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How Assistive Technology Helps Students with Disabilities

Updated on May 30, 2016
Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean is a freelance writer and author. Her inspiring memoir, "Having Faith" is available on Amazon. She resides in North Dakota.

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.

the little grey boxes on Faith's tray are used to drive her power chair - these interactive switches are also used to operate a laptop computer that she uses at school.
the little grey boxes on Faith's tray are used to drive her power chair - these interactive switches are also used to operate a laptop computer that she uses at school. | Source

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.


communication boards can make it easier for students who have difficulty speaking to communicate effectively
communication boards can make it easier for students who have difficulty speaking to communicate effectively | Source
Faith has fun showing how she uses her switches to activate her computer at school
Faith has fun showing how she uses her switches to activate her computer at school | Source

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.

assistive technology is often expensive but there are ways to receive funding
assistive technology is often expensive but there are ways to receive funding | Source
The Great American Bike Race is a stationary bike event to raise money for kids with cerebral palsy and related disabilities
The Great American Bike Race is a stationary bike event to raise money for kids with cerebral palsy and related disabilities | Source

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.

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    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 2 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 2 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      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

    • J-Anderson581 profile image

      Jennifer Anderson 3 years ago from Mexico City, Mexico

      This is truly impressive and thumbs up for the video

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

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      hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh 5 years ago

      nice video

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 5 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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.

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 5 years ago

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

    • Mico Sam profile image

      Mico Sam 6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Special kids need a lot of caring. More awareness needs to be built to help them live normal lives like others. http://www.micocrane.com

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

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

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      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 profile image

      edwards101 6 years ago from Panama City, FL

      Good Work!

    • prashant angiras profile image

      Prashant angiras 6 years ago from shimla(india)

      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.

    • profile image

      Lavender 6 years ago

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

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      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.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

      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 profile image

      WickedLittleLiar 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Great article! Thank you! :-)

    • profile image

      thoughtfulgirl2 6 years ago

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

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

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

    • DDS profile image

      David Sproull 6 years ago from Toronto

      @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.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      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.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      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, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

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

    • Cari Jean profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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 profile image
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      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      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.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      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 profile image

      Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      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.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      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!

      Cheers~

      K9

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

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