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Special Education-Technology In The Classroom

Updated on March 22, 2014

Advancement In Assistive Technology

As all other areas of technology change, advancements in assistive technology products for disabled students in the classroom make it possible for students to be educated more often with non-disabled students. Assistive technology in special education can be as simple as a game or individual white board and is labeled as "low tech." Software, webtools, video and audio recording and medical technology products for the disabled are examples of higher technology.

This article features some of the current best high technology for both high and low incidence disabilities in the class.

What Are High Incidence And Low Incidence Disabilities?

High incidence disabilities are the most common in classrooms. They include a wide range abilities and disabilities from mild to moderate. Included are communication disorders, learning disabilities, mild to moderate mental impairment and emotional behavioral disorders.

Lower incidence disabilities are less commonly represented in the classroom and include a wide range of disabilities-some present at birth and others acquired later in life. Visual and hearing impairments, physical impairments and autism are low incidence disabilities.

Assistive technology can be as simple as a board game.
Assistive technology can be as simple as a board game. | Source

Idea Definition Of Assistive Technology

Statute Title I /A/602/1

A) In general--the term 'assistive technology device' means any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

B) Exception: The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device.

Organizing the Classroom

What Is A Communication Disorder?

A communication disorder is a breakdown in the process of forming expressive language. The breakdown may be in formulating an idea, coding the idea into spoken words or simply remembering the sequence of previous speaking. For a serious communication disorder it may be necessary to provide the student with a communication board.

Board-maker software by Mayer-Johnson allows adults to make and adapt curriculum materials for students who need symbols. Choose a template and then choose symbols specific to students from thousands of pictures. Then print the activity or use on line.

What Are Mild To Moderate Disabilities?

Students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities will have cognitive processing difficulties in one or more of the areas of reading, written and oral expression or math. Learning disabled students have the difficulties while being of average or above in intelligence. Mild to moderate delayed students will have lower than average intelligence standardized composite test scores.

A great percentage of students with a learning disability have difficulty in the area of reading. Reading involves a neurological process in the central nervous system, the brain. Students may have good decoding skills but difficulty with comprehension. Others may have poor decoding skills due to dysfunction in the area of the brain that processes sounds. With a text reading system electronic documents can be read through a computer sound card. Hard copy text can be scanned and converted to text file that can be read by software with Optical Character Recognition. The computer reads the words back using a speech synthesizer while visually presenting the words on the computer screen. Students can highlight words, sentences or paragraphs with color. Simultaneous visual and auditory input while reading is valuable to students. It provides remediation for the disability as opposed to only compensating for it.

Commonly used screen readers:

Adobe Digital Editions

Cast Learning Tools

HELP read


Since spelling requires many different abilities it is one of the most difficult tasks for students with cognitive processing problems. A lack of phonetic sounds knowledge, structural analysis knowledge and poor visual memory hinder these students' ability to spell.

Spell checkers are available as stand alone desk top and pocket sized tools. The Webster Spelling Corrector Plus features phonetic spelling correction. Students type the word like it sounds for automatic spelling correction. It also has a confusable word function that alerts the student when one word might be confused with another.

Learning disabled and mild to moderately impaired students have problems with organization and integration of ideas. Concept mapping and outlining programs allow students to take unstructured information and organize it using a graphic organizer approach. Graphic organizers can keep students from getting bogged down in details. By mapping ideas graphically students will be more likely to stay focused on the main idea.

Inspiration and Kidspiration are software programs designed to promote visual thinking, a learning style in which the learner better understands and retains information associated with images. Graphic organizers, outlines and diagrams help students organize and analyze information to think critically. The software has tools for turning student's notes into these visual aids. Students begin the writing process with ease after developing their visual aid.

A mathematics learning disability is debilitating in school and later in adult life. Dyscalculia is a medically oriented word describing a severe disability in the acquisition of math skills. It is analogous to dyslexia in that there is a specific disturbance in the area of the brain in which math concepts are formed.

