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Matching assistive technology tools to individual needs

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By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

The task to be performed

Another key factor in determining what AT tools might benefit a student is to pinpoint the specific task(s) she struggles with. For example, when it comes to writing an essay, she may construct sentences and tackle spelling with no problem, but she has trouble organizing and outlining the essay. In this case, a graphic organizer or outlining tool might help her plan and revise the "big picture" of her essay. In other words, not all AT tools for writing target the same skills or tasks. Knowing where a student struggles (and where she does not) are critical to choosing an appropriate AT tool.

Observation of student, technology, and task in action

Direct observation is the best technique for gathering information about a student's use of a technology tool to compensate for an area of difficulty. Only by observing the individual while she is actively using the technology tool to perform a specific task can it be determined that the tool is appropriate for her. It may be necessary to collaborate with AT professionals who are trained to observe students using technology. Some AT manufacturers' representatives will demonstrate specific technologies as well as provide opportunities for the student to try out specific products. (Keep in mind that a company representative may not be an objective observer of your child using the AT tool.) As the student experiments with a certain technology tool to perform tasks, the observer will want to note:

  • the student's interest in and comfort level with the technology
  • the student's ease in learning about and using the technology
  • the degree to which the technology taps into the student's strengths
  • the extent to which the student is able to use the technology independently and troubleshoot as necessary
  • the effectiveness of the technology in compensating for specific difficulties as compared to alternative strategies

The assistive technology tool

There are a number of factors specific to the technology itself that should be considered in the selection process. Particular attention should be given to the technology's effectiveness in accomplishing its primary compensatory purpose. For example, does a speech recognition system accurately convert the student's oral language to written text and improve the quality of the written product?  

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.