Define: Assistive Technology

Learn about assistive technology and online tools to increase access for all learners

Begin the "Define" section by reflecting on what you know and want to know about this "Thing."

"For most of us, Technology makes things easier.  For a person with a disability, it makes things possible." - Judy Huemann, Disability Rights Activist 

Assistive Technology (AT) supports and devices provide all students equitable learning opportunities. This "Thing" will include an introduction to the world of assistive technology tools. You will learn about tools across four domains: Vision, Physical and Motor, Hearing, and Learning as well as processes to consider and select AT supports for individual student needs.  You will discover how AT supports are readily available through the accessibility features built within each of the major computer platforms:  Windows, Office 365, Mac OS, IOS, and Chrome/Chromebook.

Learning Objectives

  • Know the four domains of assistive technology supports and how to consider and select them for students
  • Know the current accessibility features for various platforms to support the four domains
  • Understand when to implement an assistive technology tool/feature
  • Make connections between a need of a student and a specific tool to use
  • Transfer the learning to colleagues during the course of AT consideration
  • Transfer the learning to the student in order to teach them how to use assistive technology
  • For information on whom to contact for Assistive Technology, please check your local Department of Education.  In Michigan, use this list:  AT Contact List for Michigan

    Click on each title below to see detailed information.

    As you watch this video, don't focus on the Apple products because that's NOT our point.  Instead, focus on the the power of Assistive Technology, and how it can transform peoples' lives.  Select the image below to view/listen.

    As this video highlights, most accessibility features fall into four domains.

    1. Hearing
    2. Learning 
    3. Physical/Motor
    4. Vision 

    As an introduction to using these AT tools please watch this video from The Center on Technology and Disability.  Select the image below to view/listen.

    IDEA defines an AT device 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.  Furthermore, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandate schools to consider the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities.

    AT devices are classified into three categories:

    1. low-tech - simple, unpowered supports (e.g., pencil grip, graphic organizer)

    2. mid-tech - somewhat simple electronic supports (e.g., adapted keyboard, calculator)

    3. high-tech - complex electronic devices (e.g., computers, tablets, software)

    Before you begin an in-depth look at the four AT domains, familiarize yourself with these terms.

    • Accessibility- specialized hardware or software, or a combination of both, designed to enable use of a computer by a person with a disability or impairment.

    • Zoom- provides a closer view of something or vice versa

    • Magnifier- to make something appear larger

    • Text to Speech -abbreviated as TTS, is a form of speech synthesis that converts text into spoken voice output

    • Speech to Text -abbreviated as STT, The process of converting speech input into digital text, sometimes based on speech recognition

    • Optical Character Recognition (OCR) - the recognition of characters by a computer by analyzing an image. This is often done by taking an image of the document first by scanning it or taking a digital picture.

    • VoiceOver - VoiceOver gives you auditory descriptions of each onscreen element and provides helpful hints along the way — whether you prefer using gestures, a keyboard, or a braille display. And it supports more than 35 languages, including multiple voice options.

    For additional definitions of AT terms, please see Reading Rocket's Glossary of Assistive Technology Terms.

    Now that you have a general understanding of assistive tech, move on to the next section - Assistive Technology for the Four Domains.

    The SETT Framework, developed by Dr. Joy Zabala, provides a structure to assist teams with gathering and organizing information necessary for meaningful AT consideration. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environments, Tasks and Tools. The SETT Framework is built on the premise that in order to develop an appropriate system of assistive technology devices and services, teams must first gather information about the student, the customary environments in which the students spend their time, and the tasks that are required for the students to be active participants in the teaching/learning processes that lead to educational success. (Dr. Joy Zabala)

    Click the link below to complete the IRIS Center’s Module on Assistive Technology. This module will take an estimated 2.5 hours to complete. Once you have finished, please move on to the Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Section Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT). 

    Iris Center: Assistive Technology

    Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) 

    The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology and accompanying self-assessment matrices serve as overarching guidelines for quality AT services across the nation’s schools The QIAT has been validated through practice and research. 

    The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) maintains that effective AT consideration include the following standards:

    1. Assistive technology devices and services are considered for all students with disabilities regardless of type or severity of disability.
    2. During the development of an individualized educational program, every IEP team consistently uses a collaborative decision-making process that supports systematic consideration of each student’s possible need for assistive technology devices and services.
    3. IEP team members have the collective knowledge and skills needed to make informed assistive technology decisions and seek assistance when needed.
    4. Decisions regarding the need for assistive technology devices and services are based on the student’s IEP goals and objectives, access to curricular and extracurricular activities, and progress in the general education curriculum.
    5. The IEP team gathers and analyzes data about the student, customary environments, educational goals, and tasks when considering a student’s need for assistive technology devices and services.
    6. When assistive technology is needed, the IEP team explores a range of assistive technology devices, services, and other supports that address identified needs.
    7. The assistive technology consideration process and results are documented in the IEP and include a rationale for the decision and supporting evidence.Qiat Indicators and Matrices

    SETT Framework Information: 
    Using the SETT Framework to Level the Learning Field for Students with Disabilities

    We encourage you to pick a student of yours or someone you know and work through this SETT Framework.

    Region IV Blank SETT Framework

    Alternate access provides further options that make it easier for people with physical disabilities to use technology. These devices include software adaptations, mouse or keyboard alternatives, positioning devices, and switches to name a few.

    • Switch Control - Switches offer an alternative method of providing input to a device or computer when it is not possible to use a standard button, keyboard or mouse. Switches come in various sizes, shapes, and methods of activation. Examples of switches include a large button pressure switch, a lever switch, a squeeze switch, and a proximity switch. Switches can be used to control many devices including adapted toys, communication devices, and computers

    • Eye Gaze - Eye gaze or eye tracking technology is a way of accessing a computer or communication device by focusing the eyes on a picture or area of the screen. The technology is able to determine exactly where a user is looking and operates as an input alternative to a mouse and keyboard.

    • Head Control/Facial Recognition - Head Control is similar to eye gaze/tracking, except for the device tracks head movement and facial features such as smiling, or sticking out the tongue to perform certain functions.

    • Keyboard Shortcuts - a combination of keys that, when pressed simultaneously, perform some task that ordinarily requires use of a mouse or other input device and may take longer to do.

    • Voice Control - the ability of a device to be navigated by voice. Specific commands are given such as “open,” “swipe right,” “tap on,” etc.

    Access Method Accessibility Features

    Students with physical impairments may need alternative access methods to use their device. These access methods typically require specialized equipment and interfaces to work with a device. An assistive technology specialist can help with setting up this equipment in alignment with the student’s specific needs.   Here are some examples:

    • Switch Control - allows a student to control a device with only one or two buttons.  

    • Eye Control - allows a student to control a device with their eye movements. 

    • Head Control/Facial Recognition - allows a student to control a device with movement of their head or face.

    • Joystick Mouse - allows a student to control their device with a joystick controlled by their mouth, arm, foot or any reliable body movement.  This joystick could be the same joystick used to drive their wheelchair.

    This is the last section of this "Thing's" Define playlist. Now would be a great time to revisit your Reflection Document and think about what you learned in this "Thing." In addition, complete the Knowledge Check and capture a screenshot of your results to post in your Reflection Document

    As you move forward, consider the following: How might you use this in your own professional practice? What goals might you set for yourself, including activities, timelines, and evaluation? What connections did you make to the ISTE Standards or your own content area standards? How will you monitor your own progress towards these goals? Then proceed to the next section.

    Additional Resources  

    Connect to Teaching and Learning >

     Back to top