Students with learning differences, like those with Autism spectrum disorder or visual impairments, require a little extra help in the classroom. Assistive technologies help students overcome obstacles to reach their full potential. Below, we’ll explore the different types of assistive technologies you can use in your classroom and dive deeper into how your students can uniquely benefit from assistive devices.
What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive technology includes any software or equipment used to help students with disabilities navigate their learning challenges and strengthen their skill sets. Every student’s learning challenges are unique, and assistive technology gives them an equal opportunity to a quality education using individualized lesson plans.
The Benefits of Assistive Technology in the Classroom
Students often learn best by doing. Assistive technology uses this concept, supplying students with hands-on learning aids to make learning fun and less stressful. Each assistive technology tool strengthens a student’s skill set through the act of playing, and many of these devices are outfitted with vibrant colors and engaging designs that fuel a student’s empowerment for learning.
Using assistive technology in your classroom can help students in ways like:
1. Helps Teach Cause-And-Effect Relationships
Students with special needs can struggle with cause-and-effect relationships. A big part of learning is understanding how actions lead to events, such as how performing a math function leads to a correct solution or predicting what would happen if a button is pushed on an assistive technology device, such as a capability switch.
Assistive technology helps students make connections between cause-and-effect relationships, making them feel in control of their learning and boosting their self-esteem.
2. Aids Group Instruction and Sharing Time
Group time, like circle time, plays a crucial role in a student’s education. It’s where your students interact and learn social skills, and it’s also where you deliver group instruction for the day’s activities and tasks.
In circle time settings, assistive technology helps students by keeping instruction and sharing time fun. For example, by passing around an assistive technology like a switch-adapted toy or music device, students can interact with each other in a way that promotes engagement and relationship-building — both of which are essential to a student’s future success.
3. Strengthens Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are the smaller movements in the hands, fingers, and wrists — in coordination with the eyes — that enable students to grasp, reach and manipulate objects, like writing with a pencil and picking up smaller items.
Fine motor movements may be difficult for some students with disabilities. Assistive technology such as activity boxes or small manipulatives helps these students strengthen their fine motor skills, increasing their ability to perform tasks both in school and at home.
4. Improves Visual Tracking
Some students with disabilities have visual challenges, specifically those who are visually impaired, partially sighted, or blind. It’s difficult for these students to track and pay visual attention to objects, such as moving pets or adults’ gross motor movements.
Assistive technology strengthens visual tracking skills to make learning and day-to-day life easier for these learners. Most visual tracking tools include a sliding feature, and some utilize lights and an auditory component to keep students engaged.
Who Assistive Technology Can Help
Assistive technology helps students with learning differences, like:
1. Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
According to a 2018 American Printing House for the Blind (APH) census, approximately 63,501 students in the U.S. are legally blind. What’s more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Visual Health Initiative findings, 6.8% of children in the U.S. have some sort of vision difficulty.
Students who are blind or visually impaired have difficulties:
- Reading and writing.
- Distinguishing colors.
- Recognizing shapes.
- Navigating classrooms.
Typical classroom settings can cause great physical and emotional strain for these students. Assistive technology offers audiovisual assistance tools by reading educational content out loud to students, with some offering Braille support as well. For students with partial visual abilities, assistive technology tools can use bright lights, sounds, tactile cues, and magnified graphics to support learning and communication, or they can magnify content to make reading and viewing easier.
As an example, tactile symbol communicators — augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices — have large, textured icons with bright, colorful hues that enable students with visual impairments to better communicate. Another assistive technology example, a musical light box, helps students with visual impairments strengthen their writing skills by providing a backlight for tracing.
2. Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
A recent CDC study found that 5,578 children in the U.S. have permanent hearing loss, and 2 to 3 children in every 1,000 require educational assistance for hearing impairments. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have difficulties following along with class instruction and communicating with their teachers and peers.
In your classroom, help these students by using assistive devices. Some assistive technology tools that benefit students with hearing impairments are:
- Assistive listening devices: Most of these devices follow the basic principle of magnifying a video or instructor’s voice or sound, which is then translated to a student’s hearing aid or cochlear implant, allowing them to follow along with lessons.
- Infrared systems: Infrared systems transmit audio signals to a magnetic field around a student’s head — produced by a receiver — which a hearing aid can tap into. These systems are usually used by adults in theaters or conference rooms, but are equally beneficial for students in classroom settings.
- Communicators: If your student has communication struggles, they may benefit from using a communicator. Communicators generate speech so your students have an easier time interacting with their teachers and peers.
3. Students With Speech Disabilities
Nearly one in 12 children have some sort of speech disability. Students with speech disabilities find it hard to communicate due to articulation, voice, or fluency troubles. Common examples of speech difficulties include stuttering and lisping, which may cause stress and frustration when talking in class, as well as medical conditions like autism spectrum disorder or a swallowing disorder.
Speech-to-text software and word prediction tools are great assistive technologies that make it easier for students to communicate with their peers and teachers.
Students with speech disabilities benefit from communicators, as well. Communicators can be high- or low-tech, depending on the use of electricity and batteries. Low-tech communicators can be as simple as a pen and paper, while high-tech models use electronic communication boards and keyboards to help learners communicate with others via digitized speech.
4. Students Who Need Mobility Assistance
Some students require mobility assistance because of certain physical limitations, which they were either born with or developed from an illness or injury. Common disabilities that require mobility assistance include:
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Muscular dystrophy.
