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.


Accessing the Curriculum with Physical Challenges

There are many ways that disabilities can affect the ability to perform effectively. Levels of disability and ability are unique to each individual. Most accommodations are simple, creative alternatives for traditional ways of doing things. When a student has physical disabilities, it is important that each student receive instruction based on grade-level content standards while also providing the necessary instructional supports and accommodations that will allow them to demonstrate their knowledge. Making use of assistive technology to reduce the barriers to learning, enhance instruction and provide additional methods for students  to demonstrate knowledge and skills is imperative. 

For students with significant physical impairments that impact movement such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, TBI or paralysis it is important to work with the student’s Physically Impaired Specialist and/or Assistive Technology Specialist to provide assistive technology that will ensure the curriculum is  accessible to the student. Along with removing physical barriers within the school and classroom environment, students with physical impairments will often benefit from using pointing and typing aids, alternative keyboards, touch screens and various low tech strategies.

It is often important to consider providing multiple options for students to demonstrate knowledge and skills while maintaining the learning expectations of the grade-level content standards.  Some students may find it difficult or impossible to manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen or pencil, type at a keyboard, or retrieve documents without accommodations. Examples of accommodations may need to include:
  • the assistance of others for specific tasks
  • adjustable tables
  • having equipment located within reach
  • materials being available in electronic format
  • access to  resources on the Internet (i.e. textbooks) 
  • computers equipped with special devices such as voice input and alternative keyboards 
  • using multimedia such as video, PowerPoint presentations, animations, visual art, photographs and storyboards to expand the opportunities to demonstrate mastery of learning  
  • oral presentation of materials versus written  
  • work in cooperative learning groups on authentic, project-based learning assignments
Getting creative with strategies for demonstrating knowledge is crucial.

Many students may exhibit difficulty with writing, both the physical process of writing and the expression of ideas in a written format. These students may benefit from the use of portable word processors or composition tools that include features such as word prediction, text embedded prompts, auto correction and speech-to-text. 

Things to consider:
  • E-Books and Apps/Programs – There are apps and software programs for accessing digital books, as well as many free e-book and audiobook options. Students can read textbooks for school or books for pleasure through the use of these supports. Apps/Programs can be utilized with accessibility features such as the use of text-to-speech, zoom/magnification, highlighting (to help keep your eyes in place), provide definitions (limiting the need for a dictionary), annotations, larger text, etc. There are apps/programs to support all subjects of learning and instruction as well as support for literacy, communication, mobility (GPS), studying, organization and time management, reminders, scheduling, etc. 
  • Computer Access and Instruction: Accessing a computer or tablet and using a mouse can prove to be a complicated task, but with today's advancements, persons with disabilities are faced with various options to assist them with computer/tablet access difficulties. A variety of technology solutions are available to adapt technology for students with disabilities. Some  technology to support access offers a method of input other than the standard computer keyboard, mouse or stylus. Other computer adaptations include software and hardware that modifies the visual and sound output from the computer. 
  • Augmentative Alternative Communication is another area of need by some students with physical challenges. There are various posts on this blog discussing AAC. This is such a large area to discuss, it is best to look at the other posts if AAC information is needed. 
A Technology Specialist can help you to find the best tools for each student's specific needs.  

Providing students with access to tools that will help them to succeed will encourage ownership for learning. Students who have access to appropriate assistive technology solutions are more likely to be successful in their educational programs and in life after school as use of assistive technology is one way that allows students greater access and independence. 

See Pinterest board, "AT for Students with Physical Needs" for ideas on specific tools.