Students with disability sometimes need support at school to assist them with their learning so they can get the most out of their education.
- Assistive technology at school can help students with disability to engage
- These supports come in a huge variety ranging from items as small as pencil grips to large playground equipment
- Funding for assistive technology may come from different sources depending on whether your child will only use it at school or not
Assistive technology (AT) tools, devices, software programs and even adaptive furniture can make a difference to how much a child can engage in their education and achieve learning outcomes.
The AT could be used specifically by one child, or may be made available to all students in the class or schoolyard to benefit from.
Low cost, low tech
Pencil grips are a form of common and cheap AT which might be useful for a wide range of students in a class and now come in a variety of shapes as well as fun colours and designs.
For more specific writing grip support a child with disability could also use whichever type of ergonomic pencils and pens suit them. Most of these are not much more expensive than regular pens.
Document holders or stands, similar to bookstands but also able to support single sheets of paper, can be purchased for as little as $20. These can make it more comfortable for students to read worksheets as they don’t have to look down at a flat desk.
Magnifying sheets can be used by students with visual impairment to enlarge any physical text they need to read and range from under $10 right up to $100.
Other low-cost visual aids include bold line writing paper and writing guides, which are simple plastic templates placed over blank paper to provide strong lines for a student with visual impairment to write along.
To help students break up passages of text, whether they have a visual impairment, dyslexia or difficulty with reading or comprehension in general, highlighters are a good tool available in every classroom already.
Highlighting specific words or phrases can help with reading and comprehension as that text stands out on the page. For books and other communal texts, an erasable highlighter can be used.
If the text is available electronically highlighting should be available for free in most programs a student will use to view the text.
Toys can be used in an educational setting to help children focus, manage anxiety or stress and create sensory stimulation, as long as they are quiet toys if they are to be used in a classroom so that other children are not distracted.
This could be a toy as simple as a fidget cube, squishy stress ball or fidget popper in any form ranging from a simple circle to a pencil case or coin purse. Some of these toys can be quite small and pocketable as well, making them portable throughout the classroom and schoolyard.
A classroom specific fidget tool is the elastic chair band, which goes around two legs of a chair or table so that children can bounce their feet on it.
All of these options cost only a few dollars per toy.
Some software options are on the high tech device end of the scale and could be more costly, however, there are also software supports that come as standard with computer programs a child will use at school.
Word prediction software is common in word processing programs which all students use at school and dictation, or speech to text, software is also common, allowing students to get their ideas onto a page at times without the frustration of spelling out each letter. This can help students with dyslexia, for example, to engage in a task that focuses on creative thinking or responding to a video presentation.
Similarly, spelling and grammar checkers are readily available in standard programs to support students to learn correct spelling and grammar while using a computer for work.
Text to speech software allows written text to be read aloud, which can help students with comprehension of what they are reading, or allow students with visual impairment to hear text.
Eye control systems enable students to look at places on a screen to communicate with others. They look at an object or word and the eye control system converts that look into a spoken word or phrase.
Systems in which the teacher has a small battery-powered microphone connected to speakers around the classroom or directly to a child’s hearing aid not only allow children who are Deaf or hearing impaired to receive instruction, but can also help students with auditory processing disorder.
Some speaker systems are controlled via a tablet so that the teacher can choose which speakers in the room to use at each time and direct their voice towards particular students, which is particularly helpful for individual or group work where the class may be spread out.
Children with visual impairment may use standard zoom capabilities on an electronic device to enlarge text, use screen readers to have electronic text read to them, or might be able to use an electronic reader pen that voices the text it is pointed at.
Tools that read out answers or readings - like calculators, temperature gauges or thermometers - can help to engage students who are blind or visually impaired with subjects like mathematics and science.
Keyboards with large print, high contrast coloured keys or braille are another electronic form of assistive technology.
Adaptive keyboards and ergonomically designed computer mouses can also be supportive for children with physical disability.
For sensory needs noise-cancelling headphones can be used effectively in the classroom when a student is doing individual work or when they need a break from the noise of the class and can use the headphones to work on a task nearby without sensory overload.
Small adjustments to a child’s seating posture, with arm and wrist supports or cushions, for example, can help them to feel comfortable for longer periods of time in the classroom which can be progressively important as students age and spend more time reading, writing and working at a desk rather than learning through activity.
As for desks, students may benefit from sloped surfaces if they have a physical disability to make it easier for them to write or type on. If a sloped desk is too expensive or otherwise unavailable a sloped writing board could be a cheaper option.
Adjustable desks are also helpful for students who use a wheelchair or have other mobility and seating supports as they can be adjusted to whatever height is most comfortable.
Ideally, other tables and seating around the classroom or in common areas of the school like the library should also include accessible options but this may not always be possible for schools with the funding available.
Children who need sensory stimulation could also benefit from furniture like wobble chairs - which have a stable rounded base rather than a flat base - as these allow them to move around while staying safely seated while being engaged in the learning which they are doing at their desk.
In the schoolyard
Aside from ramps to provide access to different parts of the school grounds, ramps may also be part of playground equipment to allow students with wheelchairs to go up onto an elevated playground platform with their peers.
This is not a simple addition to an existing playground but could be factored into a new playground build or replacement at a school looking to be inclusive, as could a firm, flat play surface made from rubber-based materials
There is a range of other play equipment designed for children with disability.
For students who use a wheelchair, there are wheelchair swings, spinning roundabouts set seamlessly into the ground which a wheelchair can be easily wheeled onto, and accessible trampolines.
These pieces of equipment are easier to add to an existing play space, although they can be quite costly.
Play equipment that all children will enjoy can make play outside more engaging for children with sensory needs. Some examples include sand and water play systems, nature play set ups with moving parts like pieces of wood or interactive equipment with spinning parts, switches or parts which make sounds.
Sensory playgrounds are becoming more popular at many schools because they can be used by all students, promoting inclusivity and proving easier to find funding for as the benefits are seen across the school.
Assistive technology may be funded by the Federal Government under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) if it is specifically to help your child with barriers to life.
For example, communication tools and devices which the child will use not only at school but also in everyday life.
However, if the AT your child needs is specifically for use at school, for example, a microphone system used by the teacher to connect to your child’s hearing aid, the funding comes from the school or the education department which runs it. This is because education is the responsibility of State and Territory Governments to fund.
Occupational therapists are usually required to provide an assessment for any AT which will be funded by the school, education department or under the NDIS.
Talk to your school or NDIS contacts to discuss the best process for getting AT in your situation.
Does your child use assistive technology at school? Let us know what products work for you in the comments below.