Assistive Technology is redefining what is possible for people with a various range of cognitive, print, and physical (abilities) disabilities, be it in the home, classroom, workplace and community. Assistive Technology is enabling all individuals, including those with disabilities to be more independent, self-confident, productive and better included in every day life, education, employment and living.
Assistive Technology can be anything home-made, purchased off the shelf, modified or commercially available which is used to help an individual perform some task of daily living. The term Assistive Technology encompasses a broad range of devices, from “low-tech” pencil grips, slant boards and picture schedules, to “high tech” solutions such as:
Read and Write Gold – Comprehensive Literacy software with features such as Text-to-Speech with highlighting, Word Prediction while typing, Study skills for organization and research, Scanning Documents & Books with OCR, highlighting and exporting with Bibliography, Fact-Mapping and Brainstorming, and Web apps for the iPad. The features of Read and Write Gold are also available as an extension in the Chrome browser.
E-Books and Apps - There are Apps for accessing digital books such as VoiceDream and iBooks, as well as many free e-book and audiobook options. Read textbooks for school or books for pleasure. Apps can be utilized with accessibility features such as Voice-Over, text to speech, Zoom/ Magnification, Highlighting, Definitions, Annotations, Font style and color selection, large text, etc. There are iPad and iPhone Apps for all Abilities and Disabilities, and all Subjects of Learning (Math, Reading, Social Studies, Science), as well as Literacy, AAC (communication), mobility (GPS), Studying, Organization and Time Management, Reminders, Scheduling, etc.
Voice Recognition Software – Use your voice to control everything. Speech-to-Text software and apps for individuals who are physically unable to access a computer, or may have a learning disability or print disability. Speech recognition can be utilized to access all features of a computer- reading, navigating, typing, research, sending email and texts, completing work, etc. It can also be used for environmental controls in one’s home environment, for lights, television, music, appliances, etc. Speech recognition can also support individuals who may struggle with spelling and grammar.
Free Text-To-Speech Software – If you simply need just Text-to-Speech while navigating online or typing a paper, there are MANY free options, such as Natural Reader and Chrome extensions.
DAISY Audio Players – There are several DAISY audio players available, such as the Bookport Plus, PlexTalk, and VictorStream. These audio book players are accessible to individuals who are Blind or Visually impaired, as well as those with print disabilities due to a physical or cognitive disability, such as TBI or Dyslexia. Download & Listen to audiobooks with Bookmarks, audio record, download MP3 music files, and more.
iPad and iPhone Apps – Apps for Learning, Apps for Communicating, Apps for Magnification and Screen Reading, Apps for Navigating, Apps for organization, studying, reminding, and scheduling, reading, completing assignments, developing projects; Apps for all subjects- and the learning is engaging and interactive. Apps encourage participation and exploration, and involve everyone, making all learning accessible. Apps are also being utilized by related therapists such as OT and SLP’s. Apps are also available for Android devices and tablets.
QR Codes and Bar Codes – For navigation, shopping, ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living) and much more. Store any information about a product or object on a QR or Barcode, and Scan it with a Barcode App to hear the information stored. Create interactive books, scavenger hunts, maps, music references, and accessible learning activities for all individuals. QR codes can be utilized to identify anything from books, to clothing, to food- anything you want to identify can have a QR code created for it.
Digital Magnifiers and Magnification Software and Hardware - Software to magnify your computer screen, invert text colors, increase mouse and cursor sizes. Hardware to Magnify Documents and Books, magnify the Whiteboard or Chalkboard to be able to see instruction, Take photos to study later, screen reading built-in, and more options for individuals who are Visually impaired, or losing sight over time. There are also magnification apps for Apple(iPad/ iOS devices) and Android. Magnification options are available on iphones, iPads, and tablets for use in the community, such as reading bus schedules or signs, menus, and utilizing for work.
JAWS ScreenReader -for individuals who are Blind and need screen reading and keyboard shortcuts to access the internet, email, and other computer applications for communication, research, and learning.
LiveScribe SmartPen – Record Audio and Sync Notes. For use during class or a meeting. Record audio and get back to a specific part of the lecture or meeting instantly. Excellent for brief notetaking and studying. Utilized by students who cannot take notes and listen/ comprehend/ process simultaneously, as well as those with spelling or grammar issues, and physical access issues to handwriting. Bookmark important references, upload visual of notes to computer as well as the audio, share notes and audio with others quickly, add to notes later as you listen to audio.
Refreshable Braille Displays – utilized by individuals who are Blind and Read Braille. Access all information on the computer, iPad, or iphone by connecting to a refreshable Braille display, and having instant, real-time, refreshing Braille to access the information that is presented. Refreshable Braille displays offer access to the computer, research, email, texting, textbooks, ebooks, iphones, iPads, and more.
Communication Boards – and Schedule Boards, for individuals to communicate, and to utilize for behavior management, daily schedules, and organization. Communication boards can be hand-made with symbols or photos, and can also be digital and incorporated on an AAC device or iPad for communication. There are many software programs and apps to help you create visual schedules and communication books.
Mind Mapping, Brainstorming & Graphic Organizers - Many software programs and Apps such as Popplet, Inspiration, and Fact-Mapper in Read and Write Gold offer the ability to brainstorm ideas, outline, and create visual templates and study guides to use for writing a paper, creating a project, or studying for a test. Others may use the tools for preparing for a meeting, or to use as a presentation visual. There are graphic organizing apps such as Tools4Students, as well as free apps and extensions in the Chrome Browser, such as Connected Mind. All of these AT tools support students/ individuals who experience challenges with executive functioning skills.
Adjustable Monitors and Keyboards -and other adjustable equipment or furniture for access, seating, or mobility may be considered for a student or individual. Adjustable monitors, keyboards, keyboard trays, large-font keyboards, adjustable tables and chairs, modifications and adaptations to wheelchairs and mobility equipment. All aspects of equal access should be considered.
Adjustable and Large Font Keyboards – Keyboards with trays that raise and lower, Large Font Keyboards with easy to see keys, one-handed keyboards, keyguards and guides for the iPad and AAC devices.
Switch Access – For Individuals with limited physical access. If an individual can consistently move one part of their body- their chin, a finger, a knee, a toe, their head etc., they can use an adapted switch to access the computer, an iPad, an AAC device for communicating, and other devices such as a phone or appliances. Scanning software may be utilized with the switch for access. Switches can also be utilized for mobility. There are bluetooth options for switches, as well as direct connect switches. There are also sip, puff switches available.
Track Balls and Track Ball Mice – There are many types of trackball mice or joystick options for mouse control, for individuals with physical access challenges, who may not be able to use a standard computer mouse. Trackball mice are also used for ergonomic purposes, to avoid strain.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (A.A.C.) AAC devices (dedicated devices and iPads/ tablets) may be touch-screen, switch access, or eye-gaze activated. Eye-gaze can also be utilized for computer access and environmental controls, in addition to communication and personal choice. Headpointing and Switch access are also options for AAC, as well as many apps for the iPad.
Other tools such as wheelchairs, echolocation canes, adapted spoons/ flatware/ utensils/ tools, adjustable furniture and other hardware or software for learning and environmental control are examples of Assistive Technology.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.)
I.D.E.A., the Federal Special Education law, provides the following legal definition of Assistive Technology : “Any item, piece of equipment or product system… that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Under I.D.E.A. assistive technology devices can be used in the educational setting to provide a variety of accommodations or adaptations for people with disabilities.
The I.D.E.A. also lists the services a school district may need to provide in order to ensure that assistive technology is useful to a student in the school setting. The law defines Assistive Technology Service as: “Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acuisition or use of an assistive technology device”. This service includes all of the following possibilities:
- Evaluation of the technology needs of the individual, including a functional evaluation in the individual’s environment.
- Purchasing, leasing or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices for individuals with disabilities.
- Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing or replacing of assistive technology devices.
- Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions or services with assistive technologies or devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs (O.T., P.T., Speech).
- Assistive technology training or technical assistance with assistive technology for an individual with a disability, or where appropriate, the family of an individual with disabilities.
- Training or technical assistance for professionals, employers or other individuals who provide services to employ or otherwise are substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities.
The intention of the special education law is that, if a student with disabilities needs technology in order to be able to learn, access the curriculum and learning materials and access F.A.P.E., the school district will:
- Evaluate the student’s technology needs
- Acquire the necessary technology
- coordinate technology use with other therapies and interventions
- Provide training for individuals, the individual’s family and school staff in the effective use of the technology
During the time that students with disabilities are in school they can have the opportunity to learn to use technology at the same time that they are learning academic subjects and social skills. The efficient and effective use of assistive technology can be as a basic skill for students with disabilities with reading, writing and math. Assistive Technology is providing students with disabilities a “level playing field” in every area of life.