The Benefits of Assistive Technology Devices to Students with Disabilities in School

In 1990, the United States government enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law requiring public schools to design an Individualized Education Plan for disabled students. The plan must meet the needs of the disabled student in the least restrictive environment possible, a learning environment as close to equal as their non-disabled peers. The act’s intent was to teach disabled children skills needed to seek higher education, pursue employment, and live independently (“Individuals with Disabilities Education Act”, 2004, 2.2).

Today, schools are obligated to design creative educational programs for disabled students, and, for their part, technology coordinators facilitate the selection of appropriate assistive technology.

These devices aid students in every school subject, from the formal classroom to the physical education environment. Disabled students use assistive technology in educational settings to improve cognitive abilities and motor functions.

Assistive technology is defined as “any device that disabled children might use to help them learn and function more effectively” (Steele-Carlin, 2). There are over 4,000 assistive technology devices available for school use based on a student’s needs (Dalton, 1).

The technology coordinator can select a device from one of three categories, based on the student’s capabilities.

Devices are classified as low tech, mid tech, or high tech. Low tech devices do not require an electrical power source or special training for use by students. Mid tech tools may use a power source such as batteries and involve some training before the student can use it. High tech equipment involves higher costs and requires students to be trained to use the device effectively (LeCaze, 7).

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When selecting assistive technology, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board START team determined several elements to consider (2007). The factors are:

  • Age
  • Developmental and cognitive status
  • Physical abilities
  • Present needs
  • Future needs of the student

Additionally, before any decision is made, opinions about assistive devices should be collected from the students and their parents. If possible, students will choose to use low tech devices. They want to demonstrate they can be as functional as the other students in the class. Before operating the device in a classroom, the students should be comfortable using the device for the benefits to be achieved (START, 51).

Children with fine muscle disabilities present unique challenges for selecting assistive technology for the classroom and motor learning situations. The students must feel comfortable with the devices selected; they do not want to draw attention to themselves and their disability. Smaller pencils, pencil grips, or writing guides are low tech assistive devices for use by students with difficulty griping a pen or pencil (LeCaze, 9). Also, rubber bands may be wrapped around the pencil and hand to hold the pencil in place, reducing pressure on the muscles (FCTD, 5). These devices help students control the writing implement and improve handwriting mechanics. The students may benefit from an inclined desktop.

The change of the arm’s resting angle provides relief for muscles when writing. In the physical education settings, low tech devices increase the student’s motor capabilities. Student start using oversized balls, such as beach balls, to throw and catch using gross motor muscles to aid fine muscle development. As fine motor capabilities increase, balloons or tissues can be used to develop grabbing skills. Students with fine motor disabilities require oversized equipment to participate in games with non-disabled students. They play baseball games using oversized bats and whiffle balls. Students play golf using clubs with larger heads and place the ball on a tee for each shot (Martin, 28-32).

The adaptations permit some error in movement but increase the chance of success. New ideas using horticulture therapy demonstrated garden tending could benefit children with fine motor disabilities. The repetitive use of cultivation tools increased muscular strength, hand-eye coordination, and dexterity in disabled students (Martin, 19).

Assistive technology choices for students with visual impairments vary based on the student’s visual acumen. Selections should emphasize auditory and tactile feedback as the visually impaired explore the world with their ears and hands (Montagnino, 3-4). Students needing low tech assistance benefit from using bright colored materials reducing visual contrasts. Yellow paper and fluorescent reading guides are examples. Teachers can increase the font size, change the text color, and raise the brightness of a computer screen to assist visually disabled students. (Torreno, 5).

Also, page and computer screen magnifiers increase the size of the text making words easier to read. Digital readers assist students by scanning words in the textbook and repeating the material to the student. They use tape recorders to review class discussions. For completely blind students, technology choices will center on the use of Braille and other high technology choices. Selections include Braille keyboards and printers for students to type or read class material.

