ERIC Identifier: ED463595
Publication Date: 2002-01-00
Author: Behrmann, Michael - Jerome, Marci Kinas
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA.
Assistive Technology for Students with Mild Disabilities:
Update 2002. ERIC Digest.
Technology has become ubiquitous as a tool for teachers and students. 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. Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), uses the same definitions for assistive
technology as the Tech Act and mandates that assistive technology be considered
in developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with
disabilities. IDEA also emphasizes access to the general education curriculum
for all students with disabilities.
The Tech Act and the IDEA define an AT device 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 the functional
capabilities of a child with a disability. AT devices may be categorized as no
technology, low technology, or high technology (LD Online, 2001).
"No-technology" or "no-tech" refers to any assistive device that is not
electronic. No-tech items range from a piece of foam glued onto the corners of
book pages to make turning easier to a study carrel to reduce distraction.
"Low-technology" or "low-tech" devices are electronic but do not include highly
sophisticated computer components, such as an electronic voice-recording device
or a "talking watch" (Behrmann & Schaff, 2001). "High-technology" or
"high-tech" devices utilize complex, multifunction technology and usually
include a computer and associated software.
Lahm and Morissette (1994) identified areas of instruction in which AT can
assist students. Six of these are described here: (1) organization, (2) note
taking, (3) writing, (4) academic productivity, (5) access to reference and
general educational materials, and (6) cognitive assistance.
Low-tech solutions include teaching students
to organize their thoughts or work using flow-charting, task analysis, webbing,
and outlining. These strategies can also be accomplished using high-tech,
graphic, software-based organizers to assist students in developing and
structuring ideas. Such graphic organizers allow students to manipulate and
reconfigure brainstormed ideas and color code and group those ideas in ways that
visually represent their thoughts. Another 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 information. Using the Internet,
local area networks, or LCD projection systems enables students and their
teachers to collaborate, give feedback, and modify these applications either as
a group or individually at different times.
A simple, no-tech approach to note taking is
for the teacher to provide copies of structured outlines in which students fill
in information. Low- and high-tech methods include
* Videotaping class sessions for visual learners or those who are unable to
attend class for extended periods of time.
* Sending web-cam photography across the Internet to allow students to see
and hear what is happening in class (for students who are unable to attend
* Sending class notes or presentations to students via e-mail.
* Translating print-based notes to voice by using optical character
recognition (OCR) software with a voice synthesizer.
* Using notebook computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), or portable
word processing keyboards to help students with the mechanics of note taking.
Word processing may be the most important
application of assistive technology for students with mild disabilities. Writing
barriers for students with mild disabilities include
* Mechanics: spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.
* Process: generating ideas, organizing, drafting, editing, revising, and
producing a neat, clear final copy.
* Motivation: interest in writing.
Grammar and spell-checkers, dictionaries, and thesaurus programs assist in
the mechanics of writing. Macros are available that will insert an entire phrase
with the touch of a single key. Word prediction software helps students recall
or spell words.
During the writing process, word processors allow teachers to make
suggestions on the student's disk. If computers are networked, students can read
each other's work and make recommendations for revision. Computer editing also
reduces or eliminates problems such as multiple erasures, torn papers, and poor
handwriting. The final copy is neat and legible.
Motivation is often increased through the desktop publishing and multimedia
capabilities of computers. A variety of fonts and styles allow students to
customize their writing and highlight important features. Graphic images,
drawings, video, and audio can provide interest or highlight ideas. Multimedia
gives the student the means and the motivation to generate new and more complex
ideas. For early writers, there are programs that allow students to write with
pictures or symbols as well as text. In some of these programs, the student
selects a series of pictures to represent an idea, then the pictures are
transformed to words that can be read by a synthesizer and then edited.
Tools that assist productivity can be
hardware-based, software-based, or both. Calculators, for example, can be
separate, multifunction devices or part of a computer's software. Spreadsheets,
databases, and graphics software enhance productivity in calculating,
categorizing, grouping, and predicting events. The Internet, computers, and PDAs
can also aid productivity in note taking, obtaining assignments, accessing
reference material and help from experts, and communicating with peers. Instead
of relying on the telephone, students are increasingly sharing documents, using
instant messaging, and transferring documents to each other as e-mail
ACCESS TO REFERENCE AND GENERAL EDUCATIONAL
Access to the general education curriculum is emphasized by IDEA
and includes the ability to obtain materials as well as the ability to
understand and use them. Many students with mild disabilities have difficulty
gathering and synthesizing information for their academic work. In this arena,
Internet communications, multimedia, and universal design are providing new
Internet communications can transport students beyond their physical
environments, allowing them to interact with people far away and engage in
interactive learning experiences. This is particularly appropriate for
individuals who are easily distracted when going to new and busy environments
such as the library, who are poorly motivated, or who have difficulty with
reading or writing. Students can establish "CompuPals" via e-mail or instant
messaging with other students, which often motivates them to generate more text
and thus gain more experience in writing. Students can also access electronic
multimedia encyclopedias, library references, and online publications. However,
these experiences should be structured, because it is easy to get distracted or
lost as opportunities are explored.
Multimedia tools are another way in which information can be made accessible
to students. Multimedia 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. While a picture
can be worth a thousand words to one student, audio or text-based descriptive
video or graphic supports may help another student focus on the most important
features of the materials.
Used in conjunction with assistive technology, e-books can use the power of
multimedia to motivate students to read. They include high-interest stories: the
computer reads each page of the story aloud, highlighting the words as they are
read. Fonts and colors can be changed to reduce distraction. 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. Word definitions
can be added by electronic dictionaries and thesaurus. These books are available
in multiple languages, including English and Spanish, so students can read in
their native language while being exposed to a second language.
The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) promotes the concept of
universal design (Rose & Meyer, 2000), which asserts that alternatives
integrated in the general curriculum can provide access to all students,
including a range of backgrounds, learning styles, or abilities. Providing
material in digital form, which can easily be translated, modified, or presented
in different ways, can often attain the goal of universal design.
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, reading, and problem-solving skills. Prompting and scheduling
through PDAs, pagers, and Internet software also can assist students in
remembering assignments or important tasks. They can help students to follow
directions or a sequence of events, establish to-do lists, take and retrieve
notes, check spelling or look up words in a dictionary.
Special educators are familiar with the need to
create or customize instructional materials to meet the varied needs of students
with disabilities. Today, assistive technology can be more specifically targeted
to address an individual's needs through the emergent power and flexibility of
electronic tools and the ways in which they are combined and used. These
innovations affect teaching and learning as well as individual capabilities. For
students with mild disabilities, assistive technology can help to balance weak
areas of learning with strong areas.
Behrmann, M. & Schaff, J.(2001). Assisting
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Lahm, E., & Morrissette, S. (1994, April). Zap 'em with assistive
technology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Council for Exceptional
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Lee, C. (1999). Learning disabilities and assistive technologies; an emerging
way to touch the future. Amherst, MA: McGowan Publications.
Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2000). Universal design for individual differences.
Educational Leadership, 58(3), 39-43.
Center for Applied Special Technology http://www.cast.org
Closing the Gap http://closingthegap.com
Journal of Special Education Technology http://jset.unlv.edu
LD Online www.ldonline.org
Literacy Access Online http://www.literacyaccessonline.org
The National Assistive Technology Research Institute http://natri.uky.edu
Internet resources cited in this document were current at the time of
publication. Please note that Web addresses are subject to change.