Assistive technology for kids

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on October 12, 2020 # Assistive Technology

As schools across the country grapple with the challenges of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many students find themselves juggling an unpredictable schedule. But whether receiving lessons while sitting inside a classroom or virtually from their homes, embracing assistive technology can help students with disabilities thrive no matter where they are.

Assistive technology is defined as anything that helps expand independence, ranging from high-tech devices like motorized wheelchairs to low-tech hacks like wrapping a pencil with masking tape to improve the grip.

The Center on Technology and Disability (CTD) is an excellent resource for parents and students seeking to identify effective supports for specific challenges. Its website offers suggestions for an array of assistive technology options, links to local and state resources, and webinars tackling subjects like how to advocate for supports in an IEP meeting. (Though this Department of Education-funded initiative ended in 2019, the CTD website will remain up and available through 2021.)

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN,) based at West Virginia University, might serve as another source of ideas for families and students. Though intended to support employees with disabilities in the workforce, JAN’s A-Z listings, searchable by limitations, offer hundreds of potential challenges and suggested solutions for specific disabilities, including paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Helpful assistive technology options for students with disabilities might include:lightbulb

  • Voice recognition software
  • Word prediction tools
  • Touch screen technology
  • Alternative or expanded keyboard
  • Mouse alternatives, including a joystick, trackball, or touchpad
  • Mouth sticks
  • Head wands
  • Sip and puff switches
  • Book or iPad holders
  • Magnifying glass or screen magnifier
  • Talking calculator app or device
  • Digital hands-free headset
  • Smartpen voice recorder
  • Audiobooks
  • Adaptive scissors

Supplement high-tech devices with low-tech solutions that also support independence, such as attaching a wrist cuff to a ruler; texturizing glue sticks with Velcro; and using paper clips to make turning pages in a textbook easier.

To help cover costs of more expensive assistive technology, contact local non-profits that work with clients with disabilities and state vocational rehabilitation centers; many have grant programs or free assistive technology lending libraries. Take advantage of these services if available to identify the products that best support a student’s needs.

Resources and further reading:

Center on Technology and Disability

Job Accommodation Network: A to Z listings

Assistive Technology Act Technical Assistance and Training Center: State program directory

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.