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.


Assistive Technology and Early Start

The Early Start Program is California's response to federal legislation ensuring that early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families are provided in a coordinated, family-centered system of services that are available statewide.

Infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months may be eligible for early intervention services if through documented evaluation and assessment they meet one of the criteria listed below:
  1. have a developmental delay in either cognitive, communication, social or emotional, adaptive, or physical and motor development including vision and hearing and are under 24 months of age at the time of referral, with a 33% delay in one or more areas of development or are 24 months of age or older at the time of referral, with a 50% delay in one area of development or a 33% delay in two or more areas of development; or
  2. have an established risk condition of known etiology, with a high probability of resulting in delayed development.
Based on the child's assessed developmental needs and the families concerns and priorities as determined by each child's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team, early intervention services may include assistive technology.
The continuum of assistive technology solutions range from low/no tech, to mid tech and high tech. It is usually always best to begin with low tech solutions. These solutions are more readily available, simpler to use, and more easily accepted by the child, family, school team, and the child’s peers. Even simple adaptations to toys and books that increase a child’s independent participation can increase self esteem by giving them a sense of control over their environment and feeling of success. Families also benefit from seeing their child’s strengths and the increased opportunities for interactive play. Increased peer interaction and facilitation of a child’s development are also benefits of increased independent participation.

It is important to remember that:
  • There are no prerequisite skills are needed for assistive technology. The goal should be to identify the child's current method and build on it.
  • Assistive technology gives children control. You shouldn't wait until a child cannot do something before introducing assistive technology. Instead, introduce technology early as a way to have a child actively participate in daily routines, using switches, toys and communication strategies as "typical toys." This active role changes the way they view themselves and the way others view them.
  • It is good to involve the families in the delivery of assistive technology from the very beginning. Input from family members is vital, and their expertise should be part of the process.
  • A team approach is required to implement assistive technology, and should include all pertinent persons involved with the child.
  • We all use a variety of methods to communicate. Since different methods work in different environments, it is important from the very beginning to use a full range of options with children from low tech to high tech. The technology should match the child's needs and the communication requirements of the environment.
Low/No Tech Solutions:
  • Create slant boards/book stabilizers by gluing low pile carpet to a large 3 ring binder, and use Velcro to anchor books to the carpeted surface. 
  • Adapt commercially available lap trays to use as supports for positioning books.
  • Easel, rain gutter or chalkboard tray used as a book support. 
  • Recycled materials like sheet packing foam, chip clips, large paper clips, sticky back foam, hot glue dots or soft Velcro can be attached to book page corners to “fluff” pages apart for easier turning. (See Page Fluffing 101) 
  • Large heavy duty hair tie loops can be hot glued or taped to create handles on chubby book pages or popup book pages.
  • Scan or copy book pages to enlarge or place in more user friendly format such as 3 ring binders with page protectors, laminate, or photo albums.
  • Enhance copied book pages with communication symbols, textures or homemade 3-D props, use Velcro to attach props, symbols or textures to story boards or book pages. 
  • Commercially available books that are enlarged or come with 3-D props can be found at www.lakeshorelearning.com or Constructive Playthings www.constplay.com
  • Add pictures or symbols to text to enhance story meaning.
  • Create ways to store books in open baskets with props to increase ease of independent access and choice.
  • Pool noodles can be used to position the child during play and reading activities.
Mid Tech Solutions:
High Tech Solutions:
  • Create simple single switch or mouse click access stories using Microsoft PowerPoint 
  • Create your own books using My Own BookShelf which is an authoring program that allows you to create books, and categorize them into bookshelves. Children can pick their books from the bookshelf and read using a variety of access devices.
  • There are many free books available to play and view on line. Some examples are www.storyplace.org, Mighty Books,  or www.starfall.com.
As you can see there are many low cost simple solutions available to adapt learning and play environments for children with disabilities. A continuum of strategies should be made available and customized according to a child’s needs. As teams increased knowledge and awareness of tools available as well as a focused problem solving approach ensures access to literacy related activities for all children.

  • AbleNet, Inc - Switches, environmental controls, battery adapters, and light tech voice output devices
  • Adaptivation - Switches, environmental controls, battery adapters, and light tech voice output devices
  • Constructive Play Things - School supplies that often have features that can be helpful to young children with disabilities 
  • Creative Communicating  - Early childhood software with emphasis on emergent literacy, classroom support materials, resource books and videos, workshops.
  • Don Johnston, Inc. – Switches, computer interfaces, software from early literacy to learning disabilities, resource books.
  • Lakeshore - School supplies that often have features that can be helpful to young children with disabilities such as paint stamps with large handles or paint mitts, book props.
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools is a great preschool resource: 
    The Success with Assistive Technology program supports Pre-K SPED teachers and school support personnel in their endeavors to provide assistive technology (AT) solutions to young children with disabilities and their families.  
  • PennState has a perfect resource  with research behind the use of technology for developing language skills in kids with disabilities. 
Further Resources:

iPads and Apps:  iPads are wonderful in that they are bold, colorful, simple to access and provide may apps for a wide variety of needs and interests.

Check out the website: Babies with iPads 
This blog is designed to document infants/toddlers with disabilities using an iPad to promote their development. I hope to show how this new technology can help children with disabilities develop their communication, play, pre-literacy, cognitive, visual/auditor.

Also, read this mom's experiences with her son and using the iPad. Great ideas! "Learning Play Skills with the iPad: A Guest Post by Wonderbaby's Amber Bobnar"

Apps4Stages takes a research-based approach. The recommendations and information gathered is facilitated by the students and faculty of the Simmons College Assistive Technology and Master of Arts in Teaching Graduate Programs. Specific apps recommendations and tutorials are primarily contributed by students who are supervised. This is a very rich site with apps aligned with stages, tutorials, an app recommendation wheel, and providing a list of sites that specialize in specific types of apps in education. A very rich site!  

Assistive Technology for Infants and Toddlers, provided by the Idaho Assistive Technology Project, handbook provides information about assistive technology, home modifications, and service options available to the very young, who have physical, cognitive, social and/or emotional, or adaptive disabilities. It states a handbook for parents and caregivers but is great for anyone working with this age group.