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.


Adapted Physical Education and Assistive Technology


Adapted Physical Education - Physical education services are available to all students eligible for special education services.  Adapted Physical Education (APE) is a part of the comprehensive program offered through special education services. APE services strive to provide students with disabilities an opportunity to develop skills through a variety of exercise, sport and leisure activities that will serve them through life.  The IEP team makes referrals for evaluations and services provided by the Adapted Physical Education Specialists.

Assistive Technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

When considering assistive technology the question is not what technologies are available to my child or student. The question is "what specific task is the child being asked to do that he or she is having difficulty completing without assistive technology?"  Assistive Technology is not a cure but a support to the student to achieve the tasks and goals of the IEP.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) allows students with limited or no speech to be able to express themselves in all environments throughout their day.  These can range from low tech to high tech devices.

Roles of Adapted Physical Education (APE) Specialists:

  • To support students with disabilities in physical activity settings (General PE, Specially Designed PE, or Adapted PE)
  • To collaborate with staff providing physical education to students with disabilities to increase inclusion
  • To assist in modifying curriculum to increase access and inclusion
  • To provide assisted devices (i.e. adapted equipment) to increase access to GPE

Benefits of using AT and AAC in activity settings:
By incorporating and implementing the use of AT and/or AAC within physical education environment students with and without disabilities and staff will benefit from:

  • Increased access to curriculum and peers
  • Increased socialization, interaction and acceptance for students
  • Increased communication of needs and wants within GPE setting
  • Increased engagement in physical education

In order to promote a fully inclusive physical activity setting, all individuals must have access to the environment, equipment, curriculum and peers.  Assistive technology (AT) and Augmentative Alternative Communication often help to (AAC) allow for full inclusion to occur.  

Dr. Tim Davis, associate professor of adapted physical education (APE) at SUNY/Cortland and APENS chairman, shares: “Individualized education is the crux of what APE teachers are trying to achieve. AT makes individualization so much easier, so appropriate and so exciting.” APE teachers, he claims, clearly have a positive impact on children. “Kids with disabilities need us. They have a higher propensity toward obesity and often live sedentary lifestyles. Adapted physical education professionals can see what devices the child is using in order to level the playing field and to participate equally with non-disabled peers. Our training provides us with the creativity to draw the child and his AT support into a dynamic new setting: physical education.”

By the same token, he continues, “well-read, well-trained adapted physical education professionals are aware of modified equipment that falls under the broad definition of AT, equipment that might enable a child to learn, for example, how to ride his specialized bike, in order to recreate on a daily basis.” The child may not have gotten that opportunity if an adapted physical education professional had not been involved in the process, he asserts.

“So much of what we do in the area of homemade modified equipment falls under the definition of assistive technology,” he remarks. Adapted physical educators like Pennsylvania’s Beverly Martin, he notes, have an extensive knowledge of sophisticated AT and AT that is, or can be, homemade. “Effective adapted physical educators look at the functional capabilities of the child – the ability, not necessarily the disability.”

For more, go to: Adapted Physical Education & AT: To Play or Not to Play

What does AT in APE look like?
A simple example is a bowling ramp. Students are placed near the ramp, and can roll the ball down it onto the lane. A child who can’t grasp a bowling ball might be able to nudge one down the ramp. (Watch this little video: http://www.pisp.ca/video/video_pemod.html)

AT comes in 3 categories:

  1. Low Tech - Assisted devices or equipment that needs no batteries to operate. Examples include Bowling ramp, Velcro handles, Larger volleyball, Bright colored equipment, Bell balls/Jingle Trainers, Lower basketball hoop, Guide rope, PEC’s (Picture Exchange Communication), Picture icon book, Picture schedule, Object schedule, 1-Step Switch
  2. Mid Tech - Assisted devices or equipment that needs batteries to operate and may or may not need some training to utilize. Examples include Laser pointer, Beep box, Beep ball, Talking pedometer/watch, Toys to knock over pins, Manual wheelchair, Multi-step/level switch, Switches that talk, Switches that activate objects
  3. High Tech - Assisted devices or equipment that are electronic in nature, have multi-step processes to utilize them and may or may not need specialized training to utilize them. Examples include Beep baseball kit, Hand crank bikes, High tech prosthesis, Wii gaming system, Power wheelchair, Sport specific wheelchair, Voice output communication devices, Computers/laptops/tablets, FM System

Examples of how to incorporate AT and AAC to create inclusive and accessible physical education environments

Case Study: Joe is a 7th grader enrolled in a coed GPE class with 32 grade level peers and has a paraprofessional to assist him.  Joey has Spastic Cerebral Palsy, uses a power wheelchair for mobility, and has an unintelligible speech pattern.

Regulation net Regulation ball and racket 
Regulation court 
Typical Rules 
Typical amount of players/roles 
Joe  participates in warm ups and practices striking the ball with a foam paddle to his parapro during the 3 week unit

None usedHas a voice output device but leaves it in classroom during GPE
Lowered net or line for a net
Peer assistance
2 bounce rule
Can catch then hit ball over line/net
Can serve closer to net (with hand or racket)
No service court
Underhand serves only
Allow all students to choose the equipment they think would allow them the most success (low tech AT)
LOW TECHLarger, low bounce foam balls
Velcro handle and glove
Lighter racket
Holds up a red flag for balls hit out of bounds when his team is in charge of refereeing

MID TECHHelps clean up tennis balls with a tennis ball collectorUses his AAC device to call side-out for each team as he plays with his team

HIGH TECHUses a tennis serving machine to serve
Uses Wii Tennis to practice timing of swing
Leads warm ups with pre-programmed exercises in AAC device

Example of low tech communication supports for attaching onto a belt-loop, walker or wheelchair to have available when outside and/or during play.

Apps to Encourage Movement in students with Physical Disabilities (Original collection by Kathy White, adapted and added to on this blog): 
  • iAnalyze - Allows for video clips frame by frame, annotate over the top, can record and save to library.
  • Blurb - A video editing program. 
  • Bubble Level or Stanley Level - Keep your iPad level by watching the bubble  and moving.
  • Crows Comina - Move your body game where you are a scarecrow.
  • Egg and Spoon Race - Just like the old egg and spoon race, keep your iPad level.
  • Eye Jumper HD - Uses face detection to keep your sea creature safe.
  • Fast Cam - Takes pictures like a sport camera. Use to look at a students playing pattern (i.e. baseball swing) or other pattern of movement.
  • Funny Motion - Insert a picture transform this into a video of a disco king, belly dancer and more. Get kids to move the way the picture moves.
  • Metronomes - Walk, skip or move to the beat of the metronomes.
  • Motion Doctor - Tool for showing (videos built in) exercise in narrative form and video.
  • Pod Flux - Jab, poke or head-butt bubbles
  • Slow Motion Player - Record a sound and move, tilt the iPad to change the speed and or pitch of the crazy sound.
  • Sports Motion Analyzer - Allows for video clips frame by frame, annotate over the top, can record and save to library.
  • 4Time - Use to count down reps, add intervals of rest, tap the screen to count reps, has a results button, customize a work out.

Adapted Physical Education and AT: To Play or Not to Play.  July 2007 FCTD Newsletter, Issue 64
She Makes Phys Ed Special for Students by Maureen Byko-Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  March 4, 2007.    
Inservice and Training: Gym Activities for Everyone

Family Center on Technology and Disability.   
Anchorage School District Website
Achievable Concepts
PE Central