- Cerebral palsy.
Assistive technology can help students with fine and gross motor movements. Students who need gross motor assistance benefit from assistive technologies like flexible furniture, standing desks, and exercise balls.
Other assistive technologies can help with fine motor movements, too. Students can use a switch-adapted device to increase functioning in a classroom, gaining access to devices and toys instrumental to learning. We’ll take a closer look into switch-adapted devices and other fine-motor tools, like iPad accessories, later in this post.
5. Students With Learning, Cognitive, or Developmental Disabilities
Learning, cognitive, and developmental disabilities are an umbrella category of many disabilities with varying challenges. Disabilities that fall under these categories include:
- Brain or spinal injuries.
- Autism spectrum disorder.
- Language delay.
- Severe anxiety.
- Delayed social development.
Students with these disabilities require additional support and guidance through lessons. Audiobooks and speech recognition software are great assistive technologies for these students, along with versatile assistive technologies like communicators and memory aids.
Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom
As we learn more about students with disabilities, more technologies are developed to help them overcome their unique challenges. Some of the most current and comprehensive assistive technologies that aid student learning include the following.
Speech programs are high-tech AAC tools, most of which are Speech Generating Devices that translate a typed message into digitized speech. These can also do the opposite, translating spoken words into digitized text for students with stronger oral language skills than writing or typing skills.
For students who are visually impaired, speech synthesizers and screen readers may be beneficial. These speech software programs display text and read aloud to the student, highlighting each sentence to improve visual tracking as well.
We’ve touched on communicators briefly when explaining who assistive technology can help. Communicators are AAC devices that enable students with learning differences to share their ideas and feelings without talking. Many students can benefit from using communicators, namely those who are visually impaired, hard of hearing, or have speech difficulties.
Many types of communicators tailor to students’ unique needs. When choosing a communication device for your learner, consider their needs and how they will interact with the device. As an example, if your student has motor restrictions, they will benefit from communicators with larger switches. Or, if your learner regularly navigates the school building, they may prefer wearable communication devices so they can communicate on the go.
Some students have trouble with pacing. Timers are great and affordable assistive technology tools that help students mentally prepare for task changes. These devices also keep them knowledgeable about how much time they have left to complete their current task.
For students who are visually impaired, choose a timer that displays the remaining time in a vibrant color so they, too, can easily decipher how much time is left.
Assistive technology keyboards have altered appearances and easier functionalities than a typical keyboard. There are many computer keyboards for students with disabilities, each customized to meet the user’s unique needs.
Most have special overlays with larger font sizes — about 11 times larger than a typical keyboard’s — and group keys by color and location. Others have reduced input choices and graphic aids to benefit comprehension, some of which are customizable to complement your student’s tasks and abilities.
Switch-Adapted Learning Toys
Students, especially younger ones, learn by exploring the world around them. Switch-adapted learning toys enable students with disabilities to learn through play. These toys help learners build communication skills, improve motor development, and practice visual tracking and attention — plus, they benefit cognitive development.
iPad Accessibility Tools
iPads are extremely beneficial for all students, especially those with learning differences. iPads help students communicate, learn, and play. They’re also debatably more accessible than computers, because iPads have accessibility features like Assistive Touch, Guided Access, and other customizable elements.
You can purchase other assistive iPad accessories, too, like:
- Mounts: Some students, like those with mobility limitations, can’t easily hold on to an iPad. Mounts allow students to attach their iPad to their tabletop or wheelchair.
- Switches: Students can use switches to interact with their iPad, like scrolling through screens or using compatible apps.
- Styluses: Students who struggle with fine motor movements may benefit from styluses. Styluses allow them to operate touch screens using their mouths, hands, or heads.
How Do You Integrate Assistive Technology in the Classroom?
Having the right assistive technologies and knowing the proper way to integrate them into your classroom is equally important. No matter the type of assistive technology you use or the group of students you teach, the best ways to integrate assistive technology into your classroom include:
1. Know What Works
Assistive technologies are individualized tools. What works for one student isn’t guaranteed to work for the next. It’s important to recognize each student’s needs and match them with the right assistive technology.
2. Let Your Students Play and Explore
As mentioned earlier, students learn best by doing. Give your students total access to the various assistive technologies and let them explore each tool’s learning potential. Your scholars will learn more about themselves and what works for them, and you gain a clearer picture of what your students prefer to engage with and how.
3. Maintain Ongoing Training
Administrators play an important role in teachers’ education and awareness of students with disabilities. It’s important for teachers to work with these students appropriately to make the right accommodations.
If you’re an administrator, maintain a consistent training schedule to keep teachers up to date on recent technology and proper terminology, emphasizing the importance of equal treatment and education for students who require additional learning aids.
Looking for Ways to Integrate Assistive Technology Into Your Classroom? Browse Our Classroom Kits Today
Students with learning differences are excited and eager to learn. Assistive technologies enable these learners to do just that, providing the empowerment and encouragement they need to excel in their academics and personal lives.
At Enabling Devices, we create assistive technologies for people of all abilities and ages to live prosperous and fulfilling lives. We work with individuals, teachers and therapists to find the best devices for every student’s needs, and we want to work with you, too.
We invite you to browse our online catalog of classroom kits and other assistive technologies. If you want to work with someone who will help you find the best devices for your students, our friendly sales department staff are ready and willing to help! Contact us online, or call us at 800-832-8697.