Special Education

Innovative Technology for Students with Disabilities

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To see how innovative technology is helping students with learning disabilities, one may want to observe what’s going on at El Camino College in Torrance, California. There, within the confines of the special resource center, computer technology is leveling the educational field for students with disabilities.

Computers with Braille pads, specialized programs, magnification equipments, wheelchair on-campus loans, and other alternative media and computer aided reading programs are among the things being offered for students with learning and physical disabilities.  In fact, one interesting computer program (similiar to Zoom Text) allows a student to scan a text book onto the computer, have it read passages, highlight it, and give definitions, as well as expanding or changing the fonts to make it easier to read.

El Camino College was one of the first campuses – community college, university, or primary/secondary schools – to implement such a program. It is not the last. Throughout the country, technology is being used to helps students with disabilities to acquire the curriculum at every level of schooling possible.

Although the technology differs for every disability and for every school districts or colleges, it was made possible, in part, by American with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990.  The law (which was actually meant to reinforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) granted equal access to public and private areas and to protect people with disabilities against discrimination. The law also addressed several areas that are listed under titles. They are

Title I: Employment

Title II: Public Services

                Subtitle A: General Prohibitions

                Subtitle B: Transportation

Title III: Public Accommodations and Services by Private Entities

Title IV: Telecommunications

Title V: Miscellaneous Provision (Yell, 2006)

In each section, technology has been used to fulfill this law. For instance, Title II, Subtitle B refers to transportation. In order to ensure people with disabilities – such as the wheel-chair bound – hydraulic ramps are being used on buses and trains. For students with similar disabilities, the same technology is used for specialized school buses (it should be noted that the buses are usually offered to those with mobility disorders, intellectual delays or others who are deemed to be benefit from school bussing).

Another area that has seen a growth of technology is telecommunications. With the growth of cell-phone technology with Global position system (GPS), teachers and students involved in mobility programs at school district can use this system. Mobility programs usually involve the teaching of students with hearing and/or visual impairments, as well as those with physical disabilities, to learn how to travel independently throughout a neighborhood or city by using available transportations.  Phones with GPS are being used in limited areas to help these students travel. On top of that, those who are hearing impaired can use a system used in most cell-phones known as Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDD).

TDD is actually an off shoot of the tele-printer or teletype (TTY) which was used for now- obsolete electromechanical typewriters. The system was, most likely, the reason many cell-phones have text systems on it.  Again, this technology was due, in part to Title IV of ADA. This law mandates that technological advancements must include something for the disabled.

Public schools often don’t get the most advanced technology for students with disabilities. However, some districts with enough money to spend have used systems such as a FM speaker system for students with auditory processing disorders. This system comprises of a receiver, personal headset and a microphone. The student wears the receiver and personal speaker – which by appearance look like a Sony Walkman from the 1980s.  The teacher wears the microphone on her. As she speaks the microphone transmit her voice directly to the student. The headset also eliminates outside noises such as chatty students or miscellaneous noises in or outside the classroom (students with audio processing disorders have difficulties processing various sounds at one time).

Other items being used in the classroom: PowerPoint presentations, smart-boards, personal keyboard (for students with dysgraphia), audio-recorders or audio-books, movies or documentaries, projectors, laptops, and computer programs such as Read 180 (this is a reading program that’s used for students who are reading at a level far below their peers. The students may be English Language Learners or students with a learning disability that affects their reading ability).

There are other upcoming programs that may show some potential. I-pad and Kindle can offer computer aided reading programs. Microsoft Reader – a program that’s used for electronic books can be used in a way in which one can get a computerized audio reading, font style and size adjustment, and highlighting devices. While Reader has been available for more than a decade, the recent introduction electronic reading platforms such as Kindle and I-pad may lead to more advancements and updates for this program (it should also be noted that devices such as I-phone and Blackberry can download this program onto its system).

There are numerous devices and technology that are helping students with disability access the same education materials or opportunities as their non-disabled peers. In part, ADA helped pave the way for these accommodations; however, technology made it possible.


Yell, Mitchell (2006) “The Law and Special Education, 2nd Edition” :Chapter 7: The American with Disability Act, p. 162: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall

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