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How Assistive Technology Helps Students With Disabilities

Cari Jean lives in North Dakota, has a daughter with cerebral palsy, and works as a freelance writer.

The little grey boxes on the tray are used to drive a power chair.

The little grey boxes on the tray are used to drive a power chair.

Why Assistive Technology Is Important for Students With Disabilities

For a student with disabilities, the classroom can be daunting. Students with disabilities may already feel different from their peers, then add in the fact that they may not be able to do even the simplest tasks like writing their own name or turning the page of a book.

With the help of assistive technology, however, students feel empowered to do things they wouldn't normally be able to do on their own. Though some assistive technology is very complex, it makes life much simpler for students who have disabilities.

What Is Assistive Technology?

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the legal definition for assistive technology device is "any item, piece of equipment, or product system [ . . . ] that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability."

Or, more simply put, assistive technology is something that enables one to use their abilities in order to work around their disabilities.

Communication boards help students who have difficulty speaking.

Communication boards help students who have difficulty speaking.

Switches make it possible for some students to use a computer at school.

Switches make it possible for some students to use a computer at school.

Types of Assistive Technology

Since assistive technology is useful for students with a wide spectrum of disabilities – from learning disabilities to severe physical impairments – there are many different types. Assistive technology is used to help students do the following:


For students who are nonverbal or who have a hard time talking, there are ways to help them communicate with their teachers and their peers. Communication boards, communication enhancement software and voiced word processing are all different tools that can be used.


Some students have hearing impairments or are not able to process information by listening. Some types of assistive technology used for students who have auditory disabilities include close captioning, hearing aids and personal FM units in which the teacher wears a transmitter and the student wears a receiver.

Visual Aids

Some students may have impaired vision and may need to use large-type books, high-contrast materials, screen readers and screen enlargers.

Working on a Computer

Even the youngest of school children use computers to help them learn. For students with disabilities, the computer is a great tool as well. Different software gives students the ability to write, spell and read.

Oftentimes, the textbooks that are being used in the classroom can get downloaded onto the computer for the student with special needs. There are also mounting systems so that a computer can be mounted on a wheelchair for easier accessibility.


There is a lot of moving around at school. Students go down hallways and to different rooms all day long. For students with physical disabilities, wheelchairs and self-propelled walkers are types of assistive technology that help them get around.

Performing Tasks

Capability switches are types of assistive technology that allow students with physical impairments to perform certain tasks. Such a task might include being able to use battery-operated scissors with the push of a button. These special switches or buttons can also be used to operate a computer, play with adapted toys or activate an adapted device.

If the student is unable to push the button, there are also switches that operate by eye blinks, muscle twitches and puffing air.

According to IDEA, if assistive technology benefits the student and their education, then they should be entitled to have the tools they need to learn and to grow in the public education system.

Assistive technology is expensive, but there are ways to receive funding.

Assistive technology is expensive, but there are ways to receive funding.

The Great American Bike Race (GABR) is a stationary bike event to raise money for kids with cerebral palsy and related disabilities.

The Great American Bike Race (GABR) is a stationary bike event to raise money for kids with cerebral palsy and related disabilities.

Funding for Assistive Technology

It will come as no surprise that this assistive technology is expensive. But since it is so vital for a student with a disability to succeed in school, many parents feel they cannot go without such necessary equipment for their child in school.

Thankfully, there are many places to go that may provide funding for assistive technology. Some of these places include:


Students who attend public school must have an individualized education plan (IEP). The IEP is a document that ensures that students with special needs will have an appropriate education that is based on his/her individual needs. If the IEP team feels that assistive technology is needed for the student's education, then it will be provided to them at no cost.


This is a state and federal program that can provide funding if the assistive technology is medically necessary. Medicaid falls under the Department of Health and Services.

Private Insurance

Again, it must be proven that it is medically necessary for the student to have assistive technology and will need a doctor's prescription. Some insurance companies pay a set amount of money per year for adaptive equipment or assistive technology.

Tech Act Program

Some states are part of a Tech Act Program which comes from the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988. Through this program, assistive technology can be acquired through no-interest or low-interest loans.

Non-Profit Disability Associations

These associations, such as the National Easter Seal Society, the March of Dimes, United Cerebral Palsy Association and United Way, can help to find funding for assistive technology.

Civic Organizations

These organizations can help to provide money or do fundraising for monies needed for assistive technology. Such organizations can include Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus, Lions Club or Veterans of Foreign Affairs (VFW).


