Assistive technology devices may include low-tech items like a raised table or sophisticated software for voice recognition. By increasing independence and access to education, these devices allow students with disabilities to function more fully, particularly if the technology gains social acceptance. Many students with visual, learning, expressive, hearing or physical disabilities can reach their potential by using assistive technology that matches their individual needs.
A student with a visual impairment can use software to access the electronic world of Web articles, textbooks on CD-DVD and online tests. The University of Washington provides both ZoomText and JAWS software for magnification and screen reading. With speech-recognition software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, students convert their dictation to written assignments. Web browsers generally include or provide free access to magnification and color contrast. For students who are blind and use Braille, hardware such as the ALVA 544 Satellite Traveler can coordinate with screen readers and convert text to Braille.
Screen readers and speech-recognition software also help many students with learning disabilities. The National Center for Learning Disabilities notes the value of both Kurzweill 3000 to read scanned text aloud and Read & Write Gold, which provides integrated grammatical help, word prediction and document reading. Some students may prefer apps, such as Dragon Search, that provide voice-recognition to search the Web. The University of New Hampshire also lists the i-Talk app, useful for recording lectures. Another recorder, the Echo smartpen, requires Livescribe "dot paper," which links specific handwritten notes with the audio recording taking place at that exact moment -- a useful tool for lecture review.
Expressive disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, affect communication and social skills. The Pacer Center suggests many products, including Look-2-Learn, an augmentative communication app allowing students to express their needs using photographs and their own voice output. For social skills, it includes the app Pictello to help students create stories and join conversations. Of course, low-tech picture communication boards with images of food, people or locations also encourage students to express their needs.
In the classroom, assistive listening devices amplify the instructor's voice. With Loop ALDs, a student can wear a loop receiver or use his existing hearing aid to pick up the electromagnetic signals. An FM device amplifies a lecture through radio waves, requiring the instructor to wear a microphone and the student, a receiver. Real-time captioning, helpful for both deaf and hard-of-hearing students, projects the instructor's lecture on a screen. Closed-captioning technology can also make videos accessible. Such devices may also benefit students with attention-deficit disorder.
Ergonomic chairs, raised desks, specialized keyboards and mouse adaptations can benefit many students with physical disabilities. For example, a large trackball mouse like the Kensington Expert Mouse permits greater motor control. A student with cerebral palsy may benefit from an enlarged keyboard, a student with carpal tunnel syndrome from an ergonomic keyboard and a student with one hand from a Dvorak keyboard. Voice-recognition software, useful for many disabilities, can speed word processing.
- Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities; Assistive Technology for Students with Mild Disabilities: What’s Cool and What’s Not; Howard P. Parette et al.
- University of Washington IT CONNECT: Access Technology Center
- National Center for Learning Disabilities The Dyslexia Toolkit
- University of New Hampshire: Assistive Technology
- Pacer Center: Apps for Education: All About Apps for Autism
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (NIDCD): Assistive Devices for People with Hearing, Voice, Speech, or Language Disorders
- Photo Credit Tomwang112/iStock/Getty Images
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