Assistive/Adaptive Technology for Students with Multiple Disabilities

Can a severely disabled nonverbal student “recite” the Pledge of Allegiance? Yes, with the proper assistive technology. One device will allow the student to play the Pledge of Allegiance over the P.A. system by touching just one button.

By definition, Assistive Technology (AT) is any device that helps a student or adult with a disability to learn better and to increase independence and mobility. Assistive technology can further enhance the lives of those who cannot speak, hear, see or even walk. AT devices may be categorized as no technology, low technology or even high technology.

The term "no technology" or "no tech" refers to any AT device that is not electronic, like a plain communication board with pictures to which the student points. The low-tech devices are electronic but do not require highly computerized components. An example of this occurs in my school, The Hungerford School in the New York City borough of Staten Island. It has electronic voice-recording devices and talking switches. These devices are heavily used with the low-functioning population in the Speech Department and in conjunction with our home economics teacher. Another example is communicative devices that are used in order to help the student perform daily living skills tasks like visiting the lavatory, asking questions and participating in class activities. A more commercial type of device used by mainstreamed students is "Leap Frog." This learning device helps higher-functioning students who just have a few problems sounding out words or doing math problems.

The book Computer and Web Resources for People with Disabilities: A Guide to exploring today's Assistive Technology describes the famous physicist Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University. Hawking has ALS, an incurable disease that affects his spine and his speech, but not his mind. Although he is profoundly impaired, he is able to communicate through a computerized device. With it he can manage fifteen words a minute. He has the choice to either speak what was written, save it to disk, print it out, call it back, and speak sentence by sentence. This system has enabled him to write books and publish various papers.

In conclusion, with today’s computer technology, assistive/adaptive devices can help the disabled student to communicate. Further planning for technology integration for the disabled is a continuous journey, but it seems for now disabled students can benefit from the technological breakthroughs that have already been made.

Email:John Beccaria III


Hawking, Stephen. Computer and Web Resources for People with Disabilities: A Guide to Exploring Today's Assistive Technology. Hunter House Publishers, Almanda, CA (2000).

Behrman, Michael and Kinas, Marci. Assistive Technology for Students with Mild Disabilities, ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Children. The Council for Exceptional Children CEC Update 2002

Professors Stephen Hawking's Homepage