Assistive Technology (AT) is any device, software or equipment that helps people with disabilities work around challenges so they can learn, communicate and simply function better. For example, a type of software that reads aloud text from a computer is AT, as is a keyboard for a child with handwriting challenges. Assistive Technology tools can help people work through and find solutions to challenges they may be experiencing. This is especially important and necessary for students who struggle with reading, writing, and communication. Using AT to work through these challenges can have positive effects such as increased confidence and independence. According to Dr. Richard Nyankori, deputy chancellor for special education at the District of Columbia Public Schools, AT breaks through the barriers of academic success and future employment opportunities.
Even though the technical term is Assistive Technology, not all AT tools are high-tech. AT also includes many simple adaptive tools, like a pencil grip for a child who has challenges with writing. For individuals with Down syndrome, assistive technology is any type of device, equipment, adaptation, or materials that improve his or her ability to learn, work, increase independence, and make tasks easier to complete. Assistive technology fosters independence and autonomy, and can be as simple as a slanted writing surface or as sophisticated as learning software.
Some AT tools are simple adaptations to a work environment or tool, but many are high-tech, and because of advances in computer technology, tools are now available on a variety of platforms. AT comes in many different shapes and sizes. Schools, programs, and places of employment use the three main platforms available- desktop computers, digital tablets, and Chromebooks. Understanding the different platforms can help make it easier to figure out which AT tools will work best for each individual.
The most popular AT platform is a mobile device, like smartphones and tablets. They are portable, they have touchscreens that make them more convenient for people to use, and they have cameras that can make communication easier for some individuals. In addition to more AT being available, many people have also been learning how to use computers and other types of electronic technology at a younger age. Smartboards have been installed in many elementary school classrooms and is a great tool for students with Down syndrome. Lessons can be created to allow the students to move objects with their fingers and draw lines to connect sounds or images with correlating words and use a mouse to gain fine motor skills.
Assistive technology for an individual with Down syndrome can be anything that makes information more accessible. This may include using fewer words during instruction, increasing the size of the lettering and/or graphics, or even highlighting key words so that the information does not overwhelm the student.
Other assistive technology includes anything that makes completing tasks more accessible for the individual with Down syndrome. Slanted desks or a three-ring binder turned sideways allows a student or employee with Down syndrome to compensate for writing challenges. Providing shortened or triangular-shaped pencils can also help them with holding writing utensils properly.
The right forms of assistive technology for each student is best determined through a multidisciplinary approach. Parents can work as a team with medical professionals, special and regular education teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and other support persons to work together to select the best assistive technology tools for each individual’s needs.
Missouri Assistive Technology- https://at.mo.gov
Center on Technology and Disability- https://www.ctdinstitute.org/library
Inclusion through Innovation by Dr. Sean Smith- https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gH6P_GpyLYuZxWloFPL0qkTdTJKKJ4-hE13-n2qj8bM/edit