An Overview of Assistive Technology
Learning disabilities can't be cured or fixed. But with the help of certain tools and techniques, a child (or adult) with a learning disability can work around his or her difficulties in reading, writing, spelling, math, organization or memory.
Many children, adolescents and adults with disabilities can benefit from using tools (or technology aids) to assist with everyday activities. Complex, high-tech tools as well as common, more low-tech devices are all examples of assistive technology. The purpose of these teaching and learning tools and assistive technology devices is to help people work around specific deficits rather than fixing them. They are intended to help people with learning disabilities of all ages to reach their full potential, giving them greater freedom and independence along the way.
Tools for people with learning disabilities can be as simple as highlighters, color coding files or drawers, books on tape, tape recorders, calculators or a different paper color or background color on a computer screen. Complex or high-tech, assistive technology devices include:
- computers with print-recognition software that "read" text aloud,
- speech recognition systems that turn oral language into written text,
- talking calculators that assist people with math difficulties, and
- software that predicts and edits words for people who are prone to spelling difficulties.
Assistive Technology Can:
- minimize the extent to which individuals with LD need to ask for help (enabling them to be more independent learners)
- improve the speed and accuracy of work
- reinforce effective classroom instruction and strengthen skill development
- help students to 'fit in' with classroom learning and routines
- motivate students with LD to set high goals for themselves and to persevere
Assistive Technology Cannot:
- compensate for ineffective teaching
- make a learning disability go away
- be expected to provide the same benefits to different users
- automatically promote positive attitudes toward learning
It is critical to keep in mind that assistive technology is meant to "assist" and not replace intentional, well-designed and implemented instruction. It is often the case that students who use tools like screen readers and calculators show some improvement in their reading and math skills over time. This may be in part due to their added exposure to and practice with the very skills that, without technological assistance, would cause them to fall behind.
A sometimes overlooked benefit of assistive technology is that it can help to reduce the enormous stress that is often experienced by students with LD. Struggling to stay current with assignments, needing personal assistance from parents, teachers, and tutors, and the frustration of not being in control can (and often does) contribute to feelings of helplessness and threats to self-confidence and self-worth. Assistive technology can be very effective in bolstering students' positive self-image and helping to empower them to compensate for specific disability-related limitations.
Deciding Which Applications Are Best For You
- What specific needs would you like to be addressed by this tool?
- What are the student's strengths?
- How interested (and motivated) is the student in using assistive technology?
- Where will the tools be used? (home, school, social settings)
- Will this tool be needed for use in more than one place?
- How easy is this application to learn and to operate?
- How reliable is it?
- How well does it work in combination with other technologies?
- What kind of technical support does the manufacturer offer?
- What local support will you need to make sure things are working well?
Finding the right match between assistive technology tools and the needs of students with LD will take some work, but if done thoughtfully, can be invaluable in promoting successful learning and independence.
This article was, in part, adapted from a publication of the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities.