Assistive devices and technologies are those whose primary purpose is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence to facilitate participation and to enhance overall well-being.
In schools, Assistive Technology (AT) is specialised equipment and technology that supports students with additional learning needs use in class to increase or improve their ability to participate and learn. Some types of AT provide physical assistance, while others provide helpful aids for individuals with specific learning needs. They include:
The Ministry of Education funds AT for some students with specific learning needs.
Visit the Ministry of Education website to find out:
For advice on using AT to enable students to access The New Zealand Curriculum, email the Centre for Assistive Technology (CAT): firstname.lastname@example.org
For those students who do not meet the criteria for funded AT, there are many supports you can provide in your classroom for free.
Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher explain how he uses apps on his iPad to support his reading and comprehension.
The Ministry of Education has specific criteria and a process to apply for Funded Assistive Technology, which is outlined on their website.
For those students who do not meet those criteria, there is a huge range of software available that you can use to support students' learning.
Take an inclusive approach to using technologies in your classroom. Where possible, make technologies available to all your students so they can use them as needed. Making supports available to all enables learners to use technologies as they need them for learning, and students who need to use them or have Funded Assistive Technologies are not made to feel different.
We need to understand the learner and stop worrying about the disability. We need to understand how we can use the technology in order to bring learning to the student and open the student up to that learning.
Accommodations are supports that enable a student to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and understanding. Student learning or what is being measured remains the same.
An accommodation is not a substitute for appropriate teaching interventions. It is a support that enables students to access and participate in the learning. Technologies are useful tools to accommodate learners' specific needs.
Examples of accommodations:
Wellington High School teacher, Ben Britton explains how digital technologies are used to create an inclusive environment for students. Tools such as text-to-speech, which are particularly helpful for students with dyslexia are available for all students to use. He comments, "We are playing around with the text-to-speech plugins, which are excellent for struggling readers and even strong readers who want to sit down and listen for a while."
This online guide for NZ teachers provides strategies and suggestions for using technologies to provide inclusive and personalised learning pathways. It explains how to access ATs funded by the Ministry of Education as well as using freely available technologies to reduce barriers to learning and support student participation and learning.
The tools built into Office 365 and Windows 10 include commonly-used classroom accommodations to support reading, writing, executive function (organising and planning).
There are lots of software options available that support students' learning. Many of these are freely available. Students without specific funded ATs may benefit from having these supports (accommodations) available for them to use as needed in the classroom. Understand the specific needs of your learners and provide software options that are easily made available to all students to use as needed.
Felix is a Year 5 student with dyslexia. He explains how he uses iPad apps like IWordQ to make the process of reading and writing easier.
Speech-to-text (STT) tools translate speech into digital text. The terms "voice recognition" and "speech recognition" are other names for the same technology.
"I find that it improves thinking, being able to move. It also reduces fatigue."
Students can write with their voices, instead of by hand or with a keyboard. This can be helpful for learners with dysgraphia, dyslexia, and other learning and attention issues that impact writing.
Speech-to-text tools enable:
Using speech-to-text to write an essay requires quite a bit of executive functioning. Planning out the sequence and speaking in complete, fluent sentences is challenging. Provide students with a planning template to organise their ideas and plan content prior to dictating an essay or longer piece of writing.
Misinterpretations of speech, by the software, can happen and cause frustration. Students need to use a text-to-speech program, or some kind of playback functionality to read their work back to make sure it says what they wanted it to.
Microsoft and Apple have built-in speech recognition capabilities in their operating systems. You can easily try out these features with your students to find out whether speech recognition might be right for them.
Google Voice Typing is a free dictation tool for Google Docs and Google Slides. It is a cloud-based application which accesses metadata to identify users' speech profile and then, providing you speak clearly, it transfers speech to text with accuracy.
To use it, students must be connected to the internet with the Google Chrome Browser on Windows, MacOS or Chromebook devices. They can work on an iPad, tablet, or mobile phone. Voice Typing is also available on Google Android devices.
Dragon Naturally Speaking works most effectively in Microsoft products including Word and Outlook. It works for the Google Suite including Gmail. It learns your speech and it continues to build your vocabulary and learn your idiosyncratic delivery as you use it.
Dictation lets you use speech-to-text to author content in Office with a microphone and reliable internet connection. The dictation feature is only available to Microsoft 365 subscribers.
Windows 10 Speech Recognition is free. It is turned on from the Control Panel (search for it, or right click the Start button and select it), then click on Ease of Access, and you will see the option to "start speech recognition".
Text-to-speech (TTS) tools read digital text aloud from web pages, Google docs, Word and Pages documents. TTS tools work on computers, smartphones, and tablets.
TTS tools are particularly helpful for students experiencing difficulties reading as a result of visual impairments, dyslexia, and cognitive fatigue as a result of learning difficulties. They provide a multisensory reading experience that combines seeing with hearing, words are highlighted as they are read aloud allowing students to see and hear text at the same time. They support writing and editing by enabling students to listen to their own work. Usually TTS tools can be adjusted to meet the needs of the user, reading speed can be sped up or slowed down.
A learning support coordinator, RTLB, or occupational therapist can help you choose AT tools that best suit your student’s needs.
Built-in TTS tools
Many devices, including computers, smartphones, and digital tablets have built in TTS tools.
Browsers also have TTS built in:
Microsoft OneNote tools
Text-to-speech apps – these apps include additional features such as text highlighting in different colours and OCR. Examples include:
Bookmarking tools enable you to save, annotate, and share information to read later. Students who have difficulties with reading often use all of their cognitive energy decoding text; remembering what they have read is challenging. Annotation tools allow students to highlight information and make notes as they read.
These programs combine several functionalities including:
These tools all have specific features to support learners with dyslexia. They are more complicated than single-task apps, so training is helpful.
Allows you to import or create text.
Toolbar floats over the desktop and reads or interacts with text in a variety of programs or formats.
Available as Chrome extensions or Software.
Organisational and study tools help students, organise their ideas and provide scaffolds for learning, prioritise tasks, and focus their efforts.
Hundreds of graphic organiser templates are available as free downloads on the internet. These links are from the Understood website, a site with information and resources to support students with learning and attention issues.
Create shareable flashcards. Students can search for flashcards others have made. Traditional flashcards and other games available.
An online tool for creating and sharing mindmaps and flow charts, includes colour coding. Useful for taking notes, brainstorming, and planning.
Classroom based examples describing how educators intentionally pair digital technologies with inclusive pedagogy to improve learning outcomes for students.
Switch it! Maker 2 and Choose it! Maker 2 were used to help a 10 year old student, who was non-verbal, communicate activity choices with a single press head-switch at Kaka Street Special School.
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Matt is a Year 13 student at Wairarapa College. He describes how, with technology and the help of friends, he accesses and participates in the curriculum.
Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher explain how he uses apps on his ipad to support his reading and comprehension.
Denise Fuller, describes the difference using Facetime to connect with others has made to the confidence, self-esteem, and overall happiness of her son who has Asperger's syndrome.
Matt is a Year 13 student at Wairarapa College. He has low vision. He reflects on his use of technology, effective partnerships with teachers, and the need for self-advocacy skills and a sense of humour.
Technology enables access to the Internet and removes communication barriers for Wadestown School student, Renée Patete.
Tyler, a year 6 student with dyspraxia, uses a netbook to help him write creatively instead of being inhibited by the speed of his handwriting or his ability to form letters.
Using a netbook, Google docs, and blogging has increased engagement and improved learning outcomes for student Kieren.
Visually impaired student Renée Patete describes the difference technology makes to her learning by providing access to the curriculum and enabling ease of communication.
The high level of student engagement and independence in learning when using iPads is encouraged by the feedback and rewards within the applications.
Teacher, Craig Kemp, describes the benefits using iPads have brought to students who are kinesthetic learners, especially boys, and students with special needs.
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This online guide provides practical classroom strategies and links to resources supporting NZ learners with diverse needs to use technologies for personalised learning pathways.
Information on the Ministry of Education’s assistive technology services including:
If you want product information, email the Centre for Assistive Technology (CAT), at email@example.com
The Microsoft school software agreement with the Ministry of Education provides all NZ schools with access to their suite of tools.
Join the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) and join the groups to participate in these discussions.
This group is facilitated by the Centre for Assistive Technology Advisor with the Ministry of Education, who provides advice on the use of technology to enable students to access The New Zealand Curriculum.
Share and discuss assistive technology options and the ways that both specialised assistive technology and standard technologies can be used to support students in this group. The group blog reviews software and apps to support learning.
An open group for teachers of children and young people with special education needs.
The Connected ICT PD cluster share their inquiry into identifying and overcoming the barriers to success in reading and writing for students with learning disabilities. The inquiry identified what assistive technologies are available to help students experiencing difficulty and how they can be used to support students literacy learning in the classroom.