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, supported by the National Science Foundation, is a library of interactive web based virtual manipulatives and concept tutorials to provide more concrete math instruction to struggling K-12 students. Manipulatives are physical objects that help students visual mathematical relationships and applications

What Technology Is Available For Hearing Impaired Students?

Hearing impaired students are served in the schools through IDEA(Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act). They can benefit from instruction in the general education classroom with effective accommodations depending on the degree of the impairment. The hard of hearing can hear speech tones with hearing aids in a quiet environment; but when placed in a full classroom the teacher's voice becomes muffled. Assistive Listening Devises use a microphone transmitter placed near the teacher's mouth to send her voice through air or by cable to the student's receiver. Sound is then clearer, echos eliminated and surrounding noises reduced. An FM system is a wireless devise that uses radio transmition to send auditory signals. There is a microphone for the teacher connected to a transmitter attached to the body and a receiver for the student to clip to their clothing or connect to a hearing aid.


For secondary and college students the speech-to-text system C-Print is an access service option for deaf students and those with severe hearing loss. The basis of C-Print is printed text of spoken English displayed in real time, a proven method for the deaf or hard of hearing to acquire information.

What Technology Is Available To Visually Impaired Students?

Visual Impairments make up the smallest percentage of low incidence disabilities in schools, ranging from mild to severe. Some students classified as legally blind may have some vision and are labeled as low vision students. Low tech methods to increase visibility of material such as enlarged print, bold lined paper, special lighting or magnification lenses can assist these students.

For students with no vision the Kurzweil 1000 from Cambridge Learning is the best text-to-speech software available to enhance reading and writing. The application turns text into synthesized speech and much more. Users can bookmark, make notes, skim and summarize text. Students can edit or create documents assisted by an audible dictionary, thesaurus or spell checker. They can use Kurzweil 1000 to retrieve information on-line with features that simplify on-line information.

What Technology Is Availablable For Students With Physical Disabilities In The Classroom?

Physical disabilities in the classroom are either orthopedic or neurological impairments. These physical disabilities and other health impairments range from moderate to severe and temporary to permanent. They may be associated with disease, injury or be congenial (from birth). With advances in technology software students with physical disabilities can succeed in the classroom.

Gripping objects, moving arms and legs, and range of motion are all issues that can make it difficult to use keyboards, touch screens, computer mice. Speech recognition software will allow these students to control a computer by talking into it. Instead of controlling the computer with keyboard or mouse the student speaks instruction into the microphone connected to the computer. The student can then perform demands of opening and saving a document, "writing" into the document by speaking into the microphone. Words appear on the computer screen in a word processing format. The student can revise or edit by speaking.


Dragon Systems

e Speaking

What Technology Is Available For Autism And Severe Multiple Disorders?

Autism is a spectrum disorder in which students have mild to severe communication disorders. Students with severe autism may have little or no expressive and receptive speech. Autistic students and students with multiple disabilities will have problems learning new information. They can greatly benefit through video modeling, a teaching method that uses video recording and display equipment to provide a visual model or the skill or behavior to be taught.

  • Basic video modeling records records someone besides the learner modeling the skill.
  • Video self modeling records the learner performing the skill.
  • Point of view models the skill to be learned from the perspective of the learner
  • Video prompting breaks the skill down into steps; each step is recorded with a pause for the learner to review and practice.

With today's lower cost of producing videos, video modeling is gaining popularity in using with more disabled students and students with emotional and behavior disorders, a higher incidence disability.

Joe's is an all-in-one web tool for creating schedules, visual stories and more for autistic and multiple disorders students. Picture schedules can be viewed on an IPad. A How-To guide teaches step by step how to create schedules and other visual aids. It is a value at $20 per year.

Disabilities And Future Technology

There is already a plethora of assistive technology available for students with disabilities. The ones presented here are few. As technology advances students will become more able to be educated in the least restrictive environment and with greater effectiveness.


Teaching Students With Learning Problems, Ann Mercer, Cecil Mercer

The Inclusive Classroom: Strategies For Effective Instruction, Margo Mastropieri, Thomas Scruggs


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