How Assistive Technology Helps Students with Disabilities
For a student with disabilities, the classroom can be daunting. Students with disabilities may already feel different than their peers then add in the fact they may not be able to do even the simplest tasks like write their own name or turn 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 is: "any item, piece of equipment, or product system... that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities."
Or more simply put, assistive technology is something that enables one to use their abilities in order to work around their disabilities.
Types of Assistive Technology
Since assistive technology is useful for students with a wide spectrum of disabilities - from a learning disability to severe physical impairments - there are many different types. Assistive technology is used to help students do the following:
Communicating: 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.
Listening: 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.
Mobility: 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 helps them get around.
Performing Tasks - Capability switches are types of assistive technology that allows students with physical impairments to perform certain tasks. Such a task might include being able to use a 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.
Funding for Assistive Technology
It will come to no surprise that this assistive technology is expensive. But since it is so vital to 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:
Schools - 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.
Medicaid - 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).
Fundraisers - 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.