Local groups such as church groups, high school groups or family and friends could hold a fundraiser as a way to find funds to pay for assistive technology. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the Great American Bike Race (GABR) is held once a year to help pay for equipment or assistive technology that is not covered by insurance or other means.

The following video shows how a college student in Florida is able to keep up with the rigors of her studies by using assistive technology. Thanks to assistive technology, students from preschool to college are able to take part in the classroom and live as independent lives as possible.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 29, 2014:

Audrey - thanks so much for you kind comments! And yes, that is my daughter! This is an older hub - she looks so little and she had missing front teeth! She was being interviewed for a story by the local news for a fundraiser for kids w/ CP.

Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on September 26, 2014:

Cari Jean --This is a wonderful article and deserves hub of the day. You have outstanding photos and have done intensive research on this issue. It all flows together and should help others with special needs children. I hope this therapy helps your daughter with her issues. She is in the photos, and her name is Faith . She is very pretty. Sharing, Blessings, Audrey

Jennifer Anderson from Mexico City, Mexico on April 16, 2014:

This is truly impressive and thumbs up for the video

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on November 26, 2011:

h - thanks for your comment. It is a really interesting video that shows the full effects of how assistive technology can help students.

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh on November 23, 2011:

nice video

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on September 24, 2011:

DeBorrah - so nice to hear from you! I agree that it is crucial for the parents to work with the IEP team at school in order for the child to get the best learning experience possible - which often comes by using assistive technology.

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on September 24, 2011:

Cari Jean, Great hub! The many types of assistive technology that's available are excellent resources for Special Needs Children! I think that the IEP team working together with the parents is crucial for determining the possible educational needs of each child! These special children also teach us not to take so much for granted!

Thank You for sharing, In HIS Love, Grace, Joy, Peace & Blessings!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 22, 2011:

Mico Sasm - thanks so much for your comment. You are absolutely right.

Mico Sam from Irvine, CA on August 22, 2011:

Special kids need a lot of caring. More awareness needs to be built to help them live normal lives like others.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

ytsenoh - your daughter sounds like an amazing person - I'm so thankful there are people out there who have a desire to work with these very special children. Blessings to you and your daughter and thanks for sharing this with her.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

edwards101 - thanks for reading and thanks so much for your comment.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

prashant angiras - thank you so much for your wonderful comment - yes, I do have a heart condition which does propel me to help others who may have a similar situation and my daughter has cerebral palsy (its her in the pics in this hub) so because of her I try to bring awareness to children with special needs.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

Lavender - thank you so much for your comment and for voting this hub up. Being a special education must be full of challenges but I suspect it is very rewarding as well. I'm so thankful there are such wonderful special education teachers out there - thanks for all you do!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

Happyboomernurse - thank you so much for your comment and for all the voting you did on this hub! It is great there is so much funding available considering how expensive assistive technology can be.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

tillsontitan - thanks so much for your comment. It really is great for special education - it enables students with disabilities to learn - sometimes just in different ways.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

WickedLittleLiar - You are welcome! Thanks so much for your comment!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

thoughtfulgirl2 - thanks for your comment. Yes, as we all get older, we may need this assistive technology as well!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

Barbsbitsnpieces - thanks so much for reading and for your comment. The technology is truly amazing - especially when you see it in action!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

leahlefler - so glad to hear that your son is benefiting from assistive technology! When I read about the personal FM units I had never heard of them before. What a great way to help those who need extra help with their hearing!

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

tlpoague - thanks so much for you comment. I was surprised to sign into HubPages and see my hub right there! I am thankful this article is getting extra exposure and am hoping this information will help someone who needs it.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 21, 2011:

Hello, hello - thanks so much for your comment. It is really inspiring to watch these students in action with their assistive technology!

Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on August 20, 2011:

What an excellent piece you have provided with a lot of information. Having a daughter who works with children of autism, soon to be in a classroom with disabled children and autistic children, I will pass this on to her. Good job.

edwards101 from Panama City, FL on August 20, 2011:

Good Work!

Prashant angiras from shimla(india) on August 20, 2011:

This is a great hub and it will definitely help some people who have disabilities.Assistive technology must be a great aid for the children with such disabilities.You have also given some links to other useful hubs where people can find answer to their queries.You have done a great job by writing on this and bringing awareness to layman.I read in your profile that you had some heart disease and that is why you are inspired to write such great hubs.Congratulations that your hub was selected as the hub of the day.

