Special Needs Guide to Tech Products

from Tech&Learning

Between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years, the percentage of students with disabilities spending 80 percent or more of the school day in a general classroom increased from 50 to 52 percent (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). While this raises some challenges in busy classrooms, there are also many rewards. Learning to teach to a diverse population makes for better overall teachers. Combining students of all ability levels creates a better understanding of the unique abilities among students. And—technology can be the great equalizer.

This exclusive T&L supplement can be your guide to the tools available to help meet the needs of all of your students.


A recent Harris-Hall Educational Foundation study found that students who are taught to read in an audio-rich environment better develop literacy skills. This is yet more evidence that sounds systems help not just students with hearing impairments, but help capture the attention of all students.

Reading/Writing CHALLENGES
The 2008 America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being study shows that reading scores are up in the US, but there are still many students who struggle to read at grade level. For these children, word prediction software and text-to-speech readers can help.

Some of the brightest students get into academic trouble simply because of poor handwriting. Translating thoughts into symbols is a complex process that requires much practice. Portable word processors are good tools to develop this process.

Students on the AUTISM SPECTRUM
This disorder includes autism, Asperger syndrome, and PDDNOS, and is mainly manifested in social challenges. Using symbols to show expectations and help these students understand schedules can be very beneficial.

Physical or Cognitive TYPING CHALLENGES
For students who aren't quite ready for a regular keyboard, or who have physical limitations that prevent them from using one, there are alternative keyboards with larger keys or even virtual keyboards that can be used hands-free.

Communication disorders involve a wide variety of challenges that include speech, language, and hearing issues. Communication devices help these challenged students convey their wants and needs.

Physical limitations are no longer tech learning limitations, thanks to tools like switches and onscreen keyboards. These give impaired students the ability to mouse, type, and more.

Homebound STUDENTS
Homebound students can use many of the products featured here at home. Videoconferencing and streaming software can also be used to deliver instruction right to home computers.



In addition to all of the print capabilities of the original Boardmaker software (www.mayer-johnson.com), Boardmaker Plus! gives teachers the ability to add voice, sound, animation, and video.

The Express ONE (www.attainmentcompany.com) is a single message talker with a large active area. This makes it ideal for wall mounting or as a talking sign or tabletop communicator. Just touch the picture or the play button to activate speech.


The IntelliTools Classroom Suite 4 (www.intellitools.com) intervention program helps students in grades PreK-5 achieve mastery in reading, writing, and math. Classroom Suite 4 provides students with explicit instruction, constructive practice, and embedded assessments.

The new Kurzweil 3000 for Windows Version 11 (www.kurzweiledu.com) brings reading and writing together with new writing features that support the student at every stage of the writing process.


The new digital iTalk2 (www.ablenetinc.com) dual-message communicator gives users the freedom to choose between two activities, food choices, stories, or two of anything else you can imagine. iTalk2 is also great for asking and answering questions, telling jokes and making comments in social situations.

L*E*O* (www.assistivetech.com) lets users press or scan to activate pictures in a grid with this lightweight device that is good for young communicators.

Mercury II and Mercury II SGD (www.assistivetech.com) is a full-featured Windows XP-based Augmentative and Alternative Communication device. MiniMerc is half the size and weight of Mercury with nearly all the same features.

The Go Talk Pocket (www.attainmentcompany.com) has six message keys with five levels to give the user plenty to talk about. Overlays slide in easily and are stored in a removable compartment on the back.

The DynaVox EyeMax System (www.dynavoxtech.com) is comprised of two parts: a DynaVox Vmax and a DynaVox EyeMax Accessory. The EyeMax System allows augmented communicators to access their Vmax with a simple blink, or by dwelling on a desired area of the screen.


Word Q (www.wordq.com) suggests words to use and provides spoken feedback to help students find mistakes.

Co:Writer (www.donjohnston.com) is a word-prediction program that lets students produce grammatically correct and topic-specific sentences within any word processor.


