Assistive Technology Devices for Students With Disabilities

Student using tablet at his desk.
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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.

1 Visual Technology

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.

2 Learning Devices

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.

3 Communication Enhancement

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.

4 Hearing Assistance

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.

5 Physical Accommodations

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.

With dual degrees in English and learning disabilities, Peg Ehlen has been a full-time English professor most of her life. In addition, she has directed disability services for post-secondary students. Her publications reflect her experience in these fields and her knowledge of psychology, parenting and juvenile diabetes.