research,
applications, and devices.
Khan Academy - provides online videos for educational purposes and instruction.
Videos online can be adapted to technology devices for the hearing and visually
(A List of Changes from the Peer Reveiws
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2. Reorganized the Chapter to create a coherent flow
3. Eliminated section listed.
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... Multimedia is one of the technological innovations that have appeared in the field of education, as it puts the learner in an educational climate in which multiple educational means are available in an integrated form from multiple sources to form a single systemic format that helps the learner to achieve clear goals previously identified and expected to be achieved with a high degree of efficiency as a result of interaction between the learner and the multimedia that affects the increase in learning skills and thus improves their academic achievement in general for learners (Viner, Singh & Shaughnessy, 2020). ...
As the number of students identified with disabilities grows, schools moving towards inclusive classrooms are concerned with ensuring engagement of all students. Research has shown that digital technology provides support for students with disabilities so that they can participate in classroom activities. This research has been largely quantitative with a focus on student participation and improving academic outcomes. Moreover, the qualitative research has defined engagement as increasing attention on learning tasks. However, we do not know how and whether digital technology can generate interactions among these students and their peers or their teachers. This paper uses qualitative data from six Ontario, Canada school boards, including 27 classroom observations and interviews with teachers, to explore the role that digital technologies (i.e. robotics, smartboards, iPads) play in facilitating greater engagement among students with disabilities. Drawing on Randall Collins’ interaction ritual chains theory, and Pierre Bourdieu's theory of cultural capital, we posit that digital technologies can alter classroom routines and rituals that can lead to greater engagement. In particular, this study confirms that digital technologies can play a major role in boosting engagement through support and greater access to classroom content and learning processes. We add to the literature by postulating that digital technologies enhance classroom rituals and interactions by giving students a literal and figurative voice, and through changes in interactions among students with disabilities, their peers, and teachers. Additionally, students with disabilities who are adept at using digital technology can generate a form of capital that displays a type of credibility with their teachers and peers.
Full-text available
Assistive technology is not only a required component of a student’s IEP; it can be an effective way to help students with (and without) disabilities access their education and to provide them with required instructional accommodations. Teachers, however, are often not adequately prepared in their pre-service course work and ongoing professional development to address the technology needs of their special education students and have not had the opportunities to access technology due to limited availability and cost. While assistive technology can be purchased to augment an existing computer, it is often unnecessary to do that. Both Microsoft and Apple operating systems in “off-the-shelf” computers and handheld devices have embedded assistive technology that is easy to access and easy to use. This embedded technology can help teachers become familiar with technology and assist students with sensory, physical, learning, and attention disabilities, and it might have practical applications with Universal Design for Learning. This paper provides a discussion on how embedded technology can support students with disabilities in the school setting and provides examples for access and use.
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With all the developments in information technology (IT) for people with disabilities, few interventions have been designed for people with profound and multiple disabilities as there is little incentive for companies to design and manufacture technology purely for a group of consumers without much buying power. A possible solution is therefore to identify mainstream technology that, with adaptation, could serve the purposes required by those with profound and multiple disabilities. Because of its ability to engage the attention of young children with autism, the role of a humanoid robot was investigated. After viewing a demonstration, teachers of pupils with profound and multiple disabilities described actions they wished the robot to make in order to help nominated pupils to achieve learning objectives. They proposed a much wider range of suggestions for using the robot than it could currently provide. Adaptations they required fell into two groups: either increasing the methods through which the robot could be controlled or increasing the range of behaviours that the robot emitted. These were met in a variety of ways but most would require a degree of programming expertise above that possessed by most schoolteachers.
Accessibility is an important area of interoperability between real and virtual worlds that must be considered during standards-setting. The number of persons with disabilities is large and increasing, as is their use of virtual worlds. All elements of virtual worlds must be accessible. Four types of real world disability impact functioning in virtual worlds: keyboard/mouse; print; hearing/speech; and cognitive. Some virtual worlds include accessibility features, such as resizable UI elements and fonts. Alternative keyboards and mice usually work adequately in virtual worlds. However, common text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and screen reader software doesn't interface well with virtual worlds.Existing accessibility guidelines and legislation (Universal Design, Internet accessibility standards and guidelines, and online game accessibility guidelines) might be applicable to virtual worlds. Practical limitations to implementation of these solutions include their complexity and cost. As government agencies, universities, and employers increase their use of virtual worlds, specific standards for virtual world accessibility, including interfacing with common assistive technology, need to be created and enforced.
THIS QUALITATIVE CASE STUDY explored the professional philosophies and experiences of preschool teachers and their support staff regarding the use of assistive technology devices (ATDs) in an early intervention inclusive preschool class. Using face-to-face individual interviews as data collection measures, the researchers aimed to understand these practitioners’ teaching philosophies and experiences in terms of how they use ATDs with young children with disabilities in their class. A framework analysis of data identified three themes: establishing values for inclusive education, maintaining positive attitudes to overcoming challenges and orchestrating inclusive learning. The paper concluded that in order for the use of ATDs to thrive and make full impact on all children’s learning and development, stronger frameworks for developing the inclusive values, philosophies, professional knowledge and practice principles of preschool teachers and their support staff are needed.
It's here: the latest edition of the one text you need to master assistive strategies, make confident clinical decisions, and help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Based on the Human Activity Assistive Technology (HAAT) model, Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice, 4th Edition provides detailed coverage of the broad range of devices, services, and practices that comprise assistive technology, and focuses on the relationship between the human user and the assisted activity within specific contexts. Updated and expanded, this new edition features coverage of new ethical issues, more explicit applications of the HAAT model, and a variety of global issues highlighting technology applications and service delivery in developing countries.
Gerry Ellis investigates the contexts in which the terms ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’ are appropriate and demonstrates that disability is not just confined to those with impairments but is a ‘normal’ aspect of human existence. Ellis examines the history of disability-related language, with a focus on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. Ellis advocates for a more accessible society and refers to Universal Design principles. Ellis concludes with some thoughts on what persons with disabilities think.