Read&Write GOLD (www.texthelp.com) includes Screenshot Reader, which lets students select any text on the screen to be read aloud, including text within inaccessible Flash, images, and Web sites.

Read Outloud (www.donjohnston.com) translates digital text from any publisher into the spoken word. Write Outloud helps students revise and edit their writing.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 (www.nuance.com/naturallyspeaking) speech recognition software lets users create documents and emails, search the Web, and even control the PC entirely by voice.

The JAWS for Windows Screen Reading Software (freedomscientific.com) lets vision-impaired students work with Microsoft, Corel, Adobe, Internet Explorer 7, and many other applications.


IntelliKeys USB (www.intellitools.com) plugs into the computer's USB port and provides access for anyone with physical, visual, or cognitive disabilities who has difficulty using a standard keyboard.

The Overlay Maker 3 (www.intellitools.com) transforms the keyboard into a curriculum access device, opening up a world that was previously closed to many students with special physical or cognitive needs.


The NEO 2 (www.renlearn.com) offers a wireless file transfer feature, which will integrate with Google Docs. The new Text-to-Speech hardware and software will read text written on a NEO at any speed.

The Fusion portable keyboard (www.writerlearning.com) offers text-to-speech, word prediction programming, and a large LCD display with adjustable font size.

The StudentMate (www.one2onemate.com) is a Linux-based handheld computer that includes wireless capabilities, Ethernet connection, typing tutor, statespecific assessment software, and more.


DiscoverPro (www.madentec.com) is customizable switch scanning software for Windows 2000/XP/Vista that is designed to work with the wireless IntelliSwitch.

With The CrossScanner (http://rjcooper.com/cross-scanner/index.html) switches plugged into a switch interface, the user can perform mouse clicks, operate menus, and enter text (with optional OnScreen keyboard).

KeyStrokes 4 (www.assistiveware.com) onscreen keyboard with multilingual word prediction adds LayoutKitchen, which allows users to design their own virtual keyboards.

Windows XP, Adobe Acrobat 8, and the latest Mac OX all contain features for various special needs. See tutorials on these features at: www.atomiclearning.com/assistivetechnology.


Califone's Installed Infrared Audio System (PI30-IRSYS, www.califone.com) delivers all of the benefits of sound field amplification with the added value of two non-powered "array" speakers that target sound directly at the audience.

FrontRow's IR Speaker unit (www.gofrontrow.com), which works with the FrontRow Pro Digital classroom sound system, is a single speaker unit that integrates three speakers and an IR sensor.

The REDCAT (www.lightspeedtek.com) is a no install, all-in-one classroom audio system that can be placed on a shelf or wall.

The Maxim II (www.teachlogic.com) is a wireless communication system that is free from outside interference and will not transmit through walls.

The Innovator Classroom Audio System (www.audioenhancement.com) uses four simultaneous infrared microphones to keep four instructors' voices continuously at optimal levels. The system features multimedia mute control while a teacher is talking or during PA announcements.

ASSESSMENT: Tools to Help You Create that IEP

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education appropriate to their individual needs. This all starts with a good IEP.

Technology helps reduce the mountains of paperwork once required in developing, assessing, and maintaining an IEP that targets individual student needs. Here is a sampling of these tools (see list of intervention products).

1. ePortfolios:
Teachers track student progress with individual ePortfolios.

2. iTunes:
Record students reading throughout the year to track their improvements.

3. RTI Process:
Interventions with progress monitoring applications designed specifically to target identified needs, measure progress, and inform teachers where they need to make adjustments in instruction.

4. Comprehensive Courseware:
These products include pre-tests, courseware that usually target student weaknesses, and post-tests.

Special thanks to GreatSchools, an independent nonprofit that provides articles and tools for parents and teachers to meaningfully engage with their children's schools, Christy Chambers, the immediate past president of the Council of Administrators of Special Education and CEO of Beyond the Box, and Brian Rauh, assistive technology teacher from Oak Park School (FL).