Assistive technology consists of rehabilitative devices that are used to aid senior adults, adults with disabilities, and children in performing daily tasks. One of the primary uses of assistive technology is to aid children with various disabilities in their schooling.
Children working with pediatric occupational therapists may also use assistive technology during their one-on-one therapy sessions. Because they are so compassionate, it is common to hear of occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists (OTAs and OTs) advocating for the implementation of assistive tools in the classroom — to help their young patients continue therapeutic exercises outside of sessions.
There is a wide range of types of assistive technology. Some are fairly simple to integrate into classrooms, while others take more effort and pose more of a challenge. However, each is equally important because they all provide students with disabilities with an equal opportunity to learn.
Speech-to-text software is great for students with learning disabilities and/or who have difficulties typing. It’s also a great way for students who have difficulties with spelling and grammar. OTs often use speech-to-text software during their one-on-one therapy sessions with individuals that have a disability who need assistance in converting their spoken words into text.
Phonetic Spelling Software
Reading and writing is a common challenge among children with disabilities. Luckily there is software available, such as phonetic spelling software, that can help them overcome these obstacles. Phonetic spelling software is especially helpful for children who spell words how they sound. Students are also able to improve their reading and writing abilities by following along with the software as it correctly spells each word.
Students may find it difficult to complete written worksheets for various reasons (i.e. physically unable to write or lack of will to complete the task). However, the stress of completing them is even more so for those with different learning disabilities like:
- Non-verbal learning disabilities;
- Oral/written language disorder and specific reading comprehension deficit.
Electronic worksheets can help children with the above learning disabilities get a better understanding of their assignment and complete it with more confidence.
Modified calculators are great for students who have a physical or learning disability, or just simply have difficulty understanding math assignments. These calculators read equations out loud back to the students, check their math for errors, and perform standard calculations.
Children who are sensitive to sounds, such as children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), often struggle in classroom settings due to the number of overwhelming sounds like children screaming, electronics, and more. Noise-canceling headphones can be extremely helpful for these children because they cancel out the distracting sounds, allowing them to focus more on their studies.
Variable-speed Tape Recorders
Students who have difficulties remembering or retaining information often struggle in class, resulting in them falling behind in their studies. Giving these students access to assistive technology such as tape recorders with various speeds allows them to record lessons and play them back later on at their own pace.
Closed-captioning for Visual Media Content
Closed-captioning is the process of providing subtitles on the television, movies, or other visual displays, to make it easier for students who are deaf or hard of hearing to get a better understanding of what is being said in the audio clip. Giving students the opportunity to visualize what is being said can also improve their ability to understand the relationship between spoken and written words.
Incorporating closed-captioning is a fairly easy accommodation to make. It can also be applied to multiple media styles such as television, movies, PowerPoint presentations, and most other electronic visual aids that are common in a classroom setting.
Personal FM Listening Systems
Personal FM listening systems are devices created to help enhance an individual’s hearing capabilities. For those students who are hard of hearing, or even have difficulty focusing, a personal FM device could be used to help them by amplifying the sound of the presentation straight into their ears.
Similar to personal FM devices, audiobooks can help students block out the sounds around them allowing them to focus on the reading. Audiobooks are also helpful for students who may be blind or have limited vision. It is also common for students who have a hard time with reading and word comprehension to utilize audiobooks to help them get a better understanding of words and how they’re used.
Students who have trouble with time management may benefit from having a personal timer. This can help students keep track of how long they’ve been working on an assignment, inform them of how much time they have left, and ensure they aren’t spending more time than they need to on one task. This is also an easy way to implement assistive technology in the classroom because of the many devices available to help keep time i.e. tabletop timers, watches, stopwatches, and cell phones.
There are many keyboards, all offering a different service, that students can utilize to help them in school. For example:
- BigKeys: A BigKey keyboard is just like a standard version, except with enlarged keys to help those with visual impairments. This keyboard is also great for students with a lack of motor skills.
- Compact Keyboard: Compact keyboards are similar to standard keyboards, except they do not have the numeric keypad. This is a great option for those who are wanting to type from their wheelchair or want a simple keyboard to start out with.
- KeyGuards: KeyGuards are the most simple, yet effective way to customize a keyboard. This tool is placed on top of a keyboard and fills up the spaces between the keys, making it easier for users to type/find the letters they were looking for and prevents them from clicking the wrong key.
For students who need extra help visualizing their priorities, graphic organizers can do just that. Graphic organizers give students the opportunity to better organize their thoughts and daily tasks. One of the many benefits of them is that they can be created in multiple ways. They might look like dedicated folders and/or color-coded assignments — the level of customization with graphic organizers is vast.
It is easy for students to feel restless in a standard classroom chair. Changing classroom seating can help children with sensory disabilities stay seated, which ultimately helps them focus on their classwork. A few alternative classroom seating options include:
- Bean bag chairs;
- Exercise balls;
- Floor mats;
- Seat cushions;
- Swivel chairs.
Providing students with alternative seating is also a great start to creating a sensory room for children.
Laptops and Tablets
If feasible, including laptops and tablets in everyday learning can help students, especially those with disabilities, stay engaged in the curriculum. There are numerous applications available to assist with children that have a multitude of learning, physical, and mental disabilities. For instance, teachers can download apps that help with speech therapy, handwriting and dexterity issues, and word processing.
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