The legal definition of assistive technology is considerably broad, an assistive technology device means “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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, pg. 403). The assistive technology device may be categorized as no technology (includes bodily adjustments), low technology (nonelectrical), or high technology (mechanical, computerized, etc.).
Laws and policies govern special education, more than other areas of education (Roblyer & Doering, 2012, pg. 400). The Technology-Related Assistance Act for Individuals with Disabilities passed in 1988 and provides funds for statewide systems and services to individuals with disabilities. Roblyer and Doering (2012) state that “The Individuals and Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 requires that every individualized education program (IEP) team “consider” assistive technology when planning the educational program of an individual with a disability.” In 2004, students with disabilities and the need to help these students meet their goals became the emphasis of the IDEA and include the importance of academic achievement.
While students with disabilities bring great diversity into the classroom, the cost of teaching them on already-stretched budgets has become increasing challenging. An article on TeachThought.com addressed this very issue, “Thankfully, educators today can implement many new technologies to make their courses more accessible at little to no cost, to aid students with disabilities, whether those students are in a traditional or online classroom.” For schools, teachers, libraries and even parents, assistive technologies can be expensive and restrictive but as I did some Internet searching, there are thousands upon thousands of Do-It-Yourself projects that can help a disabled student. In searching for cost-effective strategies to implement assistive technology on a budget, I started with a basic Google search, which led me to the SimonTechCenter Pinterest board full of DIY tricks and tips. I perused this board and found a lot of helpful suggestions that can be done with common household items and would cost almost nothing or very little. Just some examples would include a homemade, one-legged sensory stool, pool noodles to rest feet on, therapy ball alternatives, paracord door-pulls, and the list goes on and on. IEP and 504 facilitators can work together with parents and teachers to research appropriate assistive technologies that will help the student perform and meet academic goals most effectively.
If funding is needed, there are two primary ways to acquire assistive technologies. According to the Accessible Technology Coalition website, AT acquisition can be funded by either building the costs into the budget or seek outside funding. While budgets may be tight, alternative funding sources exist through grants, foundations, and endowments. For libraries, the Institute for Museum and Library Services (www.imls.gov) lists grants that are available in a given location.
While cost does initially sound like a large restriction, after spending an hour searching for cost-effective alternatives on the Internet, it became quite clear that not all AT needs to be expensive. Obviously there are going to be costs with some AT but cutting corners and creating DIY projects can help save and allow for bigger budget-busters down the road. The Accessible Technology Coalition website also suggest a variety of creative strategies if adequate funding isn’t possible:
- Recycled Equipment. Every state has at least one assistive technology reuse program. Some have searchable online databases. General resources such as eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle may also list assistive technology.
- Talk to Manufacturers and Vendors. Manufacturers and vendors may have a product that they want to discontinue or expose to a wider audience. Contact them to see if you can get a donation or a discount.
- Work with Community Partners. Talk to other local organizations that have public computer labs and may be open to pooling funds to purchase equipment of mutual interest.
- Many assistive technologies are available free, or in inexpensive versions.
Funding options can also be found at http://www.4teachers.org/profdev/index.php?profdevid=at
Students with Cognitive Difficulties
According to Roblyer and Doering (2012),”Mild cognitive disabilities are considered to be the most prevalent type of disability” (pg. 406). Learning disabilities, emotional disabilities and mental retardation fall under the cognitive difficulty category. “Typically, the important issue for these students is not physical access to the technology, but reading, writing, memory, and retention of information. While these students often have some learning difficulties (e.g., the inability to read at grade level), many have difficulty in learning in only one aspect of the curriculum (Roblyer & Doering, 2012).
- LiveScribe PenThis pen records and connects audio to what a person writes using the pen and special LiveScribe paper. This technology enables the user to take notes while also recording someone speaking. The student can later listen and follow along with notes by touching the pen on his/her handwritten notes or diagrams. This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with writing, listening, memory and reading.Connection to Content Area: This type of tool may benefit people who struggle with writing, listening, memory and reading.
- Kidspiration MapsThis is an app for the iPad. Kidspiration is a mind-mapping tool designed specifically for elementary-school-age kids. This app can be really helpful for kids with executive-functioning issues. This app is loaded with colorful images to help students organize and classify information when he/she struggles with writing, reading, and basic understanding. The app includes a built-in microphone to help students express their thoughts while creating diagrams. This helps students with receptive and language expression issues, and gives them an opportunity to practice their language skills in conjunction with verbal memory. In addition to making graphic organizers the app includes pre-made activities for reading, writing, social studies, and science.Connection to Content Area: The activities on this app can help students who are struggling with functional concepts through both visual and written outlines. Organizing thoughts visually will help in both information retention and recollection.
Students with Physical Difficulties
In an article found on Education.com, author D.D.Smith (2014) states that there two major groups of physical disabilities are. The first is neuromotor impairments which include conditions caused by damage to the central nervous system limiting muscular control and movement. Epilepsy and cerebral palsy fall under this category. The second disability is muscular/skeletal conditions. This includes missing or non-functioning limbs and can be either acquired or congenital and includes a major impediment to normal physical activity and functioning. People with physical disabilities need assistance with mobility.
