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.


Low Tech Organization Strategies and Tools

Assistive Technology (AT) is any item or piece of equipment that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life, including at school, at work, at home and in the community. Assistive Technology ranges from low tech to high tech devices or equipment.

Low tech AT are devices or equipment that doesn't require much training, may be less expensive and do not have complex or mechanical features. We often forget about low tech and the strategies that support their use. (After all, they are common and not usually technology! Easy to forget that they count as AT.)

Assistive technology (AT) tools can help a person plan, organize, and keep track of a calendar, schedule, task list, contact information, and miscellaneous notes. These tools allow a person to manage, store, and retrieve such information with the help of special software and handheld devices.

As adults, when we need to learn something new, we have tools with us. When we go to a conference, attend a webinar or go to an important training or meeting, we take "stuff". We come prepared. How did we learn to do this? How did we figure out the types of goodies that served us best? Were they introduced formally? Were they made available to us at one of these events? Was it a friend or colleague that was using it and we noticed/asked them about it? Did we see other people using something and think, "Hmmmmm, that looks handy!"

Shouldn't we consider introducing these goodies by making them available for our students? Is it that we are so used to using them that we don't think about it? Are we worried about the cost? Are we concerned that they might waste them? Let's reconsider!

Organizational skills challenge many students in and out of special education. Students often have problems keeping track of assignments or long-term projects, finding and storing papers, keeping their desks and backpacks organized; making their work readable and organized, prioritizing the importance of tasks, and remembering the sequence of steps in order to complete a task.

Consider: What goodies do you use and how do you use them?
  • Post-its 
  • Highlighters  
  • Colored pens
Modeling is so powerful. When we use them, maybe a little running dialog as we are taught, "I think I will just put a Post-it here with a note to remind myself to revisit this section later."

What about:
Do we have these available for our students?

Why not have a basket of various supplies available to our students at all times? Get this stuff out of your tidy little drawer and let your students explore. Let them waste a few (don't tell me you never have!) Let them figure out their own style, techniques and approaches! Then teach them some tricks of the trade.

Just to get your juices flowing, let's consider what a teacher does with Post-it dots.
  • In a textbook, ask the student who struggles with writing
    • To demonstrate their knowledge by placing a yellow dot next to each main idea. 
    • Place a colored dot next to each question at the end of the chapter. Ask the student to place the coordinating color by the answer in the chapter. 

    • Instead of writing down the answers to the questions at the end of the chapter, have the student place coordinating colored dots next to the question and the answer to the question.  (i.e., red dot next to number 1 in the question section, red dot next to the answer or area where they are discussing number 1 in the chapter.)
  • For the child who struggles with reading
    • Color coding the dot next to the question at the end of the chapter, place a dot next to the area where they will find the answer to each question. 
    • Place dots next to the paragraphs that have important information so they know to read that section.
For our students with memory challenges, teach them to jot down the important points. This video demonstrates this technique:

Have students use a Post-it when they have a question. As you monitor the room, look for the Post-it that is placed in the upper right corner of their desk letting you know they need help. You could even color code them for what type of help they may need. (green: when you have a chance, pink: I can't move on until we talk, etc.)

Some of our students want to share every ah-ha moment. When given a highlighter, some students don't know what to highlight or they may highlight too much. Teach students strategies for highlighting or note taking by using this close reading approach:

This posting is meant to help you start thinking as sometimes we forget the simplest of strategies. 

What are the Tasks that low tech can support?
  • reading
  • writing
  • spelling / grammar
  • communication
  • worksheet completion
  • math
  • mapping
  • note-taking
  • organization / planning
  • learning another language
What are some of the Low Tech Tools we should consider?
  • specialized pens / pencils / crayons / markers / grips
  • specialized erasers, correction tapes
  • Raised line paper, grid paper, colored paper
  • highlighters, highlighter tapes
  • color coding
  • Post-It notes, flags, arrows
  • colored filters, page overlays (clear acetate sheets)
  • NCR paper
  • reading / writing guides
  • Slanted surfaces, Dycem, copy holder
  • white board, markers, crayons
  • Magnetic letters, tactile letters
  • magnifiers
  • rubber stamps, labels
  • specialized measuring and cutting tools
When is it considered AT? 
When we find this tool makes a big impact in their abilities. What should we do with the information, make sure the student is aware of how much it helps them. Teach them to be their own advocate. Next, put it in the student's IEP so that the next teacher knows the importance of having the supplies on hand. Teach a student, teach a teacher. 

  • A wonderful resource for Low Tech AT is Onion Mountain Technology. Not only can you buy products from them, but they have wonderful resources to explore. Another great source is the Therapy Shoppe.
  • Tablets and smart phones can be wonderful tools for supporting organization and providing study supports. To learn about the apps available to support students in this area, explore Apps for Students With LD: Organization and Study.
    A great source for ideas with links is the Study Skills section of the UDL Toolbox.