Brad, a high school sophomore with visual impairment, uses a screen magnifier in his classes. This device allows him to follow along
on handouts when teachers cannot make them large enough for him to read. With the magnifier, Brad’s classmates no longer have to read to him, giving him more independence.
An eighth grader with cerebral palsy, Stacy uses a computer with a key guard and trackball to type her in-class assignments since she cannot write by hand. Stacy’s assistive technology eliminates the need to go to a separate room with a paraeducator acting as a scribe. Remaining in class with her peers boosts Stacy’s independence and confidence.
The above scenarios illustrate why assisstive technology is so necessary to the development of a student with disabilities. It allows increased participation in the classroom and promotes independence. For students receiving special education services, assistive technologies make academic and cooperative inclusion possible.
More schools are embracing inclusion, which specifically refers to the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom. The 1997 Reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which calls for access to the general education curriculum for all students, mandates that assistive technology be part of a student’s Individualized Education Plan. To give students equal access to curriculum and improve student outcomes, schools must deliver new and creative ways to meet the educational needs of all students. Assistive technology accomplishes these goals by allowing students with many types of disabilities to see, hear, read, write, and communicate. In fact, assistive technology often provides the only access to the general curriculum.
The benefits of assistive technology are great. Textbooks on CDs and e-books, for instance, provide material in alternate ways and allow students individual control over it with text-to-speech options or enlarged fonts. Students with hearing impairments can hear instruction with assisted listening devices as the teacher wears a microphone. Word processing programs can help students with learning disabilities write more easily using grade-level vocabulary and avoiding spelling difficulties. Alternative keyboards, touch screens, trackballs, and other hardware let students with physical disabilities complete assignments without dictating answers to paraeducators.
Assistive technology in schools does not only benefit students with disabilities. Teachers can better instruct students with different learning styles through computer-based instruction, which provides immediate feedback and can increase motivation. Special software can assist students in managing behavior and expressing themselves with less fatigue, frustration, and misunderstanding. More independence for individual students gives teachers more time with other students and with group activities. Other students also benefit since students using assistive technology are more fully integrated in classroom activities and cause fewer distractions. Seeing students using assistive technology effectively also provides a positive educational experience and prepares students for future interactions with individuals with disabilities.
Assistive technology enables students with disabilities to overcome impairments and access general curriculum. Specialized technologies allow teachers to customize instruction while giving more time to the entire class, and provide other students with an enriching educational experience.
This is only a short exploration of the necessity of this technology. It has improved the lives and well-being of countless students across the country and is improving every day.
- South Carolina Assistive Technology Program. (2010). What is assistive technology and how is it used in schools? From the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Center for Disability Resources.