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.


Sites to Support Students with Special Needs

These PowerPoint 'dynamic displays' were created to support the patients and families at Children's Hospital in Boston so that they might have experience and practice with navigating dynamic pages while waiting to purchase a commercial software program or arrange a trial with a dynamic display speech generating device. Great exposure and practice.
Art programs are not only fun and can allow the creative side to emerge but it is a great way to teach mouse skills.
  • Crayola Digi-Color is a new element on the Crayola website. Artists choose from an array of tools, colors and effects. With support for picking the tools many children will be able to create images of their own. The requirement for coloring is the "click and drag" function of a mouse. Preferences can be set to activate a click lock on most computers operating Windows or OSX.
  • The Artists Toolkit: Explore the tools that artists use like line, color and balance to build works of art.
  • Tux Paint is a free drawing program for children. It combines an easy-to-use interface, fun sound effects, and an encouraging cartoon mascot who guides children as they use the program. Kids are presented with a blank canvas and a variety of drawing tools to help them be creative. Be sure to download the stamps too! So much fun with the sound on- or not, your choice!
  • Doodle is a simple drawing and coloring program which includes stamps (small pre-drawn pictures to color) of Winnie The Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Gopher, Roo and Kanga to add to your pictures.
  • Kaleidoscope Painter: Simple program of making a kaledoscope with the drag of a mouse. Great mouse practice!
  • Sketch Swap is great fun. It allows you to draw anything and then in return you get to see what someone else has drawn.
  • Art Pad allows you to color on the spot with different size tools and a variety of colors. Very simple program. Nothing elaborate! Great mouse practice!!
  • National Art and Disability Center Web Tour - This program allows the user to use all sorts of wonderful tools. This is Paint with a twist. This is an online painting machine for all ages. This shockwave interactive includes more than forty brushes and customizable size, transparency, texture, and stroke options. A rainbow palette, along with a toolbox of special effects that blur, ripple, smudge, blend, and fragment your design. A full-feature painting program.
  • Draw Toy - animated drawing...for the very artistic.
  • Segmation! - The Internet's digital paint by number patterns. Uses state-of-the-art image processing science to reveal wonderful patterns and designs in all kinds of images.
  • A fun site for developing some pretty cool art and for building mouse skills is Jackson Pollock by Miltos Manetas. You use the mouse as a paintbrush and every time you click the mouse the color changes. It is just great fun to see things develop.

Books - Adapted with the goal of making reading accessible for students with special needs.Accessible Books are popular children’s books that have been “recreated” through the use of scanning and recording to enable the non-reader to access them via technology. The graphics and text of a selected book are displayed on the computer screen with narration added through either digitized (human reader) or synthesized (computer speech) speech. These books are created using software applications with graphics and speech capabilities that enable switch and adapted access methods.

Accessible Books are generally at the emergent through early conventional reading levels, from pre-primer to approximately the grade 3 reading level.
  • SET BC has a listing of books to share that they have developed using Boardmaker, Clicker, MS Word, IntelliTools, PowerPoint and in Braille.  
  • Baltimore City School offers a data base of adapted books that can be searched by topic, a listing or by doing a search.  
  • Tar Heel Reader, has provided a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. The books may be downloaded as slide shows in PowerPoint, Impress, or Flash format. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches. 

