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Column: Assistive technologies benefit all

By Deb Stoll, District 518

WORTHINGTON — Technology surrounds us in our homes, our work environments and our communities. In fact, many of us could not imagine our lives without the benefit of technology. Items such as of glasses, hearing aids, walkers and wheelchairs have been assisting people with physical concerns for many years now, but, with the technology revolution, we have added to our list of items we seem to need: cell phones, smart TVs, IPads, robots, Amazon’s Alexa and the GPS for traveling to any destination in the world.  As a society, we may even take for granted the technology we have in 2018.

Within a school system, the technology for students with special needs is called assistive technology (AT). This type of technology is required to be considered as a component of the Individual Education Plan for each child with a disability in order for the child to receive a Free and Public Education (FAPE). These technologies are designed to help students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum and environment. Assistive technology is any piece of equipment or technology system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. Special education teachers match the student’s needs as it relates to the disability with an assistive technology that will assist the student in making educational progress. Often teachers trial the chosen AT to determine whether the AT is effective, useful and able to assist the student to receiving a FAPE.

For example, students with a disability in reading may have assistive technology support provided in size of the wording, spacing of the text, along with the color of print. Books can be provided in digital, audio and tactile format often with symbols and objects so students can better understand the main ideas of the book. Close-captioning and written text-to-speech programs are very helpful for some students who struggles with reading text presented at grade level.

Other assistive technology systems are available for students with a disability in composing written material. Teachers may considered writing templates, word prediction programs and voice recognition software. A program called Read, Write & Gold helps with writing skills through a word prediction program. As a student is composing on the computer, the program attempts to predict, on the basis of the subject, the word that the student is reaching for and provides word choices. There are also assistive technologies available for the physical process of writing, such as adapted pencil grips, adapted paper, slant boards, adjustable tables and adapted chairs, such as wobble stools and rocker chairs. These chairs can also be considered AT for students with attention and concentration concerns.

Disabilities in math calculation and problem solving also are areas where assistive technology can be applied. Staff consider talking watches and clocks, adapted calculators, math software, raised lines for math problems and changes in text size, in addition to spacing and color background.

In addition, students who experience a communication disability may have access to communication boards, voice output devices, eye-gaze technology and picture schedules. These supports allow students to participate in classroom activities, and communicate with teachers and peers.  

Whatever the disability, schools must consider the needs of the student and provide the AT to assist the student in benefitting fully from their education programs. Although many of us may take for granted the amazing technology and resources available to us, the assistive technology used in schools to assist students with special needs make a significant difference in learning and making progress in the education. We are grateful for the advancement of technology and how AT benefits students.

Deb Stoll is District 518’s director of special education.