Assistive Technology Can Help Special-Needs Students

By Rob Klindt

Special-needs students can have a hard time adapting to new technology that is revolutionizing how teachers teach and how students learn.

Teachers are engaging students with online video, interactive whiteboards, tablet computers, smartphones and many more tools. Many students who are already familiar with Web and digital technology seem to be responding enthusiastically.

But hearing- or visually impaired students might not be able to easily follow lessons delivered via an interactive whiteboard or online video program. Students with mobility issues may not be able to use a standard computer keyboard, mouse or touchscreen tablet. Those with cognitive problems or learning disabilities may struggle to retain material from lectures.

Fortunately, help is available from a variety of technologies, devices and services designed specifically for special-needs children.

Here is an overview of some of the assistive technology that’s helping students with physical, emotional or learning disabilities move toward success in the classroom.

Picture of a Livescribe Echo Smartpen

Livescribe’s Echo smartpen lets students record classroom lectures and take notes, then sync everything to a computer or tablet for playback.

Software

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking. This speech-recognition software is built for students who are unable to use a keyboard. It allows them to create email and documents, launch applications, open files and more with just voice commands.
    Visit the site
  • TalkTyper. This free Web-based speech-to-text software program is compatible with most computers and portable devices that have a microphone and speaker.
    Visit the site
  • WordTalk. This free text-to-speech plug-in is for Microsoft Word users.
    Visit the site
  • Screen readers. These programs allow blind or visually impaired students to read text displayed on a computer screen using a speech synthesizer. The American Foundation for the Blind offers links to some of them.
    Visit the site

Adaptive hardware

  • Flipper low-vision magnifier. This magnifying camera lets students with vision problems view and manipulate text, photos and documents from any distance or angle on a computer monitor or television screen.
    Visit the site
  • Mouse alternatives. Students who can’t use a traditional computer mouse because of hand or arm movement problems may be able to use trackballs, touch screens and  joysticks. The Accessible Technology Coalition offers a good overview.
    Visit the site 
  • Smartpen. The tech company Livescribe makes electronic pens that allow students to record classroom lectures while taking notes, then sync everything to a computer or tablet for playback.
    Visit the site


More Resources for Assistive Technology

It’s important that teachers keep up with the constantly evolving wave of assistive technology for special-needs students. A good way to start is by talking with school district learning-disability specialists or other teachers and asking them to share their experiences with helping special-needs students adapt to changing classroom technologies.

Also, the Internet has hundreds of articles, blogs, studies and websites devoted to assistive technology for special-needs students. Here are a few:

  • Alliance for Technology Access. This nationwide network of technology resource centers aims to increase access and use of technology by children and adults with disabilities.
    Visit the site
  • TechMatrix. This searchable collection provides links to online assistive and technology tools and resources to support learning for students with disabilities.
    Visit the site
  • Dell Assistive Technology. The well-known computer maker offers an extensive collection of assistive technology software and hardware solutions designed for students with disabilities.
    Visit the site
  • Closing the Gap. This website features a searchable database of computer-related products designed for children and adults with special needs.
    Visit the site
  • The MORGAN. Project: Assistive technology for classroom use can be expensive and many school districts may not have enough money for it. This non-profit organization seeks to provide opportunities for special-need kids in the form of grants, equipment exchanges, and health and family-support services.
    Visit the site 

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