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.


Interactive Whiteboards with Special Needs

I love the use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom! The Council for Exception Children states, "Whiteboards Engage Autistic Students in Social Learning - Although touchscreen tablets work well as personalized tools, they cannot be a replacement for interactive whiteboards, which help autistic students with social learning in a group setting." I feel this is not only true for children on the spectrum but for all students when it comes to learning to work together!

When hooked up to a computer, the whiteboard's screen becomes an active computer desktop, which can be touched to pull down menus, highlight, and move or open files. Users can circle relevant sections on the projected image, draw figures, and underline text. Special needs students can often manipulate the whiteboard with more ease than a traditional computer/mouse set-up. With Ablenet's Jelly Beamer and receiver you can pair as many beamers to one receiver as you want making the whiteboard now accessible with switches

The large fonts and bright colors might be helpful for both visually impaired students and those who have trouble staying on task, while students who respond well to kinesthetic learning will benefit from touching the board. Instructional best practices for students with disabilities and special needs include employing those multisensory methods and relevance to teaching. Integrating visual, auditory, touch and movement into the learning environment gives teachers the interactivity needed to provide engaging lessons.  

Lessons can be completed by using sounds, videos and images that are much more interactive and engaging. Allowing your students to and move and become a part of the visual information allows them to be more active in their learning.

Multi-sensory tools, such as the interactive whiteboard, allow students to attend through visual, auditory and tactile means bringing in much more focus all around.  Students are engaged in what they’re learning, rather than just watching and it brings in all of their learning styles. 

Some added tools to consider when using the whiteboards:
  • highlighter
  • curtain
  • spotlight tools  
  • various font options
  • magnifier tool  
  • freehand shape and freehand text tools reinforce fine motor skill development for those with a dexterity disability 
  • note taking for review of key concepts
  • recorded assignments that can be used to review lesson content and be saved, printed and taken home for additional reinforcement
  • Audio or video supplements make information more accessible for emerging readers and ELL students
  • Copies of board work and student/teacher notes can be captured and shared across the classroom or taken home for additional practice and review
Research has proven that interactive whiteboard use raises awareness in children with special needs and helps them to socialize better with their teachers and peers in class. 
Interactive whiteboards brings in 
  • group learning
  • working together
  • collaboration
  • turn taking
Some sites to help get you started: 
  • Smart Inclusion is a Wiki site full of resources. This is listed first as I find this site to be so rich and worth exploring. 
  • Promethean Planet offers lesson plans broken down into ages and subjects.  Be sure to check out their special education section. 
  • BGfL is a site full of information and resources but you might want to spend some time in the section designed for interactive whiteboards.   
  • Crickweb offers free educational interactive resources for elementary schools, free to use fun games for kids plus links to free interactive, image and software resources.
  • Global Classroom's Interactive resources is jammed packed of links, categorized by subject and age. You can spend days, months on this site and its links alone.
  • Designed for safe Internet use with children, Kent ICT provides a rich website full of resources perfect for use on the big screen. 
  • LearnZillion offers 2,000+  lessons by top teachers - all built from the Common Core State Standards.
  • The Literacy Center Education Network delivers free, professionally-designed, education material appropriate for our children who need clean, clear materials. 
  • Mrs. Gebauer's Smartboard Resources is laid out in a very friendly way so that it is easy to find what you need.  Very rich site with just about everything one could need.
  • NASA has various interactive sites worth exploring. 
  • NeoK-12 offers videos, lessons and games for K-12.
  • Smart Notebook Express allows you to view, interact and save with Smart Notebook files online, at no cost. Free!!! This program can be downloaded right to your computer for easy access. One click on express.smarttech.com and anyone, anywhere can open, edit and share lessons and other content created using SMART Notebook collaborative learning software. This lightweight version of SMART Notebook software is accessible online anytime at no charge. With the SMART Notebook Express web application, you don’t need to log in and there’s no software to download - all you need is Internet access.
  • South Carolina Department of Education has a PDF booklet designed specifically for the use of Interactive Whiteboards with special needs students. You will find it to be rich in visuals, accessories discussion, how-to guide, websites, and more. A must!!
  • Sites to Support Students with Special Needs, on this blog, offers many sites perfect for using with the full class. Look for activities that are rich in visuals, require responses and encourage participation. 
  • A resources that talks centers around inclusion  and the use of an Interactive Whiteboard SMARTInclusion provides many helpful hints, links and information worth getting lost in.  
  • Marilyn Western's site: Stuff for Classroom Teachers, is jammed full of Internet resources, not with highlights in each section on "Smartboard Activities". Be sure to explore this site.  
Adapting Access:

