Assistive Technology Benefits for Students With Disabilities

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  • Technology Briefs

    Assist ive Technology Benefits

    hile special educators have used assistive technology W for some time, recent legislation has brought this technology into the mainstream classroom. Public Law 94- 142 and the Americans with Disabilities Act have given strength to efforts to adapt technology so that all students have equal access to educational opportunity. In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA) reinforced the recognition that assistive technology devices can help disabled students meaningfully participate in educational opportunities. The movement toward inclu- sive classrooms has facilitated development of less expen- sive and more versatile assistive devices.2

    Federal legislation defines an assistive technology device as 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 children with disabilities. These devices may include such low-tech devices as pencil grips, picture boards, taped instructions, and workbooks, or high- tech devices such as alternative keyboards, listening aids, speech-synthesis devices, voice recognition systems, data managers, talking calculators, variable speed tape recorders, and optical character recognition systems. Figure I lists a few of these devices and their distributors.

    Types of Assistive Technology The types of assistive technology devices available

    include: Computers and software. These devices include inter-

    active instructional formats, simulation approaches, and educational games. These devices enable drill and practice sessions, teach problem solving skills through simulation, assist in speech or communication, facilitate physical movement and mobility, and increase motivation and atten- tion levels.

    Peripheral devices. These devices which include adapted joysticks, enlarged keyboards, and touch screens, simplify information input and output for students with severe disabilities. Keyboard emulators allow students to input from devices other than a keyboard. Touch sensitive screens or tablets allow input to a computer by the touch of a finger or stylus. Screen magnification or zooming and tracking features can assist students who have difficulty using a standard monitor.

    Compiled by Steve M. Dorman, PhD, MPH, FASHA, Assistant Editor for Technology, Journal of School Health, Depr. of Health Science Education. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 3261 I - 8210.

    for Students With Disabilities

    Switches. These devices allow students with movement difficulties and disorders to activate computers or other appliances through simple motions. Students may control the switches by controlling breathing (sip-and-puff devices), muscle tension, head movement or with voice activation.

    Electronic communication devices. Augmentive and alternative communication (AAC) devices feature assistive technology devices that assist in the area of communica- tion. AAC devices are used to supplement or replace exist- ing verbal communication in students with communication difficulties. Electronic communication boards or speech synthesizers yield speech output in the form of synthesized speech which is a reproduction of the human voice. Text- to-speech devices allow the student to input the data in text form and output it in speech form.

    Assistive devices have two major purposes. Some assis- tive devices are compensatory in nature. A compensatory device helps the learner to perform a specific task using the assistive technology. Other assistive devices are remedial in approach, and serve to improve deficiency areas of the learner.4

    Contributions of Assistive Technology Assistive technology can contribute to the learning of

    students with disabilities in several ways? Generalizing. Slow learners may have difficulty in

    generalizing. Because of frequent failure, students may be too impatient to pull concepts together, learning only bits and pieces of information. Technology can help these students transfer knowledge from one learning experience to another, for example, from speech sounds to written symbols.

    Sequential skill building. Technology can offer the disabled learner sequential drills and practice to decrease the difficulty these students may have in orienting to learn- ing. Large tasks can be broken into a sequence of compo- nent skills. The learner may branch to the specific location in a software program where they need help, omit areas they have learned, and take remedial or reinforcing practice sessions.

    Control over the environment. Disabled learners, overwhelmed by the fast pace of learning, may find assis- tive technology allows them to gain a sense of personal control by giving a student the option to self-pace through the educational experience. This option fosters greater inde- pendence in the students and relieves anxiety imposed by their disability. In addition, students who gain competency with technology, experience heightened self-esteem as

    120 Journal of School Health March 1998, Vol. 68, No. 3

  • Figure 1 Examples of Assistive Devices

    Utility Distributors Adaptive devices and software improve

    Feature Keytime (Seattle, WA) Keyboard Adaptations

    Touch Screens

    Input Devices

    Braille Embossers

    Text Magnifier

    Voice Recognition Systems

    Closed Captioning

    Speech Output Devices

    use of the keyboard.

    Students interact with the computer by touching a screen rather than working with a keyboard.

    Students with severely limited physical abilities are provided with alternatives for controlling computers.

    Output devices generate Braille rather than text.

    Text is magnified on computer screen for students with vision difficulties.

    2061522-8973 IntelliTools (Novato, CA)

    Microsystems (Framingham, MA)


    5081626-851 5

    Keytee (Richardson, TX)

    Troll Touch (Valencia, CA) 8001624-4289

    8001201 - 1 1 60

    Don Johnsotnn, Inc. (Wauconda, IL)

    Mclntyre Computer Systems (Birmingham, MI)

    Prentke Romich Co. (Wooster, OH)

    Wacom (Vancouver, WA)

    8001999 -4660


    8001262- 1984


    Duxbury Systems (Littleton, MA)

    Humanware, Inc. (Loomis, CA)


    91 61652-7253

    New Concepts Marketing (Port Richey, FL)

    Berkeley Access (Berkeley, CA)



    Students control computer through voice inputs. Dragon Dictate Peter Cohen Associates (Palm Beach, FL) 5081655-771 1

    Students with hearing disabilities can comprehend television and movies.

    Students unable to speak are provided with a voice.

    International Computers (Wauwatosa, WI)

    Ultimate Learning Technology (Peabody, MA)

    41 4/764-9000


    Sentient Systems (Pittsburgh, PA) 8001344- 1778

    Journal of School Health March 1998, Vol. 68, No. 3 121

  • they are able to complete a task previously unable to accomplish.4

    Continuous and efticient feedback. Feedback, correc- tion of simple errors, and the reward of achievement of goals are essential for learning and skill building. Disabled students in inclusive classrooms may not receive the imme- diate feedback from a teacher who is trying to provide feed- back for all students in a class. Assistive technology can provide immediate and continual feedback students desire and which facilitates learning.

    Multisensory approach to learning. Assistive technol- ogy allows the student with disabilities to include more senses in the learning process than might otherwise be used. For example, students with limited physical mobility may participate in kinesthetic learning experiences by making people and objects in a computer program move about. Children with limited communication skills may assemble reports with software requiring little reading.

    Barriers exist to integrating assistive technology into the classroom. Teachers are not always willing, able, or comfortable with modifying their instructional strategies to accommodate students with disabilities.b Perhaps related, some assistive devices are complex and may require the instructor to learn specialized software to operate. Additionally, while assistive devices are becoming more readily available, schools, teachers, and parents previously have had difficulty in securing the appropriate technologic device^.^

    Purchase Guidelines When schools and teachers evaluate the purchase of

    assistive technology, Semelfort has identified six guide- lines to consider:

    Assemble a technology evaluation team. A team consisting of the student, teachers, parents, and appropriate professionals should assess the students strengths and weaknesses, deciding which assistive devices will have the greatest impact on the students social and academic life.

    Consider input from the user (student). The student with the disability will benefit most directly from use of assistive technology equipment and should have a prime input into evaluation of potential assistive devices.

    Consider the family of the disabled student. The primary care giver of the disabled student is probably a family member who will be directly affected by the assis- tive technology device as they assist the student in daily operation of the device.

    Focus on function. Selection of a device should be shaped by how i t would make maximum use of the students functional abilities. How can the device help disabled students do what they currently cannot do?

    Strive for simplicity. When possible the simplest and most inexpensive device should be used. Sometimes the only p


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