Lavender on August 20, 2011:

Fantastic hub, I am a special education teacher and I vote all the way up on this one.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on August 20, 2011:

What a comprehensive article about using assistive technology to help students with disabilities achieve their maximum potential. I especially liked the comprehensive list of funding sources that you provided. Congratulations on the "Hub of the Day" accolade. It's good to see an important article like this get the recognition it deserves. Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.

Mary Craig from New York on August 20, 2011:

Great hub Cari Jean and great pictures too. So many people are unaware of the benefits of technology particularly in special ed. I worked with Assistive Technology and know what great things it can do. Voted your hub up!

WickedLittleLiar from South Carolina on August 20, 2011:

Great article! Thank you! :-)

thoughtfulgirl2 on August 20, 2011:

Great hub, sooner or later we may all need a little help along the way:)

Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on August 20, 2011:

@Cari Jean...This is truly amazing technology! Congratulations on your Hub of the Day award on this informative and important Hub! Nice work!

David Sproull from Toronto on August 20, 2011:

@simone: that is very cool! I have for a long time thought companies should pay to put their brand on assistive devices, so as to maybe allow a greater expression of personal style while also helping with funding.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on August 20, 2011:

My own son uses an FM system at school - along with his hearing aids, it lets him hear the teacher's voice. It is truly a marvelous piece of equipment - her voice is streamed wirelessly directly into Nolan's hearing aids, so he hears her at about 20dB louder than all the other noise in the classroom. It is phenomenal! With the assistive tech out there today, kids have more opportunity.

Tammy on August 20, 2011:

Congrats on you award for hub of the day! This is an intersting hub that I found full of information. My uncle had a stroke and had to alter his life with assisted technology. Now he is able to get along better and drive his car. Thank for sharing this information.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 19, 2011:

A wonderful hub. So inspiring to bring so much help to unfortunate people.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 15, 2011:

Simone - thank you so much for your comment. That is cool about the car company who paid for the boy's prosthetic hand! Assistive technology is only going to more advanced - what a great way to help those with disabilities become more independent!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on August 15, 2011:

Cari Jean, this is a truly inspiring Hub. I'm always blown away by how advanced assistive technology has become. It's wonderful! What's more, people are becoming even more creative about getting funding. I just read about a boy who got a car company to sponsor a rather expensive prosthetic hand for him- it's so cool! I'm so glad you wrote this.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 15, 2011:

Nell Rose - thanks so much for your comment. It is wonderful that technology is being used in such a positive way for those who really need it.

Nell Rose from England on August 13, 2011:

Hi, now this is the side of technology that I love, and is absolutely amazing, anything that will help someone disabled is fantastic. and the great thing is that technology is getting more advanced every day, amazing hub, cheers nell

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 13, 2011:

Cardisa - thanks so much for your comment. Yes, this technology helps the young and old alike who have a disability. And I'm sure they'll think of more creative, inventive ways for people to use assistive technology.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 13, 2011:

Dave - thanks so much for your comment. Yes, we do hear a lot about the disadvantages of technology esp. with young people, don't we? It is good to know that there is technology that truly helps people.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 13, 2011:

K9keystrokes - thanks so much for your comment. I just can't imagine what school was like for students with disabilities 15-20 years ago. I totally commend your stepmother for being an aide to one such student. My daughter is very close to her aides at school and I think it would be difficult to send her to school if it wasn't for the wonderful aides.

Cari Jean (author) from Bismarck, ND on August 13, 2011:

FloraBreenRobison - thank you so much for your comment. And to think that the technology will only get better for those with disabilities in the years to come.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on August 13, 2011:

Wow! I am so thankful for modern technology. Without it life would definitely not be made easier for persons with disabilities. Not only students but adult do benefit from some of what you mentioned above.

Very useful information.

Dave Mathews from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA on August 13, 2011:

Cari Jean: I am so happy and pleased to know that technology is used to benefit others especially children. Most of the time we only hear about how destructive things are bocoming, it is so good to know that there is good coming out of all the newly invented technologies today too.

India Arnold from Northern, California on August 13, 2011:

My stepmother was an aide to a young boy who had disabilities and attended public elementary school. Justin was a sweet kid and many of the issues surrounding his difficulties could have been eliminated with a couple of the modern assistive technological devices you define here. He had a very tough go of it all-- mom was a wonderful gift for him, as he was for her. He is close to her still, some 15 years later.

Great hub! Bravo!



FloraBreenRobison on August 12, 2011:

There are definitely more options available now than twenty years ago. Voted up, useful, and interesting.