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Assistive Technology Can Help Students Overcome

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If your classroom has students with special needs, modern technology can be a massive blessing. Digital devices and screen capability have helped countless students overcome communication hurdles and obstacles to class participation. While technologies from across the field have been coopted to help students with special needs and disabilities succeed in school, specially designed technology, or "assistive technology," has proved particularly useful.

Assistive technology in K-12 classrooms is designed to improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. While the word technology automatically conjures up images of cutting-edge electronics, some assistive technology is possible with just simple accommodations. Whether high tech or simple in design, assistive technology has the ability to transform the learning experiences for the children who benefit.

With so much talk about mobile devices at K-12 desks and teaching technology for the majority of students, it can be easy to overlook the strides also being made for students with disabilities in assistive technology. Here's a look at strides being made in some common assistive technology areas:

Alternative Input Devices

These tools are designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily. Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands, or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area is sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology that is providing K-12 learners with disabilities better use of computers and mobile devices for learning.

Text-to-Speech Options

This technology is making mainstream waves through its use in popular cell phones like the Android-platform Razr M. While it is a convenience tool for people without disabilities, text-to-speech provides a learning advantage for students who have mobility or dexterity problems, or those who are blind. It allows students to speak their thoughts without typing and even navigate the Internet. Text-to-speech options can also "talk back" to students and let them know about potential mistakes or errors in their work.

Sensory Enhancers

Depending on the disability, children may need to learn differently than their peers. Instead of ABCs and numbers first, a child with language hindrances may benefit from bright pictures or colors to learn new concepts. Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools, or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.

Screen Readers

This technology is slightly different from text-to-speech because it simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or struggling to see what is on the screen can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who struggle to do what so many other Americans accomplish so easily--glean information from a computer screen in a matter of seconds--can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them.

Assistive technology in simple and complex platforms has the ability to lift the entire educational experience and provide a better life foundation for K-12 students with disabilities.

If you have students an Individual Education Plan or any kind of learning disability, consider contacting your district's special education coordinator to see what kinds of assistive technologies are available to you.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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