Search form

Assistive Technology in the Classroom | Helping Challenged Kids Get the Most from Learning

Students come in every shape, size, and type. They learn at different rates too. Teaching can be tailored to compensate for the different learning needs of most children inside the regular classroom. Some children with measured disabilities will require focused instruction in one-on-one or small-group settings. But other children who need help to keep up with their peers -- especially those with more severe disabilities -- can benefit from machines designed to help them learn! Such "assistive devices" aid their learning, understanding, and participation in the regular classroom environment.


Assistive devices include any device that disabled children (or adults) might use to help them learn and function more effectively. By current estimates, more than 4,000 assistive technologies have been designed for students and teachers. Those devices include everything from wheelchairs to a wide assortment of high-tech tools, including

  • hearing aids and amplification devices that enable hearing-impaired students to hear what's going on in the classroom;
  • glare-reduction screens, screen magnifiers, and Braille note-taking devices that enable visually impaired students to participate more fully;
  • voice-recognition software that turns the spoken word into type on a computer screen so students unable to move their limbs can take part; and
  • technologies that enable severely disabled students to control their computers simply by following letters and commands on the computer screen with their eyes.

Many companies today are turning their research and development to assistive technologies. Most programs and devices that are developed are designed to work on personal computers in a Microsoft Windows environment.


Assistive Technologies, Inc., located in Naperville, Ill., provides assistive devices to schools and individuals. "The technologies we provide most often to school systems are voice recognition, including products such as DragonDictate and NaturallySpeaking," Don Dalton, president of the company, told Education World. "Other products for people who have learning disabilities, such as Wordsmith, WYNN, and textHELP, are very popular too. Those products help people with learning disabilities read and write more efficiently and productively."

Dalton formed Assistive Technologies in 1990 to help disabled people find ways to work and contribute to society more effectively. He knows from experience the problems faced at school and work -- he's been paralyzed from the chest down since an accident at age 26. He formed Assistive Technologies to bring the technology to others, after he learned how to use speech-recognition software in his own business.


Many on-line resources are available to help teachers and school districts locate the right devices for any student in need. Assistive Technology for Students With Disabilities is one such resource.

"I had a very remarkable student who suffers from a degenerative eye disease," Rebecca Newman, Ed.D., an adjunct lecturer at the University of California at Irvine, tells Education World. "The disease was diagnosed when the student was 12 years old, and her vision continues to deteriorate. [The student is now in her 20s.] In our classroom, her only assistive devices were fellow students who read things to her when I couldn't produce a handout with large enough print. However, she uses a special 'reading machine' to assist her with reading and writing at home.

"She is a teaching credential student, and she uses her reading machine in the classroom as a teacher," Newman adds. "She subbed last year and brought it to all her assignments. Her own experiences as a physically challenged student in K-12 education were often very difficult, but she reports that her pupils have been very supportive."

Pat Linkhorn is the parent of two children with special needs. She is also a consultant on special education issues and a mentor to parents of children with special needs. "My 13-year-old blind daughter uses a Braille 'n Speak," says Linkhorn. Braille 'n Speak is a unique device. About the size of a small calculator, it has six large, flat keys that type in all the combinations of dots that create the Braille language. The typed information can then be printed.

"My daughter also uses Duxbury translation software to translate PC input into files that can be Brailled," adds Linkhorn.


As with other technologies, training is essential to successful use. Without training, students cannot use many devices to their full potential.

"The devices that help the least, especially in classrooms, are those that the teachers don't understand," Linkhorn says. "Kids have an amazing ability to utilize devices, but if there isn't a high enough level of training for staff, many devices are a waste of time and money."


New and improved assistive devices are being developed all the time. With a little online research, teachers and parents can find a device to help students with special needs reach every bit of their potential. Spend a little time searching the resources and links below, and see if you can't find the perfect device to meet your students' special needs.

Article by Sherril Steele-Carlin
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

Links Updated 06/15/2011