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5 Ways EdTech Helps Students With Special Needs in the Classroom

EdTech is a great asset to help accommodate students with special needs. Between common devices with accessibility features and purpose-built software, education is becoming more inclusive than ever. Because of advanced technology and awareness students with specialized needs can be given the best education for them. With the right application of EdTech, you can truly break down barriers in truly astounding ways.

Continue reading to learn 5 more benefits for students receiving special education, or check out ViewSonic’s inclusive classroom solution so that you can make the change today!

School can be tough for any child. For students with special needs in the classroom, the challenges can be amplified. The common school-day struggles like social interactions, workload, and unknown faces can be massive for students with special needs. EdTech helps in that it can create accommodations and modifications for a wide range of students. 

Because each student is different in not just their capabilities but their personality, defining where students may struggle is very important. Whether it be a student with a learning deficit, physical impairment, or other needs, making sure you understand their need is important.

Once you have understood that, you can begin choosing the appropriate EdTech accommodations to ensure their success!

EdTech and Special Needs Learning

Teaching is a demanding profession. Teaching students with certain needs can quickly multiplies the job’s challenges if teachers are not given the proper support. Some difficulties teacher may have to navigate when teaching students with special needs include:

  • Negative opinions and stereotypes
  • Lack of physical access
  • Focus on student weaknesses rather than strengths
  • Wide variety of students needs
  • Lack of focus on unique needs
  • Classroom management challenges
  • Poor working conditions 
  • Lack of parent and community support
  • Lack of resources/budget constraints 

Students themselves often face a crisis of confidence in addition to the challenges of their unique needs. This can lead to low motivation and poor learning outcomes.

Thankfully, many special education teachers can now implement what is called assistive technology(AT)

Defined by the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, AT is “any item, piece of equipment, or product that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” 

This includes just about anything a resourceful teacher has in his or her toolbox. From highlighters to colored overlays, pencil grips, adapted paper, and spelling aids all assist with writing.

The term “EdTech” encompasses a narrower scope of assistive technology tools. Which by no means suggests there’s a narrow range of assistive EdTech tools out there! Increasingly, EdTech means technology that finds its way into the classroom. Think iPads, interactive whiteboards, and lots and lots of apps.

These everyday tech tools help students with special needs not only progress on their own level, but be placed in general classroom settings. They have the potential to improve accessibility. To enhance communication. And help students develop strong learning and life skills.

1. EdTech Helps Students Because It’s an Equalizer

Well-deployed EdTech helps students overcome many obstacles. In fact, in today’s classrooms, EdTech can be an amazing equalizer.

Public policy governing special education supports the inclusion of students with special needs in general education classrooms. Introduced in 1975 and now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this law is like the “Bill of Rights” for students with special needs. It guarantees access to a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to every child. 

By all indications, these laws are working. Between 1976 and 2010 there was a 90% increase in the time students with certain needs spent in general education classrooms. Today, more than 62% of children with special needs are in general education classrooms for 80% or more of their school day.

That’s a good thing. Studies show inclusion creates well-rounded individuals and strong learning environments for everyone. Without the appropriate supports, however, students with certain needs in general education classrooms can end up frustrated and lacking motivation.

Not to mention they can fall behind academically. Educational technology can decrease frustration and increase success in just about every learning area. It can be a vital part of enabling equal learning spaces, engaging with teachers, develop confidence, and build academic understanding.

The best EdTech gives students a level academic playing field. The key, of course, is matching the right tech to the right students. 

2. EdTech Makes Assistive Tools More Available

Among the many great things about assistive technology (AT) today is how easy it can be for schools, teachers, and parents to get their hands on. For one thing, traditional AT has merged with consumer technologies. For another, lots of the best EdTech has become common in today’s classrooms. 

Many schools offer 1:1 computing. In 2017 half of all teachers said that their students each had a computing device. Today, the percentage of students with an iPad, laptop or Chromebook is clearly higher. And over 70% of U.S. classrooms were expected to have an interactive display by 2019.  

