ERIC Identifier: ED378755
Publication Date: 1995-01-00
Author: Behrmann, Michael M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Assistive Technology for Students with Mild Disabilities. ERIC
Technology is bursting into the classroom at all levels, as a tool for
teachers to develop, monitor, and provide instructions, and for students to
access and engage in learning. P.L. 100-407, The Technology-Related Assistance
for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act) was designed to enhance
the availability and quality of assistive technology (AT) devices and services
to all individuals and their families throughout the United States.
WHAT ARE ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY (AT) DEVICES?
The Tech Act
defines AT devices as any item, piece of equipment, or product system (whether
acquired off the shelf, modified, or customized) that is used to increase,
maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
AT devices may be categorized as high technology and low technology. Many
low-tech devices can be purchased at a hardware store, selected from a catalog,
or fabricated using tools and materials found in home workshops (Franklin,
1991). Examples might be note-taking cassette recorders, pencil grips, NCR
paper/copy machine, simple switches, head pointers, picture boards, taped
instructions, or workbooks. High-tech devices frequently incorporate some type
of computer chip, such as a hand-held calculator or a "talking clock." Examples
might be optical character recognition (OCR) calculators, word processors with
spelling and grammar checking, word prediction, voice recognition, speech
synthesizers, augmentative communication devices, alternative keyboards, or
HOW CAN AT BE APPLIED IN INSTRUCTION?
Lahm and Morrissette
(1994) outlined seven areas of instruction where AT could assist students with
mild disabilities. These areas include organization, note taking, writing
assistance, productivity, access to reference materials, cognitive assistance,
and materials modification. A number of approaches are available to assist
students with mild disabilities in these areas of instruction.
ORGANIZATION: Low-tech solutions include teaching students to organize their
thoughts or work using flow charting, task analysis, webbing or networking
ideas, and outlining. These strategies can be accomplished using graphic
organizers to visually assist students in developing and structuring ideas. A
high-tech solution might be the outline function of word processing software,
which lets students set out major ideas or topics and then add subcategories of
NOTE TAKING: A simple approach is for the teacher to provide copies of
structured outlines for students to use in filling in information. A high-tech
approach might include optical character recognition, which is software that can
transform typewritten material into computer-readable text using a scanner.
A teacher's typewritten notes can be duplicated using either NCR paper
(carbonless copies) or a copy machine. A slightly more high-tech method is to
use microcassette recorders. Or, notes can be read by a voice synthesizer,
allowing students with reading difficulty to review the notes much the same as
reviewing a tape recording. Recorders are beneficial for students with auditory
receptive strength, but they may be less useful for those needing visual input.
Videotaping class sessions may be helpful for visual learners who pick up on
images or body language, or for students who are unable to attend class for
extended periods of time.
Laptop or notebook computers can provide high-tech note taking for many
students with disabilities. An inexpensive alternative to a full-function
portable computer is the portable keyboard. The limitations of these keyboards
are in formatting information and a screen display limited to four lines of
WRITING ASSISTANCE: Word processing may be the most important application of
assistive technology for students with mild disabilities. Many of these students
have been identified as needing assistance in the language arts, specifically in
writing. Computers and word processing software enable students to put ideas on
paper without the barriers imposed by paper and pencil. Writing barriers for
students with mild disabilities include mechanics: spelling, grammar and
punctuation errors; process: generating ideas, organizing, drafting, editing,
and revising; and motivation: clarity and neatness of final copy, reading
ability, and interest in writing.
Grammar/spellcheckers, dictionaries, and thesaurus programs assist in the
mechanics of writing. Macros, a feature that allows keystrokes to be recorded in
a file that can be used over and over, also assist in mechanics. Macros can be
used for spelling difficult text, for repetitive strings of words, or for
formatting paragraphs and pages. Macros also save time for students who have
difficulty with either the cognitive or motor (keyboarding) requirements of
writing. Word prediction is assistive software that functions similarly to
macros. If a student has difficulty with word recall or spelling and cannot
easily use the dictionary or thesaurus feature, then word prediction software
offers several choices of words that can be selected.
Teachers can use the editing capabilities of the word processor during the
writing process, making electronic suggestions on the student's disk. If the
computer is on a network, students can read each other's work and make comments
for revision. Painter (1994) indicated that peer feedback was an effective way
to assist students in generating and revising text. Computer editing also
reduces or eliminates problems such as multiple erasures, torn papers, poor
handwriting, and the need to constantly rewrite text that needs only minor
modifications. The final copy is neat and legible.
Motivation is often increased through the desktop-publishing and multimedia
capabilities of newer computers. A variety of fonts and styles are available,
allowing students to customize their writing and highlight important features.
Graphic images, drawings, and even video and audio can be added to the project
to provide interest or highlight ideas. Multimedia often gives the student the
means and the motivation to generate new and more complex ideas.