Computer/Mouse Skills (For more, see separate posting "Building Mouse Skills".)
  • Practice clicking with Mix and Match on-line games with Billy Bear.
  • ElBuhoBoo is great just for some simple cause and effect without having to click. Cute little reactions just by placing your mouse over the various objects. Good eye gaze training capabilities! 
  • Jacob's Lessons starts with real basic mouse skill development to adding some matching skills, to working with opposites and prepositions. Very basic skill development with simple, clear graphics and encouraging prompts.   
  • MiniMouse.us simple game teaches kids to move the mouse and click. It also helps them to begin thinking spatially as they predict their character’s trajectory when he jumps. Basic hand-eye coordination and timing skills are introduced.
  • Reflex is a game that will improve your speed and accuracy when working with a computer mouse. (This must be downloaded.)
  • Shambles provides a list of various Internet sites with links for providing skills in using a mouse. Also- links for specifically designed for left handers! 
  • TeachIT! provides a step-by-step process to help children learn mouse use.
  • Zoodles Mouse Skills games will help your child demonstrate the ability to use a mouse or trackpad to click and select items on a screen.  
Computer Safety
  • Hoopah Kidview Computer Explorer 6 and NoodleNet don't merely validate sites as safe for kids—they specifically collect sites that are educational and age-appropriate. As a result, their collections are much smaller than KidZui's but more targeted.
  • KidZui provides a "Kid's Internet" browser.  It is a filter that makes the internet safe, big and fun for kids plus it is free. 
  • NoodleNet 1. your children can visit predefined age-appropriate sites and run kid-safe searches—and that's all. It's probably too restrictive for all but tiny tots. And letting kids run local games and programs can knock a hole in its protection.
  • Peanut Butter PC (PBPC) takes a dead-simple approach: Children can't visit any site at all unless you, the parent, add it to their "backyard" first. 
  • Zac Browser was designed for kids with Autism but is a great safety programs that helps to limit the users access. It was designed to offer a rewarding and secure experience. Children sing, play and discover the best that the Internet has to offer with only a few clicks of the mouse.Free also and available for both platforms. 
See Cozi for more information.

