Assistive Technology in Education/Physically Handicapped

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Input Devices for Physically Handicapped Students[edit | edit source]

Physically Handicapped Students[edit | edit source]

A physical disability can affect how a student performs in the classroom. Because of laws such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and advances in technology software, students with physical disabilities can succeed in the classroom. Technology can be a powerful “equalizer” for people with disabilities, allowing them to “get around” a limitation in any number of areas (, 2009)[1]. This chapter will define physical disabilities, laws that relate to assistive technology and types of assistive technology that are available for students with physical disabilities.

Physical Disabilities[edit | edit source]

Students with physical disabilities may have difficulty performing basic functions such as, gripping objects with their hands, moving arms or legs in a full or even limited range of motion. These issues can lead to difficulties in the classroom such as using keyboards, touch screens, computer mice, and scroll wheels which are all used with technology. Children with multiple disabilities will have a combination of various disabilities: speech, physical mobility, learning, mental retardation, visual, hearing, brain injury and possibly others. Along with multiple disabilities, they can also exhibit sensory losses and behavior and or social problems. Children with multiple disabilities - also referred to as multiple exceptionalities will vary in severity and characteristics. These students may exhibit weakness in auditory processing and have speech limitations. Physical mobility will often be an area of need. These students may have difficulty attaining and remembering skills and or transferring these skills from one situation to another. Support is usually needed beyond the confines of the classroom. There are often medical implications with some of the more severe multiple disabilities which could include students with cerebral palsy and severe autism and brain injuries. There are many educational implications for these students(, 2009).[2]

Example[edit | edit source]

Michael Phillips is a bright, articulate, 17-year-old who is physically challenged with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neuromuscular disorder that attacks the nerves and the muscles they control. A congenital disease, SMA is degenerative, leaving Michael without the ability to control muscle contractions in his arms and legs. As a result, Michael cannot perform simple tasks such as turning a page, using a pen or typing on a keyboard. Yet, thanks to the use of assistive computer technology, the Tampa, Florida resident boasts an impressive record of academic achievement and enjoys a variety of extracurricular activities. In the fall of 1998, Michael entered his senior year at Plant High School in Tampa with a 4.12 grade point average. He is an editor and columnist of the high school newspaper and writes a regular column on the Internet entitled "Palpatine's Mac World." He has been awarded a Chair scholarship to any public college or university in the state of Florida. Michael is an accomplished photographer and enjoys playing computer games and surfing the net (Johnston, 1998).[3] Without the use of assistive technology, Michael would not have been able to achieve these great accomplishments. To help assist students with disabilities, the government has created laws to assist students in maximizing their potential.

Laws[edit | edit source]

Across Pennsylvania, the proportion of students with disabilities educated in the regular education setting is rising significantly. Because more special education students are placed in the regular education classroom for their instruction, teachers are facing a more challenging task of effectively educating these students. Teachers have to use a variety of teaching strategies and methods in order to meet the goals of student IEP's. This change in placement is due to legislation that pertain to students with disabilities. Explained below are several key laws that affect educational institutions.

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) of 1975 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P. L. 101-476) identified specific categories of disabilities under which children may be eligible for special education and related services (IDEA, 2004). As defined by IDEA, the term "child with a disability" means a child: "with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services" (IDEA, 2004). [4]

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is an act that former US President George Bush signed in 2002. This law is important because it and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) both establish mandates for children with disabilities. NCLB attempts to answer the challenges of producing high achieving students and hold students to higher standards ([5]

The Gaskin Settlement was a lawsuit that was settled between a group of special education parents and the PA Department of Education. The settlement agreed that handicapped children are to be educated with children who are not handicapped to the maximum extent. “Removal of handicapped children will only be removed when the nature and severity of the handicap is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (, 2008).[6]

Assistive Technology (AT) is defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability” (Dell, Newton, & Petroff, 2007).).[7]

AT Devices for Students with Physical Disabilities[edit | edit source]