PRODUCTIVITY: Assistive productivity tools can be hardware-based,
software-based, or both. Calculators, for example, can be the credit-card type
or software based, which can be popped up and used during word processing.
Spreadsheets, databases, and graphics software also offer productivity tools,
enabling students to work on math or other subjects that may require
calculating, categorizing, grouping, and predicting events. Productivity tools
also can be found in small, portable devices called personal digital assistants
(PDAs). Newer PDAs can be used as notetaking devices via a small keyboard or
graphics-based pen input. Some PDAs can translate words printed with the pen
input device to computer-readable text, which can then be edited with the word
processor and transmitted to a full function computer.
ACCESS TO REFERENCE MATERIALS: Many students with mild disabilities have
difficulty gathering and synthesizing information for their academic work. In
this arena, telecommunications and multimedia are providing new learning tools
for the students.
A computer and a modem can transport students beyond their physical
environment to access electronic information. This is particularly appropriate
for individuals who are easily distracted when going to new and busy
environments such as the library. Telecommunications networks offer access to
the information superhighway. Students can establish "CompuPals" with other
students, which often motivates them to generate more text and thus gain more
experience in writing. Students can also access electronic encyclopedias,
library references, and online publications. However, these experiences should
be structured, because the information highway is complex and it is easy to get
distracted or lost as opportunities are explored.
Multimedia-based tools are another way in which information can be made
accessible to students. Multimedia's use of text, speech, graphics, pictures,
audio, and video in reference-based software is especially effective in meeting
the heterogeneous learning needs of students with mild disabilities.
COGNITIVE ASSISTANCE: A vast array of application program software is
available for instructing students through tutorials, drill and practice,
problem-solving, and simulations. Many of the assistive technologies described
previously can be combined with instructional programs to develop and improve
cognitive and problem-solving skills.
Multimedia CD-ROM-based application programs offer another tool for assisted
reading. Similar to talking word processors, CD-based books include
high-interest stories that use the power of multimedia to motivate students to
read. These books read each page of the story, highlighting the words as they
are read. Additional clicks of the mouse result in pronunciation of syllables
and a definition of the word. When the student clicks on a picture, a label
appears. A verbal pronunciation of the label is offered when the student clicks
the mouse again. These books are available in both English and Spanish, so
students can read in their native language while being exposed to a second
MATERIALS MODIFICATION: Special educators are familiar with the need to
create instructional materials or customize materials to meet the varied needs
of students with disabilities. Today there are powerful multimedia authoring and
presentation tools that educators can use to develop and modify computer-based
instructional materials for students with mild disabilities, providing a
learning tool that these students can access and use to balance their weak areas
of learning with their strong areas.
Authoring software allows teachers and students to develop instructional
software that can incorporate video, pictures, animation, and text into
hypermedia-based instruction. Multimedia authoring software is very easy to
learn and use. In fact, authoring software packages are even available for young
children. For example, if the objective is to teach map reading, an image of a
local map can be scanned in and specific locations can be made into buttons that
the students can click on, causing a short video clip playing of the familiar
location. A set of questions might be asked using both text and synthesized
speech to have students give directions on how to get the location shown on the
video. Students could then write directions (or draw their own map). Digitized
pictures of landmarks could also be incorporated into the directions. These
directions, along with the images, could then be printed for use in completing
the assignment. Without the ability to author and incorporate multimedia easily
into instructional software, such computer-based training would be impossible
because of the need to incorporate the shared learning concepts inherent in
local environments into the assisted-learning process. Such instruction can make
learning more efficient and certainly more real for students for whom abstract
learning and generalization may be difficult.
Franklin, K.S. (1991). Supported employment and
assistive technology--A powerful partnership. In S.L. Griffin & W.G. Revell
(Eds.), Rehabilitation counselor desktop guide to supported employment.
Richmond, VA : Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and
Training Center on Supported Employment.
Lahm, E., & Morrissette, S. (1994, April). Zap 'em with assistive
technology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Council for Exceptional
Children, Denver, CO.
Painter, D.D. (1994). A study to determine the effectiveness of
computer-based process writing with learning disabled students under two
conditions of instruction: Peer collaborative process model and nonpeer
collaborative process model. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason
University, Fairfax, VA.
Asen, S. (1994). Teaching and learning with technology. Alexandria, VA :
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Johnson, L.J., Pugach, M.C., & Devlin S. (1990). Professional
collaboration. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 22, 9-11.
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1988). Power on! New tools
for teaching and learning (OTA-SET-379). Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Digests published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted
Education are available for downloading or online reading on the AskERIC Virtual
The following Internet sites provide additional information on assistive
technology for students with disabilities:
Gopher sites: gopher sjuvm.stjohns.edu
Rehabilitation Resource Center
From Behrmann, M. (1994). Assistive technology for students with mild
disabilities. "Intervention in School and Clinic," 30(2), 70-83. Adapted by