1. Switch use
  • A little step-by-step video tutorial to help you visualize this approach: 
  • Classroom Suite and Boardmaker Plus! or Studio are perfect programs to use with Interactive Whiteboards. By using Classroom Suite and Boardmaker Plus! or Studio you then have access to their activities from their exchange sites. Using these programs also makes it easy to hook in your switch users to allow them to participate more fully.  Mayer-Johnson and Don Johnson both carry a  number of titles with switch access so you might want to shop their sites. (Be sure to use their sites that offer shared activities! See individual blog entries on both for more information.)
  • There are also plenty of switch sites on-line (see posting on Switches - Internet Activities). Then use a switch interface attached to the teacher's computer and position the student close to that computer with their switch or (the best approach would be) invest in a wireless switch to attach to the switch interface. 
2. iPad (usually presented as a teacher tool but can be turned around as a student access tool.)

  • SplashTop app allows students to turn their iPad into an interactive whiteboard. Once connected to the computer over Wifi, they can watch Flash media with fully synchronized video and audio, control favorite applications all from an iPad.
  • Doceri is an iPad interactive whiteboard and screencast recorder with sophisticated tools for hand-drawn graphics and remote desktop control.
A few favorite sites used by Special Education Teachers:
  • Boardmaker Online Community provides activities developed by others. You must have a Boardmaker with interactive capabilities to use this on a whiteboard.
  • BrainPop animated educational site broken into subject matter topics offers a free trial (also explore BrainPop Junior)
  • Edheads is an online educational resource that provides free science and math games and activities that promote critical thinking. Choose from Simple Machines, Virtual Knee Surgery or Stem Cell Heart Repair, among others. All activities meet state and national standards.
  • Flocabulary - The week in Rap!
  • Literactive provides you with stories, activities and other learning to read activities.  
  • News-2-You is Connecting students to the world. Each week, students connect with the world through symbol-supported news articles and dozens of worksheets, games, and activities. News‐2‐You stands alone as the national newspaper for special education.
  • Sheppard Software for use with younger students 
  • SMART Exchange is not geared specifically for special education but is full of useful resources for all students.
  • StarFall reading program
  • Thinkfinity has an interactive classroom section. You can refine your search by grade level and subject matter. This is a search tool that will direct you to great sites elsewhere.
  • Topmarks has an Interactive Whiteboard section: teaching resources, homework help and educational websites for use in the classroom.
  • TumbleBooks - which is a site full of wonderful ebooks for kids (Some free, some with subscription only.) 
Blogs to Explore more:
Vizzle (which is not a free program but well worth purchasing if your budget allows) is a means by which special educators can share and create evidence-based interactive visual lessons. It is a web-based service that gives users access to thousands or peer-reviewed lessons. These lessons are easily customizable to meet your own needs and enable you to add your own media. There are a number of templates available for creating your own lessons including matching boards, book-building, games, schedules and various boards. If you need a program that will help you to gather data_ this is the program for you! Vizzle lessons are perfect for interactive whiteboards. There is a free trial option offered that is worth trying out. (Vizzle staff are willing to come out and share their program and to provide training if you decide to purchase!)

When shopping, be sure to explore the TAP-it or Promethean's ActivTable before purchasing your interactive whiteboard as they can be a perfect classroom tool if you have students with physical impairments or autism. This interactive monitor screen has the ability to change positions (up, down, tilt to any angle) so that ALL students can access it either with direct touch or by using any type of pointer. It will distinguish between intentional versus unintentional touch, allowing students to lean on, rest or balance themselves on the board while using it without disrupting the purposeful touch.  It will even withstand hard blows and the all mighty drool factor. No additional wall space is needed as it can be easily moved and used wherever you need it at that particular time. These devices provide a very unique ability to be used with individual students, small group or full classes.

You have been told that, "we can't afford to get a whiteboard," then use about $50 of your classroom budget and build your own! This TED talk will provide you with the basics.  A Google search provided me with many more resources. This how to is in video and in print. 

A great article to read: Taking the screech out of chalk

An outstanding resource is Interactive White Boards in the Special Needs Classroom Mar 18, 2010 - The interactive electronic whiteboard is great ... Accommodating learners with special needs. • Students do not need to be able to use all the features .... Alliance for Technology Access (ATA. It provides resources and links worth knowing about. 

The interactive whiteboards are great in a special education setting and in a general education setting! “Sadly, students with special needs often become isolated from their peers,” says Lisa DeRoy, education advocate. “Mainstream teachers are also special needs teachers. They have a classroom with a smorgasbord of student needs they have to accommodate.” McClaskey believes that the iPad works well as a personal tool but that it doesn’t further the fundamental goals of learning in a group as whiteboards do. “Kids develop a respect for each other,” says Kathleen McClaskey, president of EdTech Associates and a member at large of ISTE SETSIG, a special interest group on special education technology. “They take turns and increase their attention span by nearly an hour through the visual components.”