Friday, August 3, 2012

Journal 8: Assistive Technology Tools


AAC ( Augmentative and Alternative Communication ): Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) includes all forms of communication, except oral speech, that are used to express thoughts, needs, wants, and ideas. We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures, use symbols or pictures, or write. For many people identified with a disability or degenerative disease, a manifestation of that disability is the impairment of their ability to effectively communicate in the manner of their non-disabled peers. 
 Communication is the main way in which human beings access and maintain independence and quality of life.  It is crucial that we act as advocates for those who are faced with this deficit in communication and provide access to quality AAC devices.  

There are multitudes of high and low-tech tools available for the benefit of AAC.  However it is important to research each device fully and consider the person's personal strengths, weaknesses and environment prior to helping to make a choice in technology tools.  Below is an example of one high-tech and one lo-tech tool for AAC that I have used with students who are significantly impacted by their disability.

DynaVox EyeMax device
DynaVox EyeMax Systems  are a high-tech device, that is used to communicate ideas and thoughts for people whose disability significantly impacts not only their communication but motor abilities.  By using eye gaze, a person is able to concentrate on a variety of symbols, thought collections letters numbers and personalized messages to produce voiced communication.  Using this device means that people are no longer trapped by the limitations of their bodies and their true cognitive abilities are able to be shared.  In a classroom, this means that a student could be included into a classroom setting and maintain independence by not having to rely on an adult aide to interpret and share their  thoughts.  DynaVox systems can be used by people of all ages. The benefits and possibilities will be unique to each individual. Many people have already learned to use eye gaze as a form of communication for identifying objects or to simply respond to one word icons , placed before them.  Using the DynaVox will be a more comfortable transition.  For others, not yet familiar or proficient in eye gaze communication, work with Occupational and Speech Therapists will need to take place so that a person can achieve success.  For a story of the life changing benefits of this system, visit the website:

Step-by-Step communication switches
Step by Step Switches  This low-tech AAC support device is a series of several different colored large buttons, that attach to a simple recording device.  A teacher, parent or peer can speak into the recorder and then assign responses that are determined by a different colored button. When a student presses on the switch the recorded direction, message or story will play back and the student will respond using another switch response.  This is could help a student with AAC deficits, in identifying elements of a story, chronological order, or even responding to a multiple choice oral test.  In this way, the student is still able to participate with their like non-disabled peers with modifications.  


Input Device: The term "input devices" is used  to define external hardware components, used to feed data and control signals to a computer system. These devices, along with output devices, constitute the process of human-computer interaction.  For people with disabilities, input devices are needed so that they can access not only computer use but also all the daily technologies we have all come to rely on as  part of our daily function ( e.g. transportation systems, ATM machines, phones).  Once again, in considering assistive technology choices, it is crucial that the person it is intended for is a part of the selection and evaluation of possible choices.  

NEC Versa LitePad

  LitePads  These technological versions of notepads, provide support for people with a variety of processing deficits.  It also can be used to support students who have limited ability to type.   
The NEC Versa LitePad captures handwritten notes. The tablet supports handwriting recognition, allowing students to write directly on the screen,using a special pen designed for the LitePad.  The tablet translates the handwriting into keyboard-style text. The person can handwrite, sketch, enter data e.g. math problems and start programs directly from the tablet screen. It can also be used as a laptop.  Many of the students that I have worked with liked to use this type of technology for note taking in class.  Also, it is helpful in creating essay drafts because students can organize their thoughts in their own writing and then produce a typewritten draft. 
ZoomText icon

Zoomtext   Zoomtext is a software program that can be added onto a computer or other devices where there is text involved, and it will enlarge the text so that it is easier to read.  Not only is this beneficial to students and people with vision impairments, but it is also beneficial for people and students who have disabilities in which sensory problems manifest.  The look of a few words on a page of text is often less overwhelming.  Many of my students with autism will automatically change the font in their computers to the largest possible size.   The accessibility of larger text is also achievable through the settings section of a PC.  

This blog post only highlights four of the myriad of assistive technology choices available.  Again, it is crucial that the choice of any device, tool, software or hardware should be made with the person who will be utilizing it, involved in the process.  Assistive technology is as much based on personal preference as anything else.  It is important to consider how much assistance it is really providing and to what degree will any certain assistive tool, promote the independence of the user.  Marlene's Blog is the personal day-to-day accounts of a mother observing the communication awakening of her son.  It is a great way to understand that people with severe disabilities hold within themselves a strong desire to be independent and their voice heard.     


  1. Amy, I found your four examples to be very informative. I appreciate your perspective as a professional working with special need students.

  2. Thanks for sharing this great information! LitePads would definitely be great for students with diverse needs. It would eliminate the need to transfer their work from paper to the computer by allowing them to write directly on the software. It would make the editing/revision process much smoother.

  3. I really like the Zoom text, of course the first person I thought of was my grandmother who has been using a magnifying glass to read her books for many years now. Other than the elderly though, this software is excellent for those with special needs.

  4. The software program Zoomtext is something that I found interesting because of its ability to help people who are visually impaired to use technology. Zoomtext's ability to help people with sensory problems is a plus because the software serves as a window into being able to use technology more efficiently.

  5. That zoom text is very interesting. I will have to remember that one for potential students and my aging dad.