Speech recognition is assistive software that allows people to control a computer by talking to it. Instead of using a keyboard and a mouse to control the computer, a student speaks instructions into a microphone that is connected to a computer. When the student talks into the microphone, the student can perform two functions. First, he/she can instruct the computer to perform commands such as opening a document, saving documents, deleting, and more. Secondly, the student can write text into a document such as Microsoft Word just by speaking into the microphone. When the student speaks into the microphone, his/her words will appear on a computer screen in a word processing format, allowing the student to revise or edit. Speech-to-text allows students to get their ideas onto documents faster because they do not forget it due to how slow they type. A meta-analysis study done by Forgave, found that five students who wrote stories by using a speech to text software were longer in length than when they had handwritten a story. Forgave (2002)[8] found that when students with learning disabilities improved the legibility of their work and they decreased the number of errors and improved their scores. Several companies which develop and market speech-to-text are Dragon Systems, ViaVoice, Voice Express, and Free Speech.

For those students who cannot use any of the AT devices listed above due to verbal and/or physical skills required to operate the computers, there are alternative devices available for them to succeed academically. For students who have difficulty using a keyboard or operating a mouse, a device called IntelliKeys can be used. IntelliKeys is a keyboard and overlay combination that takes the place of a keyboard. The overlays consist of alphabet, numbers, and enlarged arrows (Hadley & Logwood, 1996).[9] Research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development(2007) has shown that students with disabilities who use IntelliKeys increase performance by 50% to 60% over a six month period allowing them to almost equal their peers in the regular education classes ([10]

For students who have severe physical disabilities and cannot use a keyboard, mouse or IntelliKeys, there are devices such as the SmartNav 4. This AT device allows a student to move the mouse by moving his head slightly. A virtual keyboard is on the screen that allows the student to enter text or navigate on the Internet. This device is ideal for students with spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, and other special needs ( [11]Another device is the gooseneck switch. It is a switch that allows the student to use a computer with the use of his head. The switch can be used in conjunction with a software program such as Kenax that allows the student to type by simply hitting the switch with his/her head (, 2007).[12]

Switch that is controlled by hand

Recently mobile apps (whether iOS or Android) have begun adaptation to people with physical disabilities. One such company that focuses on this matter is Sesame Enable [13]. They are offering an iOS document hands-free reading app [14], an Android hands-free eBook app[15], and a library for other developers to incorporate hands-free technologies in their apps.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Assisitve technology can be very effective in helping students improve their functional ability in the classrooms. With the advancement of new technology, students with physical disabilities now have the opportunity to participate and be educated in the regular education setting. While each student's need is different, an assessment must be completed to determine which device is best suited for that student. Educators and staff should be aware of the types of software devices available since technology is changing at a rapid pace.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Believe Ability. (2008). Retrieved July 20, 2009, from
  2. Assistive Technology . (2002, July 18). Retrieved July 20, 2009, from
  3. Johnston, D. (1998). Assistive Technology Helps Students Overcome Physical Limitations. Technological Horizons in Education, 26.
  4. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA, 2004), 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401 retrieved on July 10, 2009 at
  5. No CHild Left Behind retrieved on July 18, 2009 at
  6. Special Education: Gaskin Case. (2008, August 21). Retrieved July 28, 2009, from
  7. Dell, A., Newton, D.A., Petroff, J.G. (2008). Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing the School Experiences of Students with Disabilities. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
  8. Forgrave, K. (2002). Assistive Technology: Empowering Students with Learning Disabilities. The Clearing House, 75,122-126.
  9. Hadley, M., & Logwood, M. (1996). Assistive Technology in the Classroom. The Technology Teacher, 16-19.
  10. The Research Basis for IntelliTools Products. (2007, February 10). Retrieved July 20, 2009, from
  11. Assistive Technology :: NaturalPoint. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2009, from
  12. Goose Neck Switch Mounting. (2007.). Retrieved July 28, 2009, from
  13. Sesame Enable - Hands-Free Control for Mobile Devices -
  14. SesameDocs - Hands-Free Reading of Documents and Websites for iOS -
  15. SesameReader - Hands-Free Reading of eBooks for Android -