2001 Conference Proceedings

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Dr. Katie Klinger and Dr. Bill McGrath
National University, San Diego, California

The purpose of this paper is to show support for and samples of both low and high tech enabling devices created by students at National University to facilitate learning in the K-12 classroom. Blair, EuDaly, and Von Almen Benson (1999) comment on the fact that the Individuals with Disabilities Act in 1990 mandated that "all children between the ages of 3 and 18 years have available to them a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive educational setting". With this in mind, National University designed a course for the Master of Science in Special Education, which encourages pre-service and in-service teachers to design and develop assistive devices that provide access for the disabled. Emphasis is on empowering the disabled individual to use assistive technology in everyday life activities. Most people have used some type of technology device or services such as can openers, remote controls, telephones, calculators, luggage carts, ramps, and power doors. These are all examples of assistive devices that help people get through their day with less difficulty. Individuals with disabilities use assitive technology for a variety of reasons: to achieve maximum independent functioning; to increase mobility; to help with communication; to increase success or abilities in the job market; and to increase functional abilities. Since Assistive Technology (AT) is sometimes referred to as an "enabling tech", a major element of this class is to have the student create a technology that will support instruction for a school aged (K-12) student with a disability. The student may submit drawings, verbal descriptions, wiring plans, blueprints or other beta elements instead of the actual invention. Students may also modify software to enable student learning. Examples of software include HyperStudio, Creator, and Inspiration. Examples of some projects created at National University include, but are not limited to, the following: positioning devices, augmentative communication devices, keyboard adaptations, adaptive play devices, environmental control units such as cooking utensils and switches for television access, accessible transportation, and adaptations for the use of multimedia or telecommunications. The parameters of assessing the AT device asks if the device meets the user's personal needs, fulfills the intended function of the AT device, matches the device to the grade level chosen by the designer; meets the need of the chosen disability, and has potential for utilization in the classroom. Each device is presented at a special class meeting. The designer's presentation includes a verbal technology integration plan of how the invention could be integrated into the child's day at home, school and in the community.

Pugach and Seidl (1998) point out that "special education is no more or less responsible than any other education-related profession for the terrible inequities in the educational system." The content of this course at National University focuses on the ways AT can counterbalance deficiencies in cognition, vision, hearing, speech and language, social and motor skills for the disabled individual. The learning objectives of the Technology for the Disabled course include an awareness of the issues and trends of AT, how technology in the form of personal computers can provide solutions, and comparison of augmentative and alternative communication processes. The end product of the course is two fold. Students must develop a Technology Integration Plan for a disabled individual of their choice plus design an original assistive device, which is presented to their peers and the School of Education for assessment in the areas of functionality and cost effectiveness. This assitive device may be constructed out of any type of material; in fact, simplicity is encouraged. One of the student-designed AT devices was a blue rubber mat with air holes and velcro ties to prevent pencils, rulers and other utensils from falling off the wheelchair desktop. This device diminished the frustration level of dropping items on the floor. Another AT device was a key ring with pictures. This key ring meets the needs of a teacher for augmentative assistive communication (AAC) and also embellishes the student's communication skills. A child with autism is precluded from communicating in the three standard arenas of speaking, reading or typing. This type of AT device uses pictures on a key ring to communicate bathroom needs and food desires in the classroom. The pictures were made by the teacher in BoardMaker, a software program for creating custom symbols, which allows the teacher to choose images that match sophistication level of the disabled child. The key ring then becomes a base line communication device in the classroom. Currently one of the local teachers is using an AT key ring of symbols with pictures of buses, cars, fast food places, cats, dogs, trees, houses, and children playing ball to familiarize a student about their neighborhood.

