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Tech Solutions for
Special Kids



Much ado is made in education circles today about "technology integration" -- the use of technology to teach standard lessons in new ways. Much less is heard about assistive technology -- the use of technology to help kids with special needs participate fully in classroom lessons and activities. So, we asked members of the Education World Tech Team to tell us about the technology they use to help students with special needs keep up with their classmates, and to help students with special abilities extend their learning beyond the standard curriculum. This is what our tech-savvy teachers had to say:

Learn More

For more information about assistive technology, read the following Education World articles:

* Assistive Technology Benefits All Students

* Assistive Devices Help Challenged Kids Get the Most from Learning

* Accessibility Resources for Special Students (A Techtorial)

* Teaching Special Kids: Online Resources for Teachers

"In my classroom, said Bob Reich, "I have students who use Dragon Naturally Speaking software that enables them to command and dictate verbally. Those kids don't have the ability to use a keyboard, and this software allows them to produce any kind of document, take notes, create projects, and so on, and then print or display their work through another medium -- with a projector or on the Web, for example.

"I also have adapted keyboards," Reich noted, "voice recorders that interface with the computer so a student can respond verbally to test questions and feed his or her answers into the computer, which then puts the information into a word processing document that can be viewed, altered, and printed.

"We have screen magnifiers for vision impaired students, and we use Kurzweil software that reads printed material to students. The material can be obtained online or scanned into the computer. The software also allows students to color-code and highlight information, such as outlines or definitions, which then can be selected and printed. Many other valuable features are included in the software as well.

"Some of my students have reading pens," Reich added. "Those can be used to scan words or sentences, and then the word or sentence is read aloud. The reading pen also can provide definitions.

"We also use recording devices so students can record and listen to information -- and replay the information over and over. We've been putting text information on CDs as well, which allows students to read or view the information at any time.

"We currently do not have anything for kids who are beyond the scope of the class (gifted students, for example)," Reich pointed out, "but we're beginning to plan for that. We're looking at online learning opportunities, in which students can take [advanced] courses from an online provider.

"We're also looking at software programs such as Squeak, that allow kids to work in a programming environment in either small groups or individually. As I said, we're just beginning to look into that area and would certainly benefit from any guidance and words of wisdom. We're also lacking in funds to make many things happen that we would like to see happen, and we're dependent on gifts and grants to help us continue to develop our program."


"I asked your questions of our district's assistive technology consultants," said Kathleen Green. "Here's what they had to say:"
"We use several different devices, depending on the needs of the student. For writing, we use Alpha Smarts, laptops, and of course, desktop computers in labs and classrooms. Some students require the use of a keyboard all the time, so an Alpha Smart or laptop is the best solution. We also use oversized trackballs, oversized keyboards, and larger monitors for those whose handicaps can be assisted by these devices.

"For one sight-impaired student, a Flipper Port enables the monitor screen to be projected close to the eyes for maximum visibility. That student also uses a CCTV (closed circuit television) connected to his computer to enlarge his viewable screen. Other devices that are useful are simply rulers, 3x5 cards, magnifying glass, large ergonomic-friendly pens and pencils, writing templates, keyboard templates, slant-boards, and cassette player/recorders.

"Scanners are used to digitize reading material from articles and textbooks with text-to-speech software, again beneficial for the sight impaired as well as for students who struggle with reading large amounts of text. Listening and taking notes helps them to internalize the material. The software we most commonly use is Kurzweil 3000 and E-text Reader. For voice recognition, we use Dragon Naturally Speaking. That program benefits the student who isn't capable of typing, but who can train the program to understand his or her voice and turn the speech into text.

"Other software that we use for specific students is Intellitools, Alpha Word [word processor] with word prediction, Boardmaker and Earobics. Earobics gives primary students a jump start with audio word recognition, phonics, and pictures.

"When do we not use assistive technology? Whenever it's not appropriate for the student. If it becomes a distraction to the student to the point that the distraction outweighs the benefits, then we discontinue its use. When a student refuses to use the assistive technology, it becomes a hindrance that should be removed. If the student outgrows the disability or has been able to overcome it through simpler low-tech solutions, then again, we discontinue its use. Finally, sometimes the cost of assistive technology is prohibitive, so we seek other solutions.

"As for students at the other end of the spectrumIn our schools we have an abundance of computers in classrooms and computer labs. We also have translated technology into tools for extended learning -- through television production and (using SchoolCast) through a continuously running bulletin board managed by students. We use a weather station connected to SchoolCast to monitor the weather outside our school buildings. In addition, some students take online AP courses through Apex Learning, if their schedule prohibits taking the course on site. Finally, our students use available technology to develop projects, create Web sites, participate in video competitions, staff an off-site tutoring center, and manage a student store."


Stew Pruslin told Education World, "I used Read, Write, & Type last year for a student with severe dyslexia and affiliated reading issues."

"Students with graphic disabilities carry an AlphaSmart to class with them," added Katy Wonnacott. "They can type answers, essays, and so on, and then download their documents to the teacher's workstation to print. In our primary special education class, students use a touch screen on the computer; and one student with cerebral palsy uses a track ball instead of a mouse. I often use a PowerPoint presentation with 'words to know' and timed settings. I adapt the timing or use the microphone and record myself reading terms and definitions."

Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 50 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:

* Kathleen Green, director of technology, Wayne Central School District, Ontario Center, New York

* Stew Pruslin, teacher, J. T. Hood School, North Reading, Massachusetts

* Bob Reich, technology coordinator, The Janus School, Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania

* Katy Wonnacott, teacher, Signal Hill School, Belleville, Illinois

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Updated 05/10/2011