In physical education, visually impaired students should be oriented to the environment first using a peer guide to walk the student around the gymnasium providing detailed descriptions of the gynasium. Teachers should use carpet squares or rubber mats around the edge of the floor. The texture change signals the students of an approaching wall, allowing them to move freely around the gymnasium. Teachers attach fluorescent strips to objects and use brightly colored balls to develop catching skills. The strips aid with depth perception, orienting the ball in flight for the student. Vision impaired students can play tag games by adding bells to a vest worn by the tagger. Blind students use sound to improve their abilities.

Partners bounce a ball first, and the sound the ball makes when hitting the floor cues the blind student to the pass. Once the student’s skills become more advanced, a beeping ball may be used. Students track the ball in flight as the beeps become louder as the ball approaches. Also, students practice striking skills with implements by placing the ball on a tee. When the student hits the ball, the sound provides feedback of the direction and distance the ball traveled (Letcher, 4).

In the classroom hearing impaired students experience difficulty communicating with others. Laminated cards can be used for students to communicate their primary needs to the teacher. Today, digital devices have keyboards and speakers, giving students the ability to type their statements and speak with the teacher. As tablet usage has increased, applications are being designed to increase communication by hearing disabled students. Currently, programs allow students to select from a range of pictures, and the device will play a recorded statement to identify the student’s choices (Stroud, 9). Online learning environments enable hearing disabled students to participate with classmates. Posting boards allow them participate in online discussions, reading and responding to ideas other students have written.

In physical education settings, hearing disabled students need visual stimuli to succeed. Videos illustrate correct mechanics of a skill. The instructor should use assistive movements with students as they perform the skill. The tactile feedback demonstrates how the movement should be performed. A football on a string gives students feedback without verbal cues. The ball travels along a string attached to a hand band on both ends. The string runs through the middle of the football, and the student must use correct throwing mechanics for the ball to reach the other end of the rope.

Hearing disabled students can play full games with non-disabled classmates by using hand signals. To play basketball, two people wear red mitts on their hands. When the teacher blows a whistle to stop the game, the mitt wielders raise their hand and move into the sightline of the student. The student understands the game has stopped and looks for the teacher for further direction.

Students in wheelchairs require devices based on their capabilities. Students with upper body mobility will need fewer assistive technologies to function in the classroom. To aid with writing, students may use a table or lap desk. Wheelchair students benefit from the use of a laptop computer to store electronic textbooks and lecture notes decreasing necessary materials while increasing mobility (Starkman, 11). Many physical education tasks can be performed with different types of equipment.

Wheelchair students can throw balls through a hoop suspended from a basketball rim to practice shooting skills. They use oversized bats and a tee to strike implements. For tag games with classmates, they use a water noodle to extend their reach while other classmates push them around the gymnasium (FCTD, 3). When other students are jogging around a track, a hand crank can be attached to the wheelchair for students to engage in physical exercise. Participation in virtual games on video game consoles offers wheelchair students the opportunity to play competitive games against non-disabled classmates (FCTD, 5).

Students with motorized wheelchair need higher levels of assistive technology to operate in the normal classroom environment. Chair tables are installed for students to use as a desk along with a laptop computer. In physical education, students use a bowling ramp to roll the ball toward the set of pins. They practice targeting skills through adapted archery. In place of a bow and arrow, students use a high pressure water gun to shoot at a can a small distance away (FCTD, 5). For strengthening muscles, students use a pulley system with metal washers attached to the end of the rope. Students see the results of their work and build confidence in themselves (Byko, 2).

With assistive technology devices, disabled students develop their cognitive abilities and motor skills in school. They can interact and with other students and be a part of class activities unencumbered by their disability. With assistive technology, disabled students can reach the goal of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, for all students to have an equal opportunity to receive an education. For the disabled students, their objective is to demonstrate their skills to their classmates, and validate their belief that they can accomplish the same tasks.

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The Benefits of Assistive Technology Devices to Students with Disabilities in School. (2023, Mar 16). Retrieved from

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