Assistive Technology in Special Education recent trend in the fields of special education, rehabilitation, and technology is the development and implementation of assistive technology (AT) devices to assist individuals in compensating for disabilities and/or utilizing functional capabilities to meet environmental demands. AT devices have major implications for individuals with learning disabilities (LD) For students with minor disabilities, the AT device may simply permit them to pick up objects, or understand verbal instruction. For severely disabled students, AT can be the lifeline between getting lost in an educational environment or becoming an active and enthusiastic student who pursues a lifetime of learning.
Studies have shown that the learning patterns a student develops during his or her early elementary career are likely to shape the student's attitudes toward scholastic achievement for a lifetime. AT can create a positive learning experience, and therefore positively affect the student for the rest of their lives.
Regardless of the legislative victories won in favor of disabled people, the world can still be biased against them, and once a student graduates and enters the job market, the existence of an LD is a confounding variable in the quest for job satisfaction. In studies by Vogel and Adelman (2000), 80%-90% of the respondents indicated that their LD impacts their work. However, in the study, large percentages (from 41% to 95%) of respondents did not self-disclose their LD to employers or coworkers. Common reasons for nondisclosure included concerns about job security and fear of negatively impacting relationships with coworkers and supervisors (Vogel & Adelman, 2000).
Therefore, the use of assistive technology to promote curricular and environmental access for students with learning disabilities early in their learning career holds great promise. Research is emerging that demonstrates the effectiveness of various AT devices in helping individuals to compensate for specific learning disabilities and thus promote more curricular and instructional access for these youngsters (Higgins & Raskind, 1995).
The impetus for the assistive technology training trend stems from the passage of federal legislation such as the 1992 Amendments of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act Amendments of 1994 (known as the Tech Act), which mandate accessibility and accommodations for individuals with disabilities to promote integration and full participation in society. Assistive technology offers a wide range of alternatives. It includes both "low" technologies and "high"-tech devices and it incorporates technologies designed specifically for people with disabilities as well as generic technologies developed for use by the general public.
It is a mistake to think too narrowly about assistive technology; the entire technology spectrum holds promise for individuals with learning disabilities (LD). Although computers are the technology most often associated with this population, there are many other potentially valuable tools available. For example, before the arrival of computers in classrooms, teachers used rulers to help students with learning disabilities keep their place while reading. These low tech aids are included in the federal definition of AT devices.
Off-the-shelf technologies designed for general audiences also merit consideration. For example, an audiotape recorder becomes an assistive technology when it is used by a person with learning disabilities to compensate for memory problems. Assistive technology has a long history -- perhaps even as long as that of humankind. (Resta, 1998)
The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act amendments of 1994 (known as the Tech Act) defines assistive technology device 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 functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities," "Devices" encompass low technology (e.g., reachers, pencil grips, zipper pulls) and high technology (e.g., alternate computer keyboards, speech synthesizers, scanners). (Lewis, 1998)
For individuals with learning disabilities (LD), who exhibit a variety and range (i.e., mild to severe) of learning and behavioral characteristics across the lifespan, of assistive technologies look promising. Assistive technology devices and services have major implications regarding lifespan issues and environmental and curricular accessibility. AT devices could be used to facilitate acquisition of academic, vocational, and daily living skills, and instruction in computer technology and written communication, to…