Assistive Technology in Education

So what is meant by assistive technology? Some may or may not have an idea of what is meant by it.

Assistive technology refers to any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Examples of assistive technology include calculators, wheelchairs, augmentative communication devices, computers, specialized software, and picture communication symbols. (Solomon, Allen, & Resta, 2003, p.272)

IDEA backs this definition of assistive technology and requires it to “be considered for each student for whom an Individualized Education Program is developed” (Male, 2003, p.133).

In education, assistive technology is invaluable to individuals with special needs. Assistive technology is a vital step towards providing equal access to education to those who otherwise would be left in the dark because of the disabilities that they may have. However, there are many assistive technology devices that are out there. Determining the most appropriate device is almost if not more important than the wide selection of devices available. Unless the best device that will accomplish the purpose and match the individual’s needs is acquired, then the technology may be more of a nuisance when it comes to providing equal access to education for the individual. “Careful documentation of the degree to which the device provides the desired outcomes provides almost irrefutable justification for the device recommendation” (Male, 2003, p.134).

For almost four years, I worked in a center-based program in the public school system. The students that I worked with were sent to the center-based setting due to continued disruptive behaviors which resulted in their dismissal from the regular school environment. Not all, but many of these students had also been evaluated as having intellectual and/or physical limitations, as well. Many of the students who may have had these limitations may have come to me with assistive technology devices or would be assessed by a collaborative effort including other professionals, parents, and myself to determine the available devices that would be beneficial to assist them with gaining equal access to an education. However, sometimes, though the devices could have been very beneficial to their education, sometimes their behavior would prevent them from getting the most benefit. So negative behavior was one barrier for some of the students I worked with concerning the use of assistive technology.

One particular student was assessed with hearing impairment and was provided with hearing aids, as well as a sign language interpreter, hearing impaired teacher, speech language pathologist, and occupational therapist. Upon coming to my class, she only had one hearing aid that had been issued to her up to that point. Before the end of the next year, she had been re-evaluated and re-fitted for new hearing aids and given hearing aids for both ears. However, she disliked wearing them and would often times hide them, remove them, and when having severe behavioral difficulty attempt to destroy them. Because of her resistance to the devices and services provided, in my opinion and others’ opinions, she was not able to experience the full benefits of the assistive technology and services provided her. Still, I believe that the services provided were the most appropriate for her to help her gain equal access to her education, and when behavior was not an obstacle, she was able to be actively engaged in the learning process and do quite well.

So what are your thoughts about assistive technology? What has been your experience with it?


Male, M. (2003). Technology for inclusion: Meeting the special needs of all students. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Solomon, G., Allen, N. J., & Resta, P. (Eds.). (2003). Toward digital equity: Bridging the divide in education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.


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