Assistive Technologies

At any given moment, lives change.

  • Individuals with Cognitive Difficulties
  • Individuals with Physical Difficulties
  • Individuals with Sensory Difficulties
  • At-Risk Individuals
  • Gifted and Talented Individuals
  • References
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    TEDtalks - Roger Ebert (April 14, 2011)


    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that assistive technology is considered for all students when developing an individualized education program. If a student with disabilities needs technology in order to be able to learn, the school district will (a)provide a professional evaluation of the student's technology needs; (b) acquire the necessary technology; (c) coordinate technology use with other interventions; and (d) provide training for the individual and all stakeholders (e.g. family members, care providers, and school staff) in the effective use of the technology. (2004) If the student’s individualized education program specifies AT is needed for home use to ensure appropriate education, the school must provide it, but the item remains the property of the school. I am the IT coordinator for our school district, and am responsible for teacher professional development and assistive technology implementation when needed. My research findings from this assignment have inspired me and motivated me to work closely with all individuals in our district who could benefit from these technologies. EXTRA CREDIT: Because our district has implemented iPads in the schools, I also looked at the Apple apps for iPods and iPads.

    Considerations before using assistive technology with a person who has cognitive or physical impairments:

    Individuals With Cognitive Difficulties

    A variety technologies now assist persons with cognitive difficulties to increase their independence, find and maintain employment and succeed in school, including:

    iPad Proloquo2Go has several features specifically targeted at users with hearing impairments, autism or fine motor control difficulties. Features include visual feedback when a message window is tapped (repeated taps can ignore, stop, restart, or pause/continue speech. A repeat delay prevents users from repeating the same message or button. The hold duration feature prevents users with fine motor issues from accidentally triggering the wrong message or vocabulary button. Word prediction can be set to learn only correctly spelled words. We have one student who experiences difficulties with his fine motor movements who will benefit from this app. He currently is motivated to learn with our existing iPad apps, but has problems launching his favorites.

    Individuals With Physical Difficulties

    Assistive technology for speech.

    "What value do we place on the sound of our own voice? How does that affect who you are as a person?"- Roger Ebert (2011)

    From uncomplicated message boards to sophisticated synthesized speech, voice technology—or augmentative and alternative communication (ACC)—opens the world of communication to those who are unable to speak. (The ARC, 2011)

    ALEX - This emerging technology is "the voice of the Mac." Most text-to-speech (TTS) systems analyze and synthesize text one sentence at a time, but OS X analyzes text a paragraph at a time so can decipher the context more accurately and more closely match the nuances of human speech. This feature makes comprehension more meaningful, especially in longer text passages in books, articles, and news stories. "Alex is so natural he even breathes between long passages. " (Apple, 2011) Currently we have no students who would benefit from this technology (our district has 130 students k-12). However, a few years back we had a student who was quadriplegic and had an emergency tracheotomy. He could type very fast with a device that was similar looking to a straw through which he blew puffs of air; I believe this technology would have been beneficial.

    iPad SpeakIt offers several "voices" and claims to have a natural flow. For $1.99, it probably doesn't match the skills of Apple's ALEX, but it is an affordable way for hearing or speech impaired individuals to communicate, and for many would be more efficient than a tablet and ink pen. Notwithstanding ALEX, this would be a much more affordable option for our district.

    Assistive Technology for Mobility Loss

    Mobile Devices - In a study titled Freedom to Roam: A Study of Mobile Device Adoption and Accessibility for People with Visual and Motor Disabilities researchers found that their respondents most frequently used phones or smart phones, music players, laptops, and GPS devices (Kane, Wobbrock, Jayant, & Laddner, 2009). Our technology committee needs to review our current policies to ensure that we are not limiting students or staff from reaching their fullest potential by prohibiting electronic devices.

    Automator perform complex, routine tasks for those who have trouble using a keyboard or mouse pad. Similar to running macro routines, Automator's “Watch me do” feature records a routine, saves it as a workflow, and runs the workflow whenever the user wants to perform the same series of steps. This technology would be beneficial for anyone who performs repeated tasks, so I plan to bring it as a "show and tell" item to our next staff development.

    Individuals With Sensory Difficulties

    Multi-use platform for mobile devices.

    Axistive creates computing and mobile device functionality for speech, hearing, and vision impairment. The apps can be purchased separately or in a suite. We have two students with profound hearing loss in our small district who might benefit from this technology.

    Assistive technology for vision loss

    Adobe Reader X Adobe Reader X provides screen magnification to enable those with vision loss to better see their computer display. One of our students might benefit from the magnification, so I will install it on both resource room computers. It is also beneficial for those who work on the computer all day and experience eye strain.