Disability Awareness
  • Kid's Quest is great site for kids to learn about various disabilities.
  • Disability Central is managed by and for teens with disabilities; an online cyber community where teens can socialize, educate one another.
  • Tell us your Story offers a disability discussion forum for those with disabilities. Disability discussion forum for stories about awareness, rights, inspiration.
  • Disability Awareness Kit - designed to promote an understanding of issues surrounding particular disabilities. Handouts, activities and resources.
  • Disability Awareness- Articles, interviews, etc., general interest and some specifically geared to teens. There are also chat rooms and message boards.
Using e-mail is such a great way to get kids writing but you may want to explore some sites that provide just a little extra:
  • Gaggle.net is not specifically for kids with disabilities, but it is a free service for all kids with e-mail that allows the teacher to oversee what the kids are e-mailing.
  • eBuddies is an e-mail pen pal program that pairs persons with an intellectual disability in a one-to-one e-mail friendship with a peer volunteer who does not have an intellectual disability.
  • YackPack is simple, web-based voice messaging for groups. For younger or cognitively challenged people this would be absolutely ideal - it's a closed and controlled system... click on the *PHOTO* of the person you want to email, click on the BIG button to record, then click on the BIG button to send. It really is an amazing system and just ideal for people who are able to talk but who have difficulty with functional typing or writing.
  • Skype is a program for making free calls over the internet to anyone else who also has Skype.
  • (Google gmail and yahoo messenger all allow for full telephone conversations over the web - a benefit for people with physically disabilities.)
  • Ability OnLine "is a friendly and safe computer friendship network where children and youth with disabilities or chronic illnesses connect to each other as well as to their friends, family members, caregivers and supporters."
  • Google Talk enables you to call or send instant messages to your friends for free–anytime, anywhere in the world.
eText (Electronic Text)
  • BookShare is now free to qualified students. (See separate posting.) Unusual offerings of the latest best-sellers in fiction and non-fiction, computers & technology, sci-fi, romance, children's titles, K-12 and college-level textbooks. 
  • See eText posting for more resources.
Health and Fitness
  • Bam- This is a site for students to explore fitness, health, disease and peer pressure. Great graphics for teens and fun to explore.
Life Skills
  • Every Day Life provides interactive lessons to experience every day challenges without real world consequences. This is a safe place to learn. 
  • Every Day Skills (Requires the download of their software "Sense Factory".) It has some very clear and simple slidshows for activities of daily living as well as some academics. 
  • Kenn Nesbitt's Children's Poetry Playground- This site is easily searchable using graphics and titles to find a fun poem to read. Additional tools include poetry writing lessons and poetry games. (Have a switch user? Have your student in charge of sharing a poem every day!)
  • Giggle Poetry is FUN! This site gets everyone in the mood to rhyme. Read poet biographies, practice with fill-in-the-blank poems and read; rate poems. 
  • Jacob's Lessons provides free online ABA activities that are very clean both visually and auditorily. Many categories to go through that will provide you with data if desired. 
  • Kidspace has links that take you to author websites, online comics, e-zines, poetry, children's stories in Spanish and more! (Used with a text reader and open up all kinds of new resources!) 
  • MongoMon is online curriculum for teens and young adults with animated interactive activities in reading and math. There is nothing to download or install, interactive right on-line. 
    Early Math, Language Arts
  • PBS Kids has a wide variety of activities available.
  • Knee Bouncers - This site provides games and activities to stimulate computer use for young children or students learning about cause and effect through computer activities. There are colorful animated graphics combined with great sound effects.
Math (See separate posting on strictly math)
  • Cool Math is an amusement park of math games.
  • General, Money, Time, drill games at Edu4Kids.
  • Practical Money Skills includes a section for special needs dealing with issues such as making money, budgeting, shopping, living on your own...
  • Illuminations - Explore a library of 68 online activities that help to make math come alive in the classroom or at home.
  • Create a Graph - Graphs and charts are great because they communicate information visually. For this reason, graphs are often used in newspapers, magazines and businesses around the world. This site really lets you explore the world of graphs.
  • AAAMath is sorted by subject with hundreds of pages of Basic Math Skills. Interactive Practice on every page. An Explanation of the math topic on each page. Several Challenge Games on every page.
  • MathFlash is Flashcards for drill and practice. (This must be downloaded onto your computer.)
  • National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is one of the best sites out there. It is a library of uniquely interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials, mostly in the form of Java applets, for mathematics instruction with a K-12 emphasis.
  • FunBrain offers many Interactive Elementary Math games, making math fun and entertaining.
Multimedia and Digital Storytelling Tools
  • Voice Thread - Allows you to capture audio for online digital storytelling. Easy to use and a wonderful tool!! The pro version is free to K-12 educators. Take some time to watch the tutorials to be able to take advantage of all the features it has to offer.
  • Photo Story 3 for Windows - Quickly create slide shows or movies from your class photos. Upload your photos in seconds, add music... fun!
  • Animoto - Create fully customized videos of selected images and music almost instantaneously. The web application does all the work once you select your images and audio. This one is so easy your students can make wonderful shows on their own!
  • ScrapBlog - Create online multimedia scrapbooks from your text, video, audio and photos.
  • Flip Books - Create online multimedia scrapbooks from your text and photos.
  • There are sites like Night Light Stories that offers Podcasts (recordings) with tons of great original stories, and all are great for audio comprehension.  The Night light Stories even have comprehension/thinking questions and vocabulary words on the blog accompanying the story. 
  • Literactive provides reading material for pre-school, kindergarten and grade 1 students available online. The program is comprised of carefully leveled guided readers, comprehensive phonic activities and supplemental reading material.
  • PBS Kids has stories read with animations. Designed for young readers and listeners. 
  • To support comprehension, Rewordify.com is powerful, free, online reading comprehension software. It helps people understand difficult English faster, and helps them learn words in new ways. 
  • StoryLineOnLine offers books read on-line by actors. The books rotate so be sure to check back often.
  • BookCrossing is a place to talk about and learn about books people are reading.
  • Starfall is Designed for teaching beginning readers, starting with letter recognition and moving all the way to reading simple books with support. One of the best sites on the Internet!
  • Story Place offers interactive digital stories and activities for pre-school and elementary readers. (Available in English and in Spanish!!)
  • Story Book Maker is a Dr. Suess build your own story then share it site. Great as a writing and reading activity. You can add music, characters, text, background and then play it back.
  • Tar Heel Reader a collection of free, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches. You may write your own books using pictures from the huge collection at Flickr or pictures you upload. Now available to use on the iPad also. 
  • American Sign Language Browser: Videos and descriptive text of thousands of words in American Sign Language are available for reference purposes. QuickTime plug-in is required to view movies.
  • HandSpeak is a subscription website with ALS dictionary, lessons and resources.
Social Stories
  • Whiz Kid Games website has videos using clever animations to illustrate social stories and interactive games that reinforce the concepts presented in the animations. It is important to know that a team in Australia designed this site so some vocabulary may not be familiar (e.g. jumper instead of sweater).
Speech -to-Text
With the below free speech-to-text resources, there is no longer a need to buy specialized software, instead consider:
  • Dragon Dictation App- iPad/iPod - good articulation needed, move student away from noise as much as possible (accuracy ranges 60-70%)

