25 Assistive Technologies in the 21st Century

Assistive Technologies

Camyl Gatchalian


Ontario Tech University


Assistive technology (AT) is a valuable tool that is used to help aid students in special education to have a better life inside and outside school. Throughout the years, there are increases in demand to student’s 21st century competencies. Such competencies include the need for creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills. With the 21st century demand, educators and other professionals can create a meaningful curriculum to help students find suitable assistive technologies tools that can benefit student’s 21st century skills growth. This chapter will identify the two types of disabilities, such as visible and invisible disabilities. It will guide teachers, and other professionals determine the best assistive technologies (AT) tool that will fit the students need in special education.

Furthermore, it will focus on three themes on assistive technologies use that will benefit student’s mobility, communication, and learning practices. Each topic will discuss the importance and use of various assistive technologies devices and software that will guide the student to improve their 21st century skills. It will further discuss ways on how teachers can integrate assistive technologies in the classroom curriculum. Overall, the different AT tools that will be mention in this chapter are some of the most useful and innovative devices that can help aid and support student in special education. The AT tools will guide students and teachers to work together to create a meaningful curriculum to be successful in the 21st century.

Keywords: assistive technology, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, curriculum, disability, education, invisible disability, learning, mobility, special education, technology, visible disability, 21st century, 21st century skills


Technologies play an essential role in some aspects of people’s life (Erdem, 2017). With the use of different technology, people today are living independently; and becoming connected to others quickly (Kollak, 2017). Technology use became a crucial resource of knowledge and support in the education system. Technology intervention within the education curriculum has changed and improved throughout the years (Sze, 2019).

Today assistive technology (AT) plays a vital role in special education (Sze, 2019). It is used and created to help students complete a particular task efficiently (Adebisi, Liman, & Longpoe, 2015). Assistive technology is a device that can maintain or improve the mental and physical functioning of a student with a disability (Adebisi et al., 2015). Assistive technologies have helped to facilitate the skills that students with a special education need struggle to utilize in daily life (Erdem, 2017). It can be a tool or a software program that can help increase and improves the 21st century skills of students in special education especially when it comes to improving social, learning and communication skills (Assistive Technology Industry Association, 2019). Today with the demand of 21st century skills, the use of assistive technologies in special education is essential to complete tasks efficiently.

Background Information

History of Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies (AT) promote and support the well-being of those students in need. It enables a student to live a healthy, productive, and independent life (World Health Organization, 2018). Assistive technology has a long history; it began before 1900 during the Foundation Period in which AT was discovered. AT is defined as a tool that may assist individuals with disabilities (Labadie, 2019). Around 1988, the Tech Act provides federal funds to AT services and information (Labadie, 2019). Around the establishment period, the disability disciplines were established. New policies, laws, and litigations were developed (Labadie, 2019).

After a few years, the empowerment period was then developed in which disability rights was the focus. The Individual with Disabilities Act was created to require all schools to provide assistive technologies, equipment, and services to students with a disability (Sze, 2019). Around 1997, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized to mandate assistive technologies to be included in the Individual Education Program (Sze, 2019). Within the next couple of years, disability rehabilitation demand has an increase in the federal level (Field & Jette, 2007). There has been an increase in interest and research in the field of assistive technologies and special education (Sze, 2019). The different program was then created, such as No Child Left Behind to improve the effectiveness of educational assistive technology intervention to all children (Sze, 2019). Today, assistive technology has become an essential tool used by students and teachers in the special education setting (Sze, 2019). AT devices has become a necessary aid that helps students in special education manage daily tasks by making difficult or impossible tasks feasible to do (Sze, 2019).


Disabilities and Assistive Technologies

Supporting children with disabilities comes in many challenges to both families and professionals (Adebisi et al., 2015). The concept of quality of life has evolved throughout the years; people focus from general well-being to a more specific focus on physical, emotional, and social well-being (Lancioni & Singh, 2014). With the demand for the 21st century skills, there is an increased mandate for assistive technology (AT) devices and software use and development in the education curriculum. Teachers and other professionals come across assistive technology problems such as the appropriate use of AT devices, selecting the proper assistive technology, where to get, how to use and how to evaluate its efficiency (Adebisi et al., 2015). With such challenges, teachers and other professional’s role are vital to identifying the appropriate AT tools for student’s 21st century growth. It would be beneficial for everyone involved to understand the strength, weaknesses, and the specific type of disabilities each student in special education have to create a meaningful curriculum.


