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What do pencil grips, scooters and talking calculators have in common? They are all assistive devices that allow students with disabilities to participate more fully in school. Assistive technology, such as pencil grips for students with fine motor difficulty, can be low-tech. At the high-tech end? Speech-generating devices allow students who are non-verbal to develop language skills and communicate.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines assistive technology as “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 the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.”

How can educators learn to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities? A Master of Education in Special Education can prepare teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to help diverse learners develop to their full potential, such as how to use assistive technology in the classroom.

Mississippi College offers a Master of Education in Special Education for teachers who are passionate about helping students with special needs. Educators can choose from multiple start dates for the M.Ed. program and complete the fully online coursework to earn this degree in just 10 months and advance their careers as Special Education Teachers, Resource Teachers and Intervention Specialists.

What Is Special Education?

The IDEA is a law that governs how states and public agencies provide special education to children with disabilities. This law defines special education as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.”

What does “specially designed instruction” mean? The IDEA describes specially designed instruction as adapting “the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction” as appropriate to the needs of the child. This includes:

    • Addressing a student’s unique needs that result from a disability.
    • Ensuring access to the general curriculum so that the student can meet educational standards that apply to all children.

This instruction may take place in the classroom and in physical education programs. It may also take place in the home, hospitals and other settings.

How Can Assistive Technology Help Students With Disabilities?

Imagine having difficulty holding a pencil, forming letters and numbers, and staying inside the lines. What if getting thoughts down on paper was physically painful and exhausting? What would a day at school be like?

Dysgraphia is among the most common learning disabilities. Dysgraphia is a neurological impairment that affects writing, and it can impact a student’s success in school. For students with dysgraphia, appropriate assistive technology can provide alternatives to handwritten expression. Voice recognition software that converts speech to text is one example.

Assistive technology devices (and related services, such as transportation and parent training) can help educators meet the needs of students with a range of disabilities. Under the IDEA, these disabilities include:

  • Intellectual disability such as Down syndrome.
  • Speech and language impairment (communication disorders).
  • Hearing and visual impairment.
  • Serious emotional impairment.
  • Orthopedic impairment such as a fracture or cerebral palsy.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  • Traumatic brain injury.
  • Specific learning disabilities such as dysgraphia and dyslexia.
  • Multiple disabilities.
  • Other health impairments, such as diabetes and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

What Are Some Other Examples of Assistive Technology in Action?

Graphic organizers are a common teaching tool. They are also an example of assistive technology. Wheelchairs, scooters and walkers might be appropriate assistive technology for students with limited mobility.

There are many other assistive technologies that can benefit students with disabilities:

  • Reading pens can convert any printed document to speech, allowing students with dyslexia to learn by listening.
  • Speech-generating devices use pictures, letters and words to produce speech. This can help students who are nonverbal express themselves.
  • Talking calculators read aloud each key pressed. This can provide helpful feedback to students with math learning disabilities such as dyscalculia. These devices can also support students with visual impairments.
  • Text or reader mode reduces distractions on web pages by eliminating graphics. This may increase the ability to focus for children with ADHD.
  • FM listening systems can make it easier for students with hearing impairments to hear what the teacher is saying.

As Great Schools, a national nonprofit, points out, assistive technology is not a cure for learning disabilities. But what assistive technology can do is help children “use their abilities (strengths) to work around their disabilities (challenges).”

Congress amended the IDEA in 2015, stating:

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

A Master of Education in Special Education can help teachers gain advanced skills and knowledge to plan and implement effective individualized programs for their students. Part of this process involves identifying appropriate assistive technologies that can help students develop greater independence and experience success.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Special Education program.


IDEA: Sec. 300.39 Special Education

IDEA: Sec. 300.8 Child With a Disability

National Institutes of Health: Learning Disabilities: Condition Information

National Institutes of Health: Assistive Devices for People with Hearing, Voice, Speech, or Language Disorders

Learning Abled Kids: Reading Pen Assistive Technology: Independent Reading for Dyslexia

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Great! Schools: Assistive Technology for Kids with LD: An Overview

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