What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Symbols in the Reading & Writing Process

Let’s assume that every child can learn to read. We are doing them a disservice to think otherwise, aren't we? By not teaching a child to read (or making the choice to not teach them) we are limiting their world. It is important that we assume every child can learn to read.

We can try teaching them in conventional ways but if this isn’t working, using visual supports may be the answer. The use of symbols to support reading is used throughout our world. When you are traveling, notice, the emergency directions on a plane are supported with pictures, airports have symbols to support every need: bathrooms, baggage, bus. Travel to a foreign country is made easier with symbol use. Cash registers in fast food restaurants are designed with symbols now. Look around and you will be surprised how many symbols we use in everyday life.

Who can benefit from having text support with symbols?
  • ESL
  • Autistic
  • Severely disabled
  • Communication device users
  • Learning Disabled
Consider: Having a symbol representation for every word. Only the keywords for the week. Every word except the basic sight words. To anchor the content only by using a main symbol. Programs that can provide this support include:
  • Writing with Symbols 2000 (No longer being made.)
Presentation ideas: Type out the text to picture books, print it out and place it over the original text of the book. When Reading with a child, always point to the words. If they struggle with the word, use the picture as a context clue. Make 4-page picture books (using ½ or ¼ pages), staple them together, practice reading it and send it home as homework every week for the student to read to their parents. Have your older kids who are struggling readers make books for the younger kids. Make recipe books to take home for Mother’s Day. 
  • SymbolWorld is great for already designed materials that are limited but free! Just pull up a story and print it off. Given to you by category, this site is very friendly and easy to use. 
  • Check out the Widgit Symbol ResourcesThere are hundreds of free and low-cost symbol resource packs, created in partnership with professionals. 
  • The Askability website is a website which was presented entirely in symbol form and text to enable children to become informed about ongoing current affairs and also create a central forum for children to express their views and opinions. Worth exploring to see if this is something that might benefit your students.  
  • Don’t have time to make your own books? Baltimore City Schools has some already made that you can download and print off. (You will need Boardmaker to use these pre-made grids.) 
  • Unique Learning System is an online, standards-based set of interactive tools specifically designed for students with special needs to access the general curriculum. News 2 You provides preschool through transition students with rigorous, standards-based materials specifically designed to meet their instructional needs. Users interact with differentiated, thematic units of study with text to speech, interactive components, activities and opportunities to show what they know. Books, lessons, and activities are viewable on a variety of hardware platforms, including tablets, whiteboards, and smartboards. Additionally, n2y’s proprietary user interface and tools combine with touch technology to encourage engagement and exploration of many types of content.
A person cannot move forward as a life long learner if they are not a reader and a writer. We need to assume all students can learn to read and write and provide them with the tools necessary to do so.
  • Write the word on the monitor for them to “See it”. 
  • Have them copy it to “Do it”. 
  • Using their talking word processor they can “Hear it".
  • Using their AAC device they can “Say it”. 
  • Erase the word on the computer and have them spell it.

Have you ever traveled to another country? Have you quickly learned the names of certain words quickly? Have you ever noticed how much quicker you learn them when they are paired with a picture? Did you rely heavily on the icons in the world? Have you found even in your local, known area, it is sometimes easier to look at a symbol than a word? How many times do you just look at the male or female picture of a bathroom instead of reading men and women? Start noticing! 

Always consider the student's age and their ability. Some students may need larger, colorful symbols but as they become better readers or if the student is concerned about it looking too “babyish”, you may want to consider making the symbols smaller and/or appear in black and white. So programs make it very easy to make this adaptation.

Students learn by using the following basic approach:

See it, Do it, Hear it, Say it

AAC Users - We need to provide the same strategy. If they are using a computer to write, use this as their tool. Once they have learned how to read a word (you will know, if they can spell it) you may want to remove the graphic from their AAC device. This will reinforce the reading of the word. Using an AAC device without graphics will sometimes speed up their process of communicating and allow them to move to a word prediction/abbreviation expansion more spontaneous method of communicating. This is individual however as some students find scanning a page of words overwhelming and symbols may help them to find their needed vocabulary faster than without. How to know? Try it and compare.