Assistive technology for learning and special education

What it is and how it can help your students.

A group of 8 students working on student devices and an interactive display

Even if you've never heard of assistive technology, you probably already use it in your classroom

Assistive technology is any tool, physical or digital, that helps students with disabilities learn – from eyeglasses to interactive whiteboards. It also describes any tool that helps people with disabilities in their daily lives and workplaces.

As technology advances, more assistive technology tools are created. Some are simple, and others are complex and specialized. All can contribute to a more inclusive, engaging learning environment.

Assistive technology is commonly used in special education, where the learning process and environment is designed to accommodate students with individual differences, disabilities and special needs. But everyone benefits when all teachers and administrators know about these tools, how they’re used and for what purpose.

There are two main categories of assistive tech:

Low or no-technology

These tools exist in many environments and are familiar to most of us.

They include:
  • Visual wayfinding cues like arrows on the floor
  • Braille reading and writing systems and large-print books
  • Wheelchairs, crutches, canes and other mobility devices
  • Physical manipulatives like blocks
  • Environmental adaptations like ramps

High technology

This category includes tools that use devices, machines, internet, cloud-based computing or any kind of power source. These high-tech tools evolve as our understanding of medicine, disability, education and technology evolves.

Get to know the six domains

Teachers should familiar with the six domains of high-tech assistive technology, which support different tasks and types of learning.
  • Digital copies of notes with color-coded information
  • Audio recorders
  • Audiobooks and websites that provide audio narration of assigned texts
  • Assistive eye tracking systems
  • Video-recorded presentations as an option for students with anxiety or difficulty speaking publicly
  • Voice amplification systems
  • Communication boards
  • Speech output software
  • Text-to-speech software and apps
  • Digital versions of highlighters for annotations
  • Digital sticky notes to summarize information
  • Large font print and zoom on student devices
  • Screen reading software and apps
  • Computerized pens for translating handwriting into digital text
  • Voice recognition and speech-to-text software or apps
  • Basic word processing features like spell check, synonyms and word prediction,
  • Free apps or Chrome extensions that automatically check grammar
  • Audio recorders and free online podcasting software for students to record thoughts and ideas in short audio bursts
  • Digital graphic organizers for students to visually organize ideas for assignments that involve writing, research and recording information
  • Digital interactive whiteboard spaces that support problem solving
  • Digital manipulatives to connect online, in-class and at-home learning, e.g., counters, fraction tiles and Base 10 blocks
  • A calculator to support students with dyscalculia, aid students exploring more complex concepts and build confidence by verifying solutions
Assistive technology makes learning more accessible and helps all students succeed. When educators know what tools are available and how to use them, classrooms transform into places of engagement, inclusion and connection.

Have you heard of Lumio? Discover 7 tips on how Lumio can support you in making learning accessible to all students.