Adaptive/Assistive Technology

First, this particular subject hits home with me, as I have a sister who has cognitive difficulty due to a series of unfortunate events in her life. First, born premature, hit by scarlet fever, and then has a major head injury when she is elementary school that led to years of seizures and basically stopping her learning (with years of help and difficulty) to about a 7th grade level.

Yet she is fairly able to communicate well when she is on the phone, and has surprised me with her ability to communicate at a near adult level by using email. Yet ask her to write an essay. Forget it. Engage in deep math. No. Memorize the members of the Lakers (her favorite team) No problem. Numbers and colors.

Technology-enhanced strategies have been pivotal in her development and also keeping her mental acumen as solid as possible as she nears 50 (she is proud of her age).

Thus, it was enlightening to see the growth in tech strategies for those who struggle, and here are a few that students at the high school level could engage in and achieve success.

Technology-enhanced strategies: cognitive difficulties

iPad/Android tablets:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 12.14.03Apple appears quite committed to special education, and a tablet can make a big difference for a student needed cognitive development thanks to apps, including Guided Access, which restricts a student to one app, helping those with distraction issues. Siri (iPhone/iPad) can help students with finding questions or typing. Tablets are fairly sturdy, and as quoted by Valle Dwight (see link below), “technology is tireless”. I have students who need to do a better job at brainstorming and organizing, and using their tablets (or even their iPhones) could go a long way in helping them get thoughts on paper.
For students who need a gaming approach to learning, a tablet can be just the ticket (A deeper look into tablets and assistive tech:


Screenshot 2013-11-23 22.09.54Apple has been at the forefront of usability for years, and items like VoiceOver are standard on every Mac. This allows text-to-speech, which not only assists in reading but providing structure and context to students struggling with cognition. Although the ad here mentions Alex, the voice of Mac, who speaks in a natural tone, there are optional voices as well. VoiceOver is customizable, so that teachers can add activities for students to engage in. (VoiceOver actually is only one part of the equation. Apple’s Text to Voice feature is pretty powerful as well, giving students and teachers another option).

Students with Physical Difficulties

Viacam (Windows:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 11.03.41For students who may have significant physical disability, the use of hands may be difficult. But if there is decent head movement, Viacam is an answer. Viacam uses a computer’s camera as a mouse, so even light head movements facilitate mouse movements.

However, one of the drawbacks is the limitation only to Windows, and also this source ware is beginning to show its age. Recent updates by Microsoft (Windows 8.1) and Apple (Mavericks) do show that older legacy software is increasingly in trouble. However, it is a free tool to place on computers constructed before 2013, and there are plenty of those in classrooms across the country.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

PDFConverter7_ProEuro_Mech_0622As educators, we sometimes look at physical disabilities at an obvious level, but in my years of instruction, I have been faced with plenty of broken arms and wrists that can limit a student for four to eight weeks, if not longer. That is a quarter or more of instruction potentially lost, setting back a student significantly.

Here is where Dragon NaturallySpeaking comes in. Not only does it do voice, it also directly links with Gmail or Outlook. The newer version also allows for posting to Facebook or Twitter, and also allows a person to basically do mouse commands by audio. I have encouraged the use of Dragon among my students for years, and with good results. Although Apple has software naturally included, for students who have diagnosed IEP’s in this area, I will still encourage the use of Dragon as well as using the standard fare to give students more options for success.

Students with Sensory Difficulties

Screenshot 2013-11-24 11.23.43Before examining deeper sensory difficulty, one of the biggest affecting students is dyslexia.

A recent discovery for me as a teacher is the use of the OpenDyslexia font. In addition, the open source creators of this have added some really nice features, including the ability to read Wikipedia with the font  and also eBooks  Apple’s Preview (PDF reader) actually does Text to Voice and will read the OpenDyslexic font…nice combination!

For children struggling with this situation, the creators have made Clicker, a word processor and word predictor application. (This could also help students with dyspraxia (language does not match language production, or mixing up of words while talking). There is even Sudoku for dyslexics, helping them develop hand to eye coordination via gaming. Well worth the investment (and the font use has personally made a difference in my classroom…one student suddenly found he enjoyed writing and his reading level jumped two grades levels in six months, all because of the ability to be confident in his reading).

OpenBook Scanning (OCR) 2013-11-24 11.33.14
For students struggling with deeper sight issues, or even with hearing issues, better and smaller technology has allowed for technology such as OpenBook Scanning. Similar to a document camera, OpenBook states it can capture up to 20 pages per minute, add comments and highlighting, and can be used as a video magnifier.  It also allows for vocal command support, making it a pretty powerful tool for students with visual and even hearing enhancement needs. Yes, there is a cost for this, but often there are sources to help with getting such material covered.

At-Risk Students

Screenshot 2013-11-24 11.41.01Screenshot 2013-11-24 11.41.39

These students need creativity to change up the day. Here, Glogster or Prezi may be a solid answer for students. Again, this is also experience talking here. I have noticed in the past three years that by adding Prezi and now Glogster, students who get to add their own materials to an assignment via a Problem-Based Learning assignment have not only achieved higher grades but also are more connected to their learning.

By giving a “loose” set of parameters (a guided rubric) and then letting students create, at-risk students feel a sense of empowerment in their education, something that for twenty years has been considered a source (Lamperes 1994) of necessity.

In fact, some of the very factors discussed in the next post are factors that an At-Risk student would also be dealing with (I have found in my 22 1/2 years of teaching that many of my at-risk kids are bright…and by personal testimony, my oldest daughter had a gifted IEP, but still ended up dropping out of school because the pace was too slow, and at that time, technology was not available enough to supplement her learning strategies).

Gifted and Talented Students

Gifted strategies usually weigh heavily on personalization, as Pyryt (2009, as cited in Robyler, Doering 2010) discusses in his Pyryt’s P’s (Pace-Process-Passion-Products-Peers).

Screenshot 2013-11-24 11.54.50To help engage in peer strategy, Schoology allows for teachers to provide individual instruction within a class. Students can be paired up with other gifted students to increase peer interaction through monitored discussion, but also be given alternate assignments that include podcasts, video, and other multimedia approaches that veer away from the structure gifted and talented students often have problems with handling. Teachers could also develop entire course content for gifted students that mirrors an existing course, but becomes a self-paced option in some or all cases for students. Schoology also allows teachers to set up pages for students to showcase their talents in a public but guarded forum.

Gifted and Talented students enjoy hands-on and deeper project-based approaches, and one approach is using creativity tools (one great source for ideas: 2013-11-24 12.04.34ages/main/newMN_CT.htm)

Two mind-tools I used with gifted and talented students is Visual (Sketch) Note-taking approaches, which allows students to use visual (including the use of words as visuals) for academic growth, or Mind Mapping ( Both allow students to “see” concepts and ideas outside of the standard reading. Talented students who have a propensity for art, music, video, or the web often develop alternative approaches for their learning that involve such images. Mind Tools has a plethora of ideas for a cost, but there are alternatives for teachers, especially in mind mapping with online software such as and mindmeister).
Screenshot 2013-11-24 12.10.38 Screenshot 2013-11-24 12.10.11

Dwight, V. (n.d.). Special Report- Assistive Technology. We Are Teachers. Retrieved from

Lamperes, B. (1994). Educational Leadership:Strategies for Success:Empowering At-Risk Students to Succeed. Educational Leadership, 52(3), 67–70. Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.).


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