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Hello Moto: Demystifying Assistive Technology

According to the United States government website on assistive technology, “It has been estimated that 54 million people or 20.6 percent of all Americans have some level of disability.”[1] Assistive technology is traditionally defined as any item created or customized to aid in the independent functioning of an individual with disabilities.[2] I believe that this definition is slightly limited in that assistive technology often benefits any user regardless of ability. As a special education teacher for over five years, I have witnessed that instruction provided for students with disabilities is, in my opinion, true quality instruction. Although many general education students do not require that material be presented using a multisensory approach in order to access the curriculum, I can not help to reflect that many of our students would possibly perform better and possibly retain vital information if they were taught in this fashion. Thanks to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences[3] we have opened our minds to the concept that there are many different learning styles and preferences; and, therefore, it would stand to reason that a variety of tools to accommodate these differences, such as education specific assistive technology devices, can be used for everyone’s benefit.

Many educators shy away from incorporating assistive technology in their classrooms due to an assumption that all assistance must be high tech. Assistive technology can be as low tech as creating a “focus strip” for your learning disabled reader by using colored cellophane paper to focus on one line at a time; using a cane to walk, utilizing an adapted shower or restroom when experiencing a physical impairment or debilitating illness, or simply wearing eyeglasses for limited vision. There are higher technology devices such as text-to-speech computer programs, Braille embossers, and motorized wheelchairs, which are more expensive but integral to the lives of individuals with moderate to severe disabilities.

There are several assistive technology devices that we see everyday which have been highly marketed for the “abled” consumer. Touch screen computers and Bluetooth devices are examples of high tech assistive technology that add convenience and enrich the lives of individuals with and without disabilities. We often overlook the tools necessary to lead productive lives until we need them ourselves or they are needed by those we love. I implore you to explore the many tools at your disposal; knowledge is power and the more resources we have as instructors the better we can empower our students to lead more independent lives. For a resource list of assistive technology devices, please visit the University of Iowa’s website at http://www.uiowa.edu/infotech/ATDevice.htm.

Article by Tai Collins

Photo by Digitaljournal


[1] http://standards.gov/standards_gov/assistiveTechnology.cfm

[2] “Assistive technology (AT) can be defined 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 individuals with disabilities.” (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2)).

[3] Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

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Text-to-speech Software for the Special Education Classroom

The concept of text-to-speech (TTS) software was first conceived in the 1950’s.  TTS software processes written text into spoken words.  Since the 50’s, this technology has gone through many changes and has developed into an affordable technology tool that is a great asset in special education classrooms. Students who have a limited field of vision, have dyslexia, or may be struggling readers can benefit from TTS software.  This technology can play a vital role in making computers accessible as a tool in the classroom.


One of the most famous individuals who uses TTS software is Stephen Hawking.  Hawking is a famous scientist who has ALS and has relied upon this technology to communicate since 1985.  He is almost completely paralyzed and uses a wand-style device attached to his glasses, activated by his cheek, to enter words and phrases into a computer system.  His system uses a word recognition program.  He enters the first few letters of the desired word and the program narrows down choices based on his use.  All of the words that are entered into the computer system, which is carried in his wheel chair, are then synthesized and spoken through his computer.

Similar software can be used on a home or school PC.  TTS software, that is included with the Microsoft Windows operating systems, is relatively simple to activate.  To activate TTS, all you have to do in Windows XP is select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, and Narrator.  Read and then follow the directions on the command prompt to setup the computer for TTS navigation for your students.  TTS can also be integrated with Microsoft Office.  In Office 2007, you will first need to install a simple macro (program).  This link provides easy to follow directions for installation.

TTS is also integrated on many websites.  Most government run websites have accessibility sections where articles and important information are available in audio format.  There are also free sites where you can copy and paste text and then have it read aloud to you.  Two examples of sites that offer this free service are AT&T and Google.  Many of my students also use www.dictionary.com to look up their Language Arts vocabulary words.  This site provides audio pronunciation where you can select to hear the word read aloud.

Other popular electronic devices also use TTS as a means for learning and communication.  LeapFrog has developed the Tag (ages 4 to 8) and Tag Jr. (ages 2 to 4) reading systems where the student uses an electronic pen to interact with the many high quality Tag books.  The words and other sounds effects are then read aloud to the students as they swipe the pen over the text.  This is great tool for students to learn to read and as they progress, they become less reliant upon the pen less and begin to read on their own.  LeapFrog has an educational department where schools can purchase a variety of packages as a classroom set.  All of the packages include the computerized pens and sets of books that can be used with the system.  This would be a great addition to the Pre-K-5th grade special education classroom.

Many free and inexpensive TTS software tools can make computers learning accessible to many special education students.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by eirikso

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