Journal of Educational Controversy


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Innovative Uses of Technology to Meet the Needs of All Students

Meeting Diverse Needs with Technology
Linda Schleff
Woodring College of Education
Western Washington University

Chelsea confidently swipes through the multiple pages of apps on my iPad until she spots the one she is looking for. Then she calmly, but firmly, guides her little sister's probing fingers away from the 'home' button. This four-year-old, who has been diagnosed with autism, can independently navigate the complexities of iPad technology, but she is unable to verbally communicate her wants and needs to those around her.

This is where the services of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) come into the story. Following a meeting in Chelsea's preschool classroom where family, school district team, and E-ATRC director informally brainstorm to consider technology tools that might benefit this young student, the family applies for and is awarded an 'AT Grant to Families' that provides $200 to support them in purchasing technology that they believe will benefit their child at home. Now Chelsea has her own iPad that will travel between home and school to support communication and learning across her customary environments. To hear the center director speak about the benefits of the E-ATRC's AT Grants to Families program watch the brief video clip here: Western Window Episode 23 (start at 15:10).

Assistive Technology (AT) is a term defined in disability law and is, essentially, any item that improves functioning for an individual with a disability. However, time and experience have shown us that many of these tools, when made available as standard tools in general environments, will support others with a wide range of diverse needs, as well, including, but not limited to:

   Those with more commonly occurring disabilities such as learning, behavior or attention challenges,                                                                       

   Young children or aging elders,

   People who are English language learners, and

   Any one of us who doesn't spell well!

Consider, as an example, an FM system that amplifies a teacher's voice making it easier to hear and understand. Our first thought might be that a student with a hearing loss could benefit from this technology. But think of others who might be supported as well from having the teacher's voice highlighted as something critical to attend to in the environment. English language learners, students who struggle to maintain focus and attention, in fact, any of us may 'tune in' better when the person speaking picks up a microphone. See examples here.

 Similarly, software or an app that will read text on the screen out loud (text-to-speech), highlighting each word as it is spoken, can improve access to content for a student with a learning disability or an adult who is learning a language. One of these applications, called Snap and Read can even adjust the readability level of text materials to meet the needs of an individual reader, whether their need is due to a learning disability or to learning a language! You can learn more about these applications at Don Johnstons website.
Other applications can 'predict ahead' and suggest, based on commonly used grammar, the word a person might want to type (word prediction) thereby benefitting an individual with fine motor challenges (by reducing the number of keystrokes required) or anyone who doesn't spell well. Learn more about Co:Writer, also from Don Johnston.
Assistive technology has historically benefitted individuals with disabilities and has been most often considered for those with significant, complex disabilities. It has also frequently been complex and costly, until recent decades as the number of technologies has increased exponentially. As this has occurred, affordable tools have become more available to meet a wider range of needs across an array of increasingly diverse users.

No to Low-tech


High Tech

Pencil grips


Powered Wheelchair

Bar Magnifier

Adapted Keyboard or Mouse

Eye Gaze Hardware/Software

Noise canceling headphones

Specialized software

Speech Generating Device
 These tools range from simple non-digital supports to 'mid-tech' tools to 'high-tech' devices - see above for examples. For more specifics about AT basics, AT decision making, technology tutorials or additional AT resources visit the Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO) website at
The Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) is located on the Bellingham, Washington campus of Western Washington University. It is one of the resource centers of Woodring College of Education (WCE) where next generation teachers, nurses, and human service professionals are trained. The E-ATRC's primary charge is to work with these WCE professionals-in-training to support them as they learn about the technology tools that can benefit their future students, patients and clients.
In addition, the center director is able to collaborate with local families, educators and othersin the community who are interested in learning more about assistive technology. All local users of the E-ATRC are welcome to browse the myriad items on the shelves and are also invited to check items out from the AT lending library to use them with individuals with whom they live and work.

Assistive technology can increase participation and improve performance in school, support equitable access to information, and enhance quality of life for a variety of individuals. To learn more about assistive technology or the E-ATRC and their services visit the center website.
The author, Linda Schleef, is Director of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center. She is a Special Education Teacher, a Senior Instructor at Woodring College of Education, and is credentialed by RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineers and Assistive Technology Society of North America) as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). You can contact her at    


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