Page 2: Assistive Technology Devices
Though it is common for people to associate the term with expensive, high-tech equipment, in fact, assistive technology comes in many forms: big and small, simple and complex, expensive and free. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA ’04) defines an assistive technology device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child and specifically excludes a medical device that is surgically implanted or the replacement of such device” (e.g., a cochlear implant). Assistive technology, therefore, might be something as complex as a hand-held electronic magnifying instrument or as simple as a specialized rubber pencil grip.
(Authority: 20 U.S.C 1401(1) or IDEA Amendments of 2004. P.L. 108-446, 20 U.S.C. S 1400 et seq., 300.5)
Listen as Penny Reed, former director of the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) and one of the lead developers of the most commonly used assistive technology manual, discusses why educators should become familiar with AT devices (time: 1:07).
Penny Reed, PhD
Assistive technology devices can be viewed along a continuum from simple items that address problem areas to high-tech devices or equipment that solve problems. Teachers may find that they already have many items in their classrooms that could be considered AT. Click on the arrows or thumbnails below to see a sample of AT devices.
Did You Know?
Not all AT devices have to be purchased from specialty AT catalogs. Many can be purchased from local stores, purchased and modified, or easily made from common items (e.g., a three-ring binder can be turned sideways and used as a slant board).
Specialized writing tools: Used to develop gross-motor and fine-motor skills such as pencil control and pencil grasp, these tools reduce frustration for students when writing while increasing their writing speed and movement.
Pencil grips: These simple devices are often used by students who have low muscle tone or immature pencil grasp patterns.
Planners: Notebooks or calendars are used to help students keep track of their schedules and upcoming events, as well as to plan how much time is needed to complete an assignment.
Raised-line paper: Raised-lined paper provides visual and tactile feedback to students to write between the lines and is used to help students improve their handwriting skills.
Highlighting pens and tape: Bright colors draw a student’s attention to vocabulary terms or other important points in their notes or books. Highlighter tape allows students to temporarily highlight in a textbook without making permanent marks.
Dycem®: Non-slip material that grips both sides of a surface to help students stabilize their paper or notebook on a writing surface and keep items like pencils or markers from rolling off a desk. Some students sit on non-slip mats to help stabilize them while seated.
(Permission granted by Dycem.).
Rubber stamps: Students can use stamps to reproduce letters, numbers, and math functions as an alternative to handwriting.
Adapted feeding tools: These are used to assist students with eating. A student who spills frequently or who has weak lip control might use a cup with a base and lid. A student with poor hand coordination or weakness might use a lipped plate. A student with the use of only one hand might use a rocker knife, which cuts by rocking rather than sawing.
(Permission granted by Patterson Medical.).
Tape recorders: Students use these devices to record and play back lectures and other classroom activities. They can also listen to books on tape or dictate writing assignments instead of writing them out.
Digital recorders: These handheld devices use a memory chip and allow students to record and play back their class notes, thoughts, and other information. Among their common features are date and time markers and adjustable playback speed.
Calculators: Students who struggle with math can use these small electronic devices to help them to copy, align, and compute math problems on paper.
Manual wheelchair: These provide mobility to students unable to walk safely or functionally.
Portable keyboard: A lightweight word processor with a small screen that students can use for writing notes and assignments, these devices can also be connected to a printer to allow students to remotely turn in their assignments.
Timer: Students with learning disabilities may try to increase their reading skills by keeping track of the number of words read correctly in a certain amount of time. A student who has difficulty paying attention might practice staying focused on a specific task until the timer goes off.
Spellchecker: Besides helping students to spell correctly by suggesting possible spelling alternatives, some spellchecker models feature synthesized voices and a dictionary and thesaurus to allow students to hear word suggestions and their corresponding definitions.
(Permission granted by Franklin Electronic Publishers.).
Audio books: Students can listen to these recorded versions of a book on an audio device (e.g., CD player, MP3 players, iPods).
Alternative keyboard: These can be manufactured so that the keys are larger or smaller than those on a standard keyboard. Some keyboard configurations use an alphabetical layout with larger colored keys when the standard keyboard configuration is too confusing for some students. Other layouts include the split keyboard, which enables students to position the two keyboard halves so that the device is more comfortable to use.
(Top picture–Permission granted by IntelliTools; bottom picture–Permission granted by Fentek Industries.).
Word processing software: This can be used to support students who have difficulty writing (e.g., developing ideas, editing) by allowing them to easily change letters, words, and sentences, as well as to format font styles, color, and size.
Word prediction software: Used to support students who struggle with writing, the software predicts words as the student begins to type. Predictions are made based on the first few letters entered and the frequency with which the word is used. This tool can decrease keystrokes while increasing the accuracy of a student’s spelling, grammar, and word selection.
Communication devices: Used to help students communicate more easily and effectively, these talking devices have keyboards that include the letters of the alphabet, pictures, and word-keys so that students can produce thousands of sounds, words, and phrases.
(Permission granted by ©ZYGO Industries.).
Computers: These allow students to use multiple types of software (e.g., word processing, Internet browsers, email, electronic text) to support learning.
There are several examples of AT devices in the classroom below, some big, some small. Use your mouse to search for AT devices and click on each to learn more. iPad users can simply touch the devices.
Think you found everything? Click here to see a list of the AT devices at use in the classroom.
Terry's AT Devices
Mr. Edwards, the special education teacher, and Terry meet with Ms. Adelaide during her third-period planning time. Terry has difficulty with reading and writing due to his learning disability. Terry tells Ms. Adelaide about some of the AT devices he currently uses and how they help him. Terry makes use of:
- A portable DAISY reader to read his textbooks and other readings independently
- A handheld recorder to dictate his answers rather than writing them out
- Sticky notes and index cards to take and organize notes
- A portable keyboard to type his assignments
Ms. Adelaide is a bit overwhelmed by Terry’s list of items, but through her conversations with him she comes to realize that Terry relies on them to support his reading and writing and to help him complete his reading assignments. Mr. Edwards tells Ms. Adelaide that the IEP team will meet within the next few weeks to review Terry’s goals and discuss his AT needs. Meanwhile, Mr. Edwards and Terry will consult with his other teachers.