    Windows 7 Voice Recognition - with a USB headset and mic, ranges up to 85%

    Chrome App VoiceNote - easy to use. Use it w/a headset and mic, quite accurate (85%+)
Study Tools
  • Study Shack - Flashcards on the computer. Many already designed in various subjects. If it isn't there, design it yourself and use it with your students tomorrow. Better yet, assign it as homework to study with their parents. Parents will love it!
Switch Use
  • Senswitcher allows you to launch it right online and have fun! cause and effect and a bit beyond. This is a very rich site. 
  • Priory Woods has developed a range of motivating programs to help students develop the skills needed to use these devices in a meaningful way. Switch 'videos' are simple slideshows animations set to music which can be operated by switch or touch-screen. They feature sounds and images from popular music and TV shows and can be used with pupils of all ages.
  • One Switch - Classic arcade games to work with one or two switches.
  • Carbon Lehigh - Go to "Launch Power of Office CD" then to "Fun and Games". Some great PowerPoint books and visuals for switch users. You can save these to your computer.
  • BBC CBeebies - Modified games and stories for Special Needs children using switches.
  • Mesa Public Schools has a great site with direct links to the above and more. This is a great resource.
  • Help Kidz Learn is a site that has free games, coloring activities, stories that are read aloud, and resources/information for parents. The activities can also be accessed with a mouse or through a keyboard, using either just the space bar or the space bar and the "enter" key and offer choices for levels of ability.
  • Fact Monster provides reference tools, curriculum activates and information, homework center.
  • I Know That! - Pre-K -6 grade variety of subjects, tools and activities.
  • 4 Teachers helps to integrate technology into your classroom by offering free online tools and resources. Helps teachers locate and create ready-to-use web lessons, quizzes, rubrics and classroom calendars. Tools for student use also.
  • Ghotit offers unique writing and reading online services for people with dyslexia, dysgraphia or people who are not native-English speakers.
  • BBC Cbeebies is a great site for the little ones. Songs to sing, stories read to you, recipes to cook with Mom and Dad, art activities, fun and games!
  • Scholastic provides various subject matters in all grade levels.
  • Learning Center has activities for parents and teachers to share with young children.
  • Game Aquarium - Oodles and oodles of activities in every subject imaginable. You could get lost for days!
  • Spark Top - Specially designed for Special Ed. Teenager dealing with lots of issues.
  • DLTK - Educational activities for children: alphabet, color, numbers, shapes and more.
  • The Discovery Channel site for kids with games and activities to explore. Many based on their television programing.
  • Cool Links for Kids - You could be here for hours. Sue LeBeau has put together a site with many, many links that will keep you busy for days.
  • Do To Learn - Games, cards, communication card, fine motor, word games, etc.
  • Kids Domain - Links to a wide variety of educational and entertainment games.
Visually Impaired 
  • Hark the Sound is a collection of sound-based games for kids who are visually impaired or blind.
  • SonicZoom is a racing game that is fun for everyone. You can play visually, or you can listen for changes in pitch and spatial position.
  • The Last Crusade is a sound-based role-playing game. It comes with a map maker so that you can make your games.
  • SamiSays allows kids to record their stories with sound effects.
  • Blue Bird is an audio-based track sequencer. You can combine pre-recorded clips of music in various ways to make your own mixes.
  • BATS is a program that displays maps with 3D sound, text-to-speech, sound icons, and tactile display.
Writing with Comic Strips
Looking for a website with comic strip situations where the user creates the captions/cartoon bubble info for each panel? Try these:
  • PikiStrips - Users have the option to pull up photos from their computer or from online. They can then and captions, word bubbles, and icons. Photos can be stretched and colored. You can add wigs, hats and glasses.
  • Make Beliefs Comix! is a  free online comic strip generator that has launched a new Special Needs Section to help educators, educational therapists and parents use the site to enable children with a wide array of disabilities communicate more effectively and express their ideas by creating comic strips online.  
  • ToonDoo - Create your own comic strips, Publish, Share & Discuss.
  • For more animation sites, visit Sam's site which provides a very full listing. 
Other Sites:
A couple of site that have wonderful listings and a great way of organizing them that is worth exploring:
  • Priory Woods has some great interactive programs listed to support early concepts.