Areas of Assistive Technology
It is helpful to classify assistive technology according to the task it enables the student to perform. Here are some examples. Reading, we have adaptations to reading material, which make it accessible. Writing, we have adapted modes to produce text and math, we have tools to assist students in basic operations or problem-solving. And learning/studying, we have items that assist students in organizing and completing educational tasks. Vision, supports that enable students with visual impairments to participate in educational activities. Hearing, devices to assist the hearing-impaired student in learning from auditory material. Communication, assistive technology that helps students to communicate when spoken words are not effective. Access to the environment, tools that provide access to computers, to mobility, to proper seating/positioning and to environmental control. Activities of daily living, these are items that enhance the student's independence in play, leisure, recreation and self-care, and social behavior, supports that assist the individual in using socially appropriate behavior.
In the area of reading, we can make adaptations to reading materials, which make it accessible. We can provide a stand to position a book for easier reading. We can make changes in text size, spacing, and color to make it easier to see. We can use pictures with text to support comprehension. For those who are unable to turn pages, we can have a device turn the pages or provide a digital version. A talking electronic dictionary makes looking up words easier. We can provide electronic textbooks and a talking word processor to read them. Audio books can be on a CD or mp3 format, and we can offer books in multimedia formats so that students can both hear and see them at their reading level.
In the area of writing we can provide raised line paper that helps the writer feel character spacing. A pencil with an adaptive grip is perhaps the simplest writing solution. A slant board to put the writing surface at the right angle. A graphic organizer for visually planning your writing. A portable word processor that offers more portability than a laptop. A talking word processor so the user hears what he or she has written. A word processor with picture supports lets the writer click to write. Word prediction software, the writer starts to type and it gives likely word choices. An electronic dictionary/thesaurus/spell checker that speaks aloud or voice recognition software that turns the spoken word into text.
In the area of math an alternative keyboard with large numbers gives access to math software. Hands-on or virtual math manipulatives make concepts more concrete. Talking calculators help to confirm what you entered is correct. A digital/analog manipulative clock lets the student compare the 2 types of time display. A coin calculator makes the connection between coins and number values. Money problem simulation software offers practice of real-life skills. A talking tape measure makes reading the ruled lines easier.
In the area of learning and studying, visual schedules, either electronic or print, help with independence. Assignment tracking software helps make sure homework is completed. Page tabs with color-coding are a low-tech way of organizing. A voice recorder small enough to hang on a keychain is handy. A notetaking/recording pen matches written notes with points in the recording. Graphic organizer software can help plan a writing assignment or a project. A visual timer gives the visual answer to "How much longer?" And brief videos of new vocabulary or concepts can increase understanding.
In the area of vision there's assistive technology that assists both the visually impaired and the blind, a hand-held magnifier is a very portable solution. Large print books with enlarged images are available. Screen magnification software can make any computer image viewable. Portable scan and read devices convert print to the spoken word. A computer screen reader can read every element including drop-down menus. A Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) can magnify printed text many times, and audio books on a CD or in an mp3 format can provide a portable solution. A Braille keyboard or notetaker can convert text to Braille, Braille translator software converts to audio or print, and a Braille printer/embosser punches raised Braille dots on heavy paper.
Assistive technology for hearing can assist the hearing-impaired or the deaf. Hearing aids can be coupled with an FM transmitter so the teacher's voice goes right to the student's ear. A classroom amplification system is like a PA for the class. A personal FM system gives low-volume boost to hearing. Text messaging is readily available in cell phones and phones can be amplified or fitted with Bluetooth. A signaling device of a flashing light can alert the deaf to an alarm, a phone or a doorbell. Closed caption TV is now more frequently used by those with normal hearing than the hearing-impaired and a TTD, or telecommunications device for the deaf, uses phone lines to send text.
Communication supports include visual supports for the comprehension of speech. Simple communication boards and wallets with pictures, words or letters. Portable recorders for taping and following directions. Single-message voice output devices that can be quickly changed to suite the communication need. A touch screen communication device can instantly change pages to more messages. Computer-based communication systems with Windows offer the whole package of speech, email, word processing and computing and there are now numerous communication apps for the iPod and the iPad.
Computer access is an essential area of assistive technology. You can use the built-in accessibility options on Windows or Macintosh computers. A track ball or track pad doesn't require the small movements of a regular mouse. A key guard is used to prevent unwanted keystrokes. A joystick mouse, not unlike those used in video games, can be used. A touch screen is the simplest access method to use. An alternate keyboard has larger, color-coded keys. Switch-controlled scanning allows the student to see and select on the computer with just a click and a mouth stick or head pointer can be used to hit the keys when the use of hands is not accurate. Eye gaze software is now available that controls a computer by simply looking at the screen.
Mobility access can include walkers, some with wheels and brakes. Grab rails like those in a restroom. Manual or powered wheelchairs. Building modifications and adaptations. Telescopic aids to see in the distance. Electronic image sensors. White canes and the orientation and mobility training to use them.
Seating and positioning are important to student learning and participation. Assistive technology includes a non-slip surface on a chair, an adapted or alternate chair possibly with a bolster and a tray. A floor sitter, a standing frame, which gives a student an alternate working position during the day. Head supports, straps such as those on the footrest of a wheelchair, a tray, either attached to a wheelchair or freestanding, an adapted desk or table.
Electronic aids to daily living provide access tools such as remote control of lights, fan, or door openers from a central source. Switch interfaces for appliances such as a TV or DVD player, adaptable on/off switches. An accessible TV remote control is easier to handle than standard remote and voice-activated remote controls.
Recreation/leisure can be supported through a universal cuff to hold crayons & markers.
Switch-activated battery operated toys, adapted puzzles with handles on pieces to make fitting easier, adapted remote control toys. Adapted sporting equipment such as a soccer ball with a rattle inside to make locating easier. Modified scissors, accessible drawing such as a switch-adapted Etch-a-Sketch and switch-adapted video game systems.
Self Care assistive technology includes a universal cuff to hold items, adapted eating utensils, adapted drinking devices and adapted bowls for stability. It can include electronic feeding devices that deliver a spoonful of food at mouth level. Adapted dressing and grooming devices, specially designed toilet seats and adapted cooking tools.
Social behavior can be supported by Comic Strip ConversationsTM by Carol Gray or StorymoviesTM, which are available on the Carol Gray site. Picture-supported social narratives. Video modeling which is a proven method of teaching appropriate behavior. A graphic organizer can be used to show the sequence of social routines. A turn-taking spinner can be used in games and mobile device apps can play social narratives, videos or picture sequences when and where they are needed.