Magazine article Technology & Learning

Assistive Technology 2.0: Special Tech

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Assistive Technology 2.0: Special Tech

Article excerpt

Assistive technology (AT) is a hypernym that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitation devices for people with disabilities. What are the differences between low-, mid-, and high-technology? What's "hot" in 2013? Special education expert and T&L blogger Vicki Windman shares her insights and interviews other experts to answer these questions and more.

In 1996 I "touched" my first desktop computer. After I completed graduate school, I became enamored with technology. I wrote an article for T&L in 2005 titled "Case Study: Special Education." It coincided with my fascination with the Palm Pilot. We were all busy beaming each other and learning how these assistive technology "gadgets" could enhance learning. But more importantly, we began to reach students with disabilities who were either locked in their heads or unable to write a word.

Turn the clocks forward to 2013, and we now have many more choices to meet the needs of these children. I had the opportunity to interview two education professionals, Mark Giufre, the curriculum and instructional technology specialist at the Wildwood Programs in Albany, NY, and Brian Koffler, general counsel and director of operations and instructional technology of Metaschools in New York, NY.

How has the field of AT changed in the past few years?

Koffler: AT in schools wasn't really being used effectively until about three years ago. In the past, school districts would have to spend upwards of $10,000 for devices like those by DynaVox, a widely-used communication device. Now, the same result is garnered through the use of more affordable tablets like the iPad, which has many functions beyond a simple communication device, and a $200 program like Proloquo2Go. Because of the specificity of today's applications, there is definitely an app that matches the curricular goals of most schools. In the event that there is not a matching app, most districts can create their own app designed just for their students.

Vicki Windman: I have been writing about apps aligning to Common Core standards that make it easy for teachers to match both curriculum and standards, as well as meet IEP goals. Districts can also save money creating personal portfolios for students using GoogleDocs and DropBox.

What assistive technology programs are you using and how are you using them?

Giufre: We are no longer sitting in our offices. We are out in the classrooms teaching teachers how to use this new technology. In our school, we use iPads and their built-in accessibility features, SMARTboards, text-to-speech features, and augmentative and alternative communication solutions. We also use apps such as Pictello ($18.99) and First-Then Visual Schedule ($9.99) to increase independence. We also use many personalized and individual solutions including read-aloud options in literacy programs and different styli for input on I-devices. These programs provide opportunities for students to simultaneously engage in the same tasks with other students.

Koffler: We use SMART Boards and Epson interactive projectors for our interactive whiteboard needs. We have begun to attach Apple TVs to most in-class displays to allow mirroring of a number of devices. Our students have access to Mac and PC devices, along with iPads, iPods, Android devices, and Chromebooks.

Why did you choose these technologies? …

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