These common tech teaching devices offer access to a treasure trove of assistive learning tools. Many come included with the device and ready to use out-of-the-box. The iPad, for example, is pre-loaded with amazing features for special needs students. Plus, they work with anything a student does on their iPad. These include:

  • Speak Screen, which reads content aloud to those who can’t see it, or who learn better with audio. Students can select from voice and dialect options.
  • Speak Selection, which lets users highlight a section to be read to them. Ideal for students with low vision or who get tired reading small type.
  • VoiceOver, a gesture-based feature for the blind reads onscreen content and helps users navigate through their iPad.
  • Guided Access, locks an iPad to a specific app – great for keeping kids focused and on task.
  • Safari Reader View is another distraction-taming feature. It filters websites to remove videos, photos, and ads so that students can read web content without added visual clutter.

Many other accessibility tools are app-based for easy download onto a Chromebook, Android-based interactive display, iPad or other computing devices. 

3. EdTech Breaks Down Physical Barriers

For students with mobility or other physical impairments, aspects of the physical world that many of us take for granted can be daunting. Students who use wheelchairs, walkers, braces, or other mobility aids face many access challenges. Throughout their day, these students encounter barriers like stairs, narrow walkways, and heavy doors.

In the classroom, these students may find it difficult or impossible to use an important EdTech equalizer – the interactive display.  It may be difficult to reach due to height or their reach may be blocked.

Interactive displays, or interactive whiteboards, are the hub of today’s K-12 classrooms. Those equipped with easy access to a browser, apps, and audio and video record functions, an interactive whiteboard offers many ways to adapt lessons for students with special needs.

Wall-mounted displays can present challenges for some students with special needs. 

An ADA-compliant lift or trolley can offer many ways to meet student access needs. Top-of-the-line accessibility features to look for include:

  • Smooth motorized movement controlled by tapping the touchscreen
  • The ability to raise and lower to a wide range of heights with a single tap
  • Tilt ability to fine-tune positioning for more students
  • Horizontal positioning for tabletop use maximizes access
  • A smooth, reliable touchscreen and robust handwriting recognition for those with fine motor skill impairments
  • ADA certification for accessible design, protruding objects, reach ranges and operable parts

ViewSonic® offers a range of ADA-certified mobile carts and lifts to meet a range of budgets and accessibility needs. EdTech solutions can help enable access for students unable to directly touch the screen.

Tools like a wireless rollerball or joystick can be essential. Wireless switches let students execute mouse clicks from a distance. Wireless keyboards enable remote text entry. Most offer also features to accommodate students with visual impairments as well.

4. EdTech Delivers New Ways to Communicate

Sharing thoughts, discussing opinions and creating meaning together are keys to today’s constructivist learning. Some impairments can make communication difficult. For these students, advances in EdTech can make debating, discussing and creating with their peers possible.

Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) uses pictures, photos and drawings, and symbols like sign language, to help students communicate. They’re helpful for students with developmental disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, and other potentially speech-limiting impairments.

These technologies evolved from picture boards to specialized voice output devices. Today there are many apps that enable students with special needs to more quickly communicate their thoughts.  

The ability to turn text into sound is another modern EdTech superpower. Text-to-speech (TTS) tools help children who have difficulties reading standard print.

Not long ago, these students had to rely on cumbersome solutions like listening to a book on CD or using specialized software. The synthesized voices were unnatural and grating. Students often missed out on regular classroom activities.

Today, app-based tools let these students join their peers side-by-side in the classroom. Devices like iPads come with built-in tools like Speak ScreenSpeak Selection, and VoiceOver. (See details above.)

Touchscreens with robust handwriting recognition help students with fine motor skill challenges more legibly share their ideas on the classroom display. Other great EdTech communication tools for students with certain needs include:

  • Co-writer apps like Co:Writer® use predictive analytics and speech recognition to aid writing
  • Smartpens with the ability to record class audio and digitize student notes
  • Braille-enabled computing accessories
  • Hearing aid compatible headsets 

5. Apps, Apps, and More Apps

Like most other areas of our lives, when it comes to special education needs, there’s usually an app for it. The appification of assisted learning technology is a massive step forward in the effort to achieve inclusion for students with special needs.

From the Co:Writer® app for writing assistance to Learn with Rufus, an app that helps students understand social cues. Students with certain needs today have more ways than ever to be empowered. And for more suggested apps, Common Sense Media offers a big list of vetted options to get you started.