According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (2019), disability may have been present at birth, caused by accident, or developed over time. It is a condition of mental impairment, developmental disability, learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2019). An individual with a disability has a health problem or physical disability that prevents them from working or limits the amount of work that they can do (Field & Jette, 2007). Disability limitations come into two spectrums: the visible and the invisible or hidden disability.

Visible Disability.

It includes those with significant extremity or people who have obvious physical problems. It includes people who have had an amputation, walking or talking impairment and other apparent mobility issues.

Invisible Disability.

It is a term that captures hidden disabilities or challenges that are neurological (Disabled World, 2015). It includes those individuals who have a disability that cannot easily observe or recognize such as chronic illness, deafness, visual impairment, development disorder, autisms, and chronic fatigue (Faucett, Ringland, Cullen, & Hayes, 2017).

To resolve the challenges of teachers and to create a meaningful curriculum in the 21st century, it is crucial for teachers and families to collaborate and communicate. Building a good relationship with the student and their families will allow teachers to learn and understand the strength and weaknesses of a student’s disabilities. It will guide teachers to create specific lesson plans where students can complete tasks efficiently, think critically, and build creatively. Authentic work and meaningful tasks will allow students to develop their 21st century skills.

Types of Assistive Technologies

It is essential for teachers and families to involve students when it comes to assistive technology selection process. Selecting the appropriate technology that works best for student’s in special education would increase the student’s success in the 21st century curriculum. The next section of this chapter identifies the different themes of assistive technologies use and the various types of AT tools that teachers and families can select to support students in special education.

For Mobility Use

Mobility issues vary with each person (Illinois University Library, 2019). Aside from the traditional assistive technology (AT) devices such as cane, walkers, crutches, and prosthetic devices; today more people use electric scooters and wheelchair to help with mobility (Illinois University Library, 2019). Providing students the ability to sit and move freely is essential for student independence (Erdem, 2017). AT devices helps students with their mobility use to participate actively in tasks and activities with their peers (Erdem, 2017). Today, the use of mouth stick, wheelchair routing tools, and GPS tracking device are some of the common tools that can help assist student’s mobility in the 21st century.

Mouth Stick.

Students with mobility problems are using a mouth stick device to complete tasks self-sufficiently. It is a mobility device that allows students to control and input information with the use of stick that they can easily manipulate with their mouth (Illinois University Library, 2019). Mouth stick tools are beneficial for student’s success since it enables students to perform computer keyboarding skills and complete tasks creatively (e.g., painting using mouth stick).

Routing Tools.

The traditional wheelchair has evolved throughout the years. Now, most wheelchairs are electronic and have an advanced routing tool that will make students life more manageable. Wheelchair routing tools is an AT device used to help students to navigate around public spaces easily (Price, 2014). The routing tool is beneficial for a student’s success since it can help students maneuver around areas freely. It encourages student’s freedom to collaborate inside or outside a school setting.

Tracking Device.

The technologically advanced GPS tracking device is a mobility device that uses satellite technology to help guide the direction and trace someone location. It is an excellent mobility device because it allows visually impaired students to find directions to move freely (Erdem, 2017). It will help with student’s success because it will encourage a student’s independence and safety.

Mobility tools and devices can easily integrate into the school curriculum by allowing students to use AT tools to complete tasks independently. Teachers can create a meaningful curriculum by creating tasks for students in special education that support 21st century collaboration and teamwork skills. Teachers can guide and encourage students to work with other peers daily.

For Communication Use

In the 21st century, communication plays a vital role in a student’s success. Assistive technology communication tools are suitable for students with difficulty in speaking and hearing (Erdem, 2017). Some of the most conventional AT devices use for communication today includes speech recognition software and a speech generating device.

Speech Recognition Software.

It helps students to speak to the computer through a microphone, and the spoken words will show as a text (Adebisi et al., 2015). This type of assistive technology device is useful for students since it allows students to choose words from a monitor that were not recognized while speaking (Adebisi et al., 2015).  It is beneficial for students who have problems with motor skills, limited mobility, and oral language abilities (Adebisi et al., 2015).

Speech Generating Device.

It is a portable tool that contains one or more panels or switches that when pressed will activate pre-recorded digitized or synthesized speech output (Illinois University Library, 2019).   It is a standalone device, usually tiny and light, or it can be software that installs in a tablet or phone (Illinois University Library, 2019). It is beneficial AT tool because students with a disability may not be able to speak on their own and can use a speech generating device to communicate with the people around them.

Teachers can help the student in special education by creating meaningful tasks that promote freedom to express, and speak while using assistive technologies tools. Teachers can help the