Assistive Technology 2.0: Special Tech
3/28/2013 By: Vicki Windman
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
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
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
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
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?
Koffler: We believe that with the rapid change of
technology it is important to make sure that we
are not married to one brand or type of device.
We want to ensure that our students know how
to operate a variety of platforms. While we
have brought Macs into some of our schools,
we have significantly more PC devices because
they are better for operating in large enterprise
What best practices do you recommend for
Koffler: I like to ensure that we have hardware
available that teachers can use where
appropriate for each child. It is important
that those students who will benefit from the
technology have it available to them and those
students who will be distracted are taught using
more traditional means. If there is one thing our
teachers should know, it is that technology is
there to be a tool to help them deliver THEIR
curriculum. It is not there to entertain students
or to change what they would teach if the
technology were not there.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
Giufre: Our short-term goals would include
having all staff members participating and
understanding the need for assistive technology
as a link to a student’s learning plan, in addition
to creating a way to integrate support goals
and outcomes for the professional learning
community. Specialists with subgroups would be
created at each level, working together to achieve
common goals with constant communication
regarding potential instructive technology
solutions and benefits. This PLC would analyze
what we have versus what we need, as well as
make decisions that are backed by research and
data that allow us to make intelligent choices for
the long term.
Long-term goals would include constant
analysis of what is offered globally to everyone,
including very specific items, making sure
constant professional development occurs so
that technology isn’t “another thing” but rather
fully integrated as part the daily routine. Most
important, we continually analyze cost versus
effectiveness and don’t purchase items without
knowing what we already own or looking at more
cost-effective alternatives that could provide the
How do schools budget their assistive
Vicki Windman: Schools now have technology
budgets, which are divided up between
schools. In classrooms such as mine, we
require assistive technology in addition to
SMARTboards and computers. We need
to present our needs and validate why they
are needed. Our school chose iPads as one
of the major assistive technology pieces of
equipment. We also use document cameras
to enhance the ability to see objects. We are
also given a budget from the special education
department to help purchase some of the more
costly assistive technology items. This changes
yearly based on the student population. We
added large keyboards for visually impaired
students and larger mice for students who have
fine motor needs. It is not like a list of needs
for mainstream students where the same books
are ordered year after year. We have gone from
using Daisy Readers, Neo-Direct (AlphaSmart),
and Kurzweil to Dragon Naturally Speaking.
The age of assistive technology is just
beginning as the cost of tools drops and access to
these tools rises. Most important, these tools are
accessible right out of the box, making them fully
accessible for all.
ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES
STYLUSES: Styluses are great for cleanliness and access.
• Geekery Styluses for the Disabled ($22-$48): Ivo Becker from
Norway has made styluses for any disability fro mouth sticks
to Chewy Tubes.
CASES: With the hundreds of cases
to choose from it is difficult to make
a choice. The criteria for students
with disabilities include shock-proof,
impact-resistant, waterproof, comfortable
to hold, easy to grip, nontoxic,
GoNow Case for the iPad ($59)
and the iPad mini ($49): This
case is easy to hold with a separate
handle. It is designed so the volume
can be increased. Another great feature is
the magnetic switch on the case to lock/
unlock the iPad.
• Ballistic New iPad and iPad 2 Tough Jacket
Series Case ($69.99): This case is made
of three layers of strong protection. The
Tough Jacket Series has ballistic corners,
which means all four corners have extra
KEYBOARDS: Keyboards are recommended
for students who are unable
to use either a stylus or finger to
“write” on a tablet.
• iKeyboard ($35): This keyboard
comes in white or black and sticks
right to your iPad keyboard. The keys
are slightly raised on the iKeyboard
giving the user the feeling
of touching a key. There’s no
heavy case to carry, and it gets
the job done just as efficiently
at one-third of the cost of a hard
case iPad case and keyboard.
• Touchfire ($49.95): Weighing
in at 3/8 of an ounce, this transparent
silicone rubber keyboard
has magnets that slide onto the iPad keyboard.
HEADPHONES: Headphones are recommended
for students who have sensory processing
• Kidz Gear ($19.99): These colorful headphones
feature volume control.
• Califone headphones ($256-$293): These headphones
are sold in a variety of cute designs.
• Logitech Ultra Thin Keyboard ($99): The
only wire needed for this keyboard is for
charging the keyboard to sync with your
Bluetooth. This keyboard is thin and
fits the iPad quite easily.
• Boogie Board Rip LCD Writer ($129.95):
This tablet can connect with your computer
and save your notes in Evernote
and other programs. Boogie Board 8.5
($39.95) is a smaller version but cannot
Livescribe Sky wifi smartpen (2GB Sky,
$149.95; 4GB Sky, $199.95;
8 GB Sky, $249.95): This
smartpen uses Evernote to
sync notes. It is easy to use and
a great tool for students with dyslexia
and Attention Deficit Disorder. The
pen records a lesson while the
student uses the Livescribe notebooks.
• HIMS Low Vision Products (749.99):
These products are ideal for the
blind. These tools include desktop
video magnifiers, the Candy Grip
visual held magnifier, and a 5.0″ LCD
handheld video magnifier.
HARD ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
• Nexus 10 ($399, 16 GB, WiFi only): This
system is an Android operating system tablet. It is quite fast for
a tablet but its battery drains 50% faster than many consumers
would like. If you are looking to enter the tablet world and like
Android apps, this tablet is the one to get. Nexus claims you can
load Flash using the Firefox browser from the playstore.
• Kindle Fire HD ($299, 8.9” 16GB, WiFi): Some of the perks of
the Kindle Fire are good audio and a solid display. On the flip
side, the Google apps are missing and replaced with Microsoft’s
Bing. Furthermore, there are complaints that the apps take
you to the Amazon Appstore making it difficult to download
• iPad 2 ($399, 16GB, WiFi only): The iPad 2 price point is the
same as the above tablets. The iPad 2 introduced retina display
and still is the lightest iPad making it a favorite for iPad users.
The only drawback is that the iPad can only be used with iTunes
apps and is not compatible with Flash.