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.


Methods and Materials to Support Handwriting

For the Mechanics of Writing

Handwriting is a complex skill involving visual perceptual, neuromuscular, and motor components. The labor-intensive motor aspect of writing includes: holding the writing utensil; stabilizing the paper; visually guiding the hand; moving the writing utensil along the paper; visual recall of the letter; kinesthetic memory of letter formation; and word formation and writing and re-writing as part of the editing process. These all make writing one of the most difficult and complex skills acquired by students.

The use of word processing with word prediction improves the legibility and spelling of written assignments completed by some children. Keyboarding has been found to have only low to moderate correlation with handwriting performance, suggesting that they require distinctly different skills. 

Research Center - Center for Implementing Technology in Education : Technology to Support Writing states that:
"Technology—and especially the subset of technology tools known as assistive technology—can be an effective, if not necessary, element of the writing curriculum for students with disabilities. Assistive technology (AT) can be defined as a technology (including the training and support to use it) that allows someone to accomplish a critical educational or life task. Since writing is so integral to school success, AT is often indicated to assist students with disabilities."

Breaking handwriting supports down into 3 categories: no tech, low tech and high tech

No Tech/ Low Tech Options:
  • Enlarged worksheets or worksheet sections cut, separated and recopied
  • Writing on every other line to increase legibility
  • Allow single word, short answers, sentence fragments
  • Provide extra time on assignments
  • Double grade papers: content and presentation
  • Pencils of various widths
  • Pencils with softer lead
  • Pens with different grips
  • Use Wikki Stix to help keep writing within a designated space
  • Clipboards
  • Slant boards
  • Correction fluid pens
  • Limited strategic use of oral dictation and reporting to demonstrate mastery of content
High Tech Options:
  • Accessibility options in computer control panels to adjust repeat rates, mouse speed, assist with double click or click and drag, enlarge the cursor or change display options (available in both platforms: Apple/Windows)
  • Document templates to set background color, font, bold text, text size and spacing features
  • Keyboard shortcuts for (e.g., F7 to check spelling) (For Apple/Windows)
  • Software with word banks to structure simple sentence construction
  • Worksheets scanned into text files
  • Allow alternate methods for reporting and making presentations
Richard Wanderman offers Tips on Writing for People with Learning Disabilities which suggests that:

Electronic editing changes the writing process by separating the composition of ideas from printing the ideas on paper with ink. With a computer as a writing tool
  • Handwriting problems disappear.
  • Proofreading is easier because text is more legible.
  • Students experience less frustration with the tool's limitations.
  • Complete re-writes are unnecessary.
  • Students produce less cramped vocabulary (and thinking) based on fear of making mistakes.
  • Spelling and mechanics can be de-emphasized and moved to the end of the writing process.
  • Organization can be dealt with easily by cutting and pasting and/or using outlining programs.
Teachers may find that many of the "special" features, designed with disabilities in mind, often promote enhanced writing in all of their student (a perfect example of Universal Design for Learning.)