Equal Learning Opportunity: Assistive Technology for Students with Special Needs

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Equal Learning Opportunity: Assistive Technology for Students With Special Needs

More tools and programs are emerging to help adapt computers and software so that persons with special needs can also reap the benefits of the technology. Here's a look at some of those devices and what they do.

Years ago, Apple Computer ran an inspiring ad that pictured a black-and-white group portrait of what at first glance looked like any gathering of people. On closer scrutiny, this group consisted of people with various disabilities, and its caption read, "Helping Extraordinary People Do Ordinary Things."

Since the time this ad appeared in the 1980s, technology developments continue to boost productivity for people with special needs. This is good news for teachers striving to provide rich learning experiences for all students, including those with learning disabilities or physical challenges. And today, with expectations driven by the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as widespread adoption of an inclusive teaching model, we have witnessed accelerated integration of technology as an appropriate intervention for students with special needs.

Currently, K-12 schools are most likely to invest in software to address learning disabilities. Such programs offer management systems that pace individual students through appropriate exercises, and exhibit patience with repeated practice, as well as breaking concepts and words into smaller pieces. On the other hand, institutions of higher learning have invested in a range of hardware/software solutions, often installed in adaptive technology labs.

Martha Jones, associate dean of student affairs at Bridgewater State College, sees technology's benefits for special needs students in two ways. "I try to help our students understand that the resources we offer in the lab not only make them more independent and productive students, but familiarize them with devices that can be made available in the workplace as cost-effective adaptations their potential employers can invest in. As they become more mainstream, these hardware/software solutions open up a new talent pool of capable employees. …