Assistive Technology: What It Is and How to Use It

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What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology is anything that a student can use in order to overcome obstacles that are presented by a disability. AT can come in two forms: low tech and high tech. Low tech assistive technology is usually something that can be made by hand and therefore easily replaced. Because of this, it is also less expensive. For example, a student that is unable to grasp a pencil properly could benefit from using tape to make it wider and easier to hold onto. High tech assistive technology is much more complex and usually requires a lot more money and training. In the same example of the student not being able to grasp a pencil, he could benefit from using a laptop computer. This would be a high tech solution.

Regardless of what type of assistive technology is used, it is important to make a choice that will benefit the student and help them reach their educational goals. Doing this requires proper evaluation of the assistive technology before it is introduced and afterwards in order to make sure that it accomplishes what it was meant to do. When evaluating what assistive technology will best suit a student, it is important to consider several things. These include: the goal of the assistive technology, cognitive ability of the student, and what settings it will be used in.


What is the Goal?

The goal of the assistive technology is what it hopes to accomplish. By identifying the goal in specific terms from the beginning, it will help in the search to find the right equipment and assist in the evaluation of assistive technology within the classroom to determine if it is reaching the goal successfully. This should be stated in a way that is measurable. For example, it is not enough to say that a student will use assistive technology to communicate. The educational team should determine in what ways the technology will be used and how often in order to be considered successful. Some examples would be to greet friends, answer questions in class, and to order lunch in the cafeteria.

What is the Student’s Cognitive Ability?

The cognitive ability of the student plays an important role when evaluating whether or not a piece of assistive technology will be successful. High tech assistive technology can be very exciting; however it is often complicated to use and requires a lot of training. Before investing the time and finances, it is necessary to make sure that the student will be able to fully utilize it. For example, a student that is unable to communicate verbally might appear to benefit from an augmentative communication device with voice output. However, many of these require programming a computer and can be difficult. While they might benefit, cognitively it might be easier for them to use a photo album and point to pictures to represent what they want or to express a thought.

Where Will the Assistive Technology be Used?

Ideally, when choosing assistive technology it will be something that can be used across settings. This is not only beneficial financially because it avoids the need to purchase more than one piece of equipment, but also decreases the amount of training that is required. Because of this, when evaluating assistive technology, it is necessary to identify exactly where the assistive technology will be required. For example, if a student is using a specific piece of software to complete assignments in one classroom, it would be beneficial to have it available in all of his classes.

How to Determine Success?

After a significant amount of time has passed it will be necessary for an evaluation of assistive technology within the classroom to determine if it is successfully meeting the needs of the student. This can be done through observations over time or by specific data collection based on its use. There are some specific barriers that might prevent a piece of assistive technology from being successful. Inconsistency or inability to provide its use due to lack of training or understanding will prevent the student from using and relying on the equipment. Having a piece of equipment that is not properly set up for all of the settings that it is needed for can also limit success. Finally, if the student does not like the assistive technology either due to lack of age appropriateness or another reason than it is unlikely that it will be used. Regardless of the reason, it will be necessary for the student’s educational team to determine if a solution for the assistive technology can be found or if something new will need to be attempted.