Disabilities can be categorized and grouped in many different ways. According to Disable-World.com, physical disabilities include:
- mobility and physical impairments
- Spinal cord disabilities
- Head injuries or brain disabilities
- Alternative keyboardsAlternative keyboards offer solutions to students that need keyboard accommodations for computer use and Internet browsing. Alternative keyboards come in a variety of large, color-coded keys, over-sized keyboards, unique keyboard layouts and keyboard protection. Students with temporary broken arms, or other long-term physical disabilities can benefit from an alternative keyboard.Connection to Content Area:Students integrated into a full-functioning classroom are often expected to complete work similar to the other students in the classroom. This includes research and writing activities as well as all other online activities students are involved in.
- Voice Recognition SoftwareVoice recognition software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking,is a software program that allows the user to navigate the computer by voice. One of the largest benefits is to those with limited mobility or disabilities that restrict keyboard and mouse use.Connection to Content Area: Students who struggle with the use of their limbs still need to be able to write. Unless speaking clearly is a problem, this is a good option for students with limited mobility.
Students with Sensory Difficulties
- BookshareBookshare is an expansive online library of digital books for people with print disabilities. Books from this site come in two file formats: DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) and BRF (Braille Refreshable Format). If students have the tools that can access these file then then students have the independence to read more than 200,000 titles that may have otherwise been inaccessible. Books can be read aloud to the student or even converted to embossed braille.Connection to Content Area: As my content area is language arts, reading comprehension and writing, this assistive technology allows students with visual disabilities the independence to read.
- FM SystemsHearing aids have many disadvantages for the hearing impaired, everything is amplified, including unwanted background sounds. Even the very best digital hearing aids simmly cannot eradicate the amplification of background noise. For a child with a hearing impairment in a classroom this can prove to be a major obstacle in their education as classrooms are typically the worst for background noise and have very poor acoustics. Echoes, scraping chairs, and even typical student-chatter can make learning very difficult.FM systems use a wireless transmitter that broadcast a signal across a given space. In a classroom setting, the teacher wears a transmitter and the student wears a receiver. The signal from the receiver is fed into an earphone or the student’s own hearing aid. The teacher speaks into a very sensitive, small microphone and can pick up sounds very minute sounds. The student is able to hear the teacher clearly anywhere within the broadcast area even if the teacher has his/her back to the class. The FM device is very portable and and can be used in any room. While the FM system works to amplify human voices, it also works for movies or other audio sources.
Connection to Content Area:According to the Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center, “children with typical hearing listen to the people around them and automatically begin to imitate the sounds they hear. Children who cannot hear sounds have little or no phonemic awareness, so they have difficulty understanding how words break down into syllables.” Additionally, children with hearing loss have difficulty attaching meaning to words. This is caused by a mismatch between spoken language, reading levels, and education level. These children have often missed out on significant auditory information and background knowledge that is more available to children with typical hearing which means they may not be able to fill in the gaps when unfamiliar words appear on the printed page.
Students at risk for failure in school are not necessarily considered disabled by legal definition but the lack of success often looks similar to students with disabilities (Roblyer & Doering, 2012).
- Real World Reading SkillsELL students and struggling readers (below grade-level) can benefit from this software. It includes interactive exercises to help students improve their English language and literacy skills. Students are able to read and respond to short texts on a variety of familiar subjects. The software is self-paced and self-correcting. Scores and feedback are provided throughout. Merit Text Talker, an additional add-on to the software allows the questions, answers and explanations to be spoken aloud.Connection to Content Area: Struggling readers will always struggle in every area of their education as literacy and comprehension is such a strong foundation to all learning.
- First AuthorFirst Author is a writing software that helps at-risk students and students with special needs write independently on self-selected and curriculum-tied topics. The software guides students through the writing process of selecting a topic, selecting a picture prompt, and writing with accommodations. It also guides the teacher with level-appropriate assessment and tracking tools.Connection to Content Area:With higher standards on writing today, at-risk students, ELL students and students with other disabilities are at a great disadvantage if they cannot write. To meet new standard objectives, it is crucial for students to practice and receive specialized/individualized training on writing techniques.
Gifted and Talented Students
According to Roblyer and Doering (2012) the current definition of gifted and talented students is, “Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Title IX, Part A, Section 9101(22); U.S. Department of Education, 2004).” The are several ways to accommodate GT students. “Pyryt’s P’s,” focuses on five P’s: pace, process, passion, product, and peer.
- Pace: Content acceleration
- Process: Brainstorming and problem-solving
- Passion: Freedom to think and produce
- Product: Multiple ways to showcase knowledge
- Peer: Encourage social environments
- Virtual MuseumsThis site is full of virtual museums perfect for a student needing accelerated learning opportunities. Students can use this site to research and explore a topic of choice. Students can be self-paced and integrate multiple facets of the curriculum into their individualized learning.Connection to Content Area:Gifted and talented students thrive on extended learning opportunities and creativity involved in guiding their own learning. Opportunities for research and writing are limitless with virtual museum tours.
- GlobalSchool.netGlobalSchool.net provide collaborative learning opportunities for students. Gifted and talented students often struggle socially and this online forum allows students to reach out, work with, and learn with students all over the world. Students have the ability to be paired with students of similar abilities and interests and allows students the opportunity to extend learning beyond the traditional classroom setting.
Connection to Content Area: Through “Letters to Santa” (via globalschool.net) students are matched with a partner classroom with which the students exchange their letters to Santa. Younger students write letters “to” Santa; Older students impersonate Santa and send their carefully crafted replies.
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Roblyer, M. D.; Doering, Aaron H. (2012). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th Edition) (Page 400).
Smith, D.D. (2014). Physical or health disabilities defined. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/physical-health-disabilities-defined/