    VoiceOveriPad Voiceover enables individuals with vision impairment the ability to select objects based on a voice narration describing what app is available at the current point of contact on the iPad screen. When the user touches the mid section of the screen, he or she hears what app is located there, and dragging results in a narrative of what is nearby. We currently do not have any students with profound vision impairment, but may use it for the pre-readers. Users have an option of 21 languages and variable rates of speech from which to choose, so there might be some educational value to install a Spanish version to reinforce language acquisition.

    Assistive Technology for Hearing Loss

    iPad FaceTime has an impressive app that reads motions of sign language and enables users to communicate that way via a video call. But the innovation did not stop there! Two cameras allow the speaker to switch the receiver's view between the speaker's face/hands and what is in the environment around the speaker. This technology earns my awe and respect. The implications for hybrid learning courses our students who communicate with ASL cannot be ignored! Even though we have a very small student population, two of our students have profound hearing loss. One student has to attend a special school and we are responsible for communication with family members and weekly transportation to and from the school. The iPad is an affordable alternative for communication.


    Individuals Who are At-Risk

    Webspiration - Features organizational tools from designing a mind map to a group project. This software is a regular part of our elementary curriculum.

    Center for Digital Story Telling - a powerful tool that individuals can use to create, develop, and share their personal story. Students who are at-risk often find an outlet in creative activities such as writing or playacting. This media allows the student to narrate a story and provide visual reinforcements. Digital stories will be developed during social sciences or language arts classes.

    iPad Conversation Builder presents the auditory pattern of conversation in a visual format that helps learners recognize and master the flow of conversation. We will use this for ELL students and emerging readers who are experiencing difficulty with conversation flow.

    iPad Intro to Letters was designed by a team of Montessori educators and parents to develop the basic foundations of language; to read, write, and understand letters from a-z while developing fine motor skills. We will use this for one autistic student, ELL students, and emerging readers who are experiencing difficulty with conversation flow.

    Gifted and Talented Individuals

    VoiceThread- A sharing community that uses voice recordings instead of text. Students can share opinions and information in real-time or in an asynchronous setting. Our district does not have a G&T program, but the synchronous nature of VoiceThread will facilitate online conversations with experts in a field of study for those students who would otherwise qualify.

    Slide RocketSlide Rocket is a cloud-based presentation tool that facilitates sharing and exploration. The creative and collaborative nature of slide rocket makes it a perfect match for students who collaborate on line with G&T peers.

    ppappsiPad PuppetPals offers creativity with free cartoon-like characters. A $2.99 director's pass features the whole cast, as well as the ability to add more in the form of cutouts from the users photos. Enriches all content areas. We will use this software to enhance reading for advanced readers k-6.

    iPad Symphony Pro by Xenon Labs, LLC is a complete music notation editor that lets the user write and play back music. Our district lacks a music program of any kind. I was excited to find this app and plan to install it on the 25 iPads in our district (20 at the elementary level, 5 at the secondary level). (Another favorite! I had to buy this technology for myself.)


    Microsoft Office settings for use with screen magnification

    Adobe .pdf settings for use with screen magnification


    Ted Talks with Roger Ebert. (2011, April 14). Retrieved July 20, 2011, from YouTube:

    Adobe. (2009, July 14). Enhancing On-Screen Viewing. Retrieved July 18, 2011, from Adobe:

    Apple. (2011). Accessibility. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Apple:

    Assistive Technology Solutions. (2011, February 3). Cognitive Impairment. Retrieved July 21, 2011, from Assistive Technology Solutions:

    H.R. 1350--108th Congress: Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. (2003). In Retrieved July 18, 2011, from

    H.R. 4278--108th Congress: Assistive Technology Act of 2004. (2004). In Retrieved July 21, 2011, from

    Kane, S. R. (2009, October 25). Freedom to Roam: A Study of Mobile Device Adoption and Accessibility for People with Visual and Motor Disabilities. Assets.

    Microsoft Corporation. (2011). Windows 7 Accessibility Tutorials. Retrieved JULY 18, 2011, from Microsoft Accessibility: Technology for Everyone:

    South Carolina Assistive Technology Program. (2011, February 23). Assistive Technology for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Retrieved July 19, 2011, from South Carolina Assistive Technology Program:


    What You Need to be Successful

    • Materials - Computer - PC or Mac with multimedia capabilities, headphones, printer.
    • Software - Presentation, Word Processing, and Spreadsheet (can be open source).
    • Time Management - Deadlines approach quickly - don't wait until the last minute to get the job done!




    Resources used in this lesson:

    About Your Instructor

    Mrs. Brimacomb

    Stefanie Brimacomb is a multi-endorsed math, business, and computer teacher in a remote Idaho town where online learning is essential to provide students a competitive education. Mrs. Brimacomb serves as the IT Coordinator for Salmon River Joint School District in addition to her duties as classroom teacher

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