Other educational institutions such as Christopher Newport University (CNU) and Metropolitan State College of Denver (MSCD) have seen the need to prepare pre-service teachers to succeed in inclusive classrooms based on feedback from their first year teachers. The MSCD "case-based preparation program" concentrates on moderate disabilities in the K-12 classroom. The teacher in their education program is defined as a "decision maker in diverse contexts." (Anderson & Baker, 1999). Their curriculum stresses problem solving using role-playing and group projects. The students at CNU complete their teacher education studies with a field experience course at Tabb Middle School. During their pre-service teaching observations, the CNU students become aware of the need for improvement in assistive technology in the schools. They are asked to keep a journal, which includes the following question: "What instructional modifications were made for any of the students?" (Sprague & Pennell, 2000) This question is actually a primary component of the AT course at National University. Observation and analysis of current teaching environments inspires the students to design devices to facilitate access, learning and retention.

One of the National students is getting a teaching credential and is currently employed as an artist. Her AT project was a low-tech "lazy susan" modified with a one inch by twelve-inch frame of wood inside the lazy susan's bowl. A teacher can put a piece of art paper inside the "lazy susan", allowing the art student to work on the top part of the paper, and then the teacher can revolve the "lazy susan" for the student to work on the bottom part of the paper. This AT device was immediately applicable to a classroom. In fact, one of the student designer's peers immediately purchased the AT device to use in the classroom. One teacher, who works with visually impaired students, and is himself blind in one eye with an inoperable cataract in the other, developed a " notebook" (low-tech) for a student in his charge. The student, a teenager with all of the concerns of that time of life, plus very poor vision, hated to draw undue attention. So the teacher went to a drug store, purchased an enlargement viewer, cut out part of the notebook, and replaced it with the viewer. In this way the student could just place the "notebook" over the textbook and see much clearer, without any other attention. Another student designed an AT device to help a student with Cerebral Palsy who had limited mobility in her neck. The designer used packaging material to stabilize the student's neck so that it would not move around as much. Another AT device was a mouse support device, which was actually a framed mouse pad on three sides so that if the mouse hit the side it would not leave the pad. This device was designed for a child with spastic movements who couldn't stay on the pad with the mouse.

Burkhour (1997) suggested a very low-tech adaptive device for children playing basketball. By painting the ball a bright yellow, a visually impaired child could see the ball easier. Another assistive idea was to have one child push another child in a wheelchair around the bases in a game of baseball. The child who is called "out" in the game is the child in the wheelchair, not the child pushing the chair. In this manner, the individual child's needs are met for physical activity and community. Szepkouski (1999) describes how a student teacher working with middle school children with various disabilities recognized the need to rearrange the classroom space into a "minisociety". Because the emphasis was on society and how people interact in a society, the student teacher educated the disabled children on the various jobs they could realistically expect to obtain when they finished high school. Classroom activities in the "minisociety" were matched to state curriculum standards to achieve learning outcomes. Szepkouski's final advice in this article is "You never know what anyone can do until you offer them the opportunity, tools, and support to try." This quote certainly exemplifies the spirit of intuitiveness and ingenuity displayed by the student designers in the Technology for the Disabled course at National University.


Anderson, P.L. & Baker, B.K. (1999). A Case-Based Curriculum Approach to Special Education Teacher Preparation. Teacher Education and Special Education, 22, 3, 188-192.

Blair, J.C., EuDaly, M. & Von Almen Benson, P. (1999). The Effectiveness of Audiologists' Information Sources for Classroom Teachers. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 30,2, 173-82.

Burkhour, C. (1997). Children with Disabilities in Youth Sports. TASH Newsletter, 23, 9, 6-7.

Pugach, M.C. & Seidl, B.L. (1998). Associate Editors' Exchange Responsible Linkages Between Diversity and Disability: A Challenge for Special Education. Teacher Education and Special Education, 21, 4, 319-33.

Sprague, M.M. & Pennell, D. P. (2000). The Power of Partners Preparing Preservice Teachers for Inclusion. The Clearing House, 73, 3, 168-70.

Szepkouski, G. M. (1999). The Minisociety Classroom. Teaching Exceptional Children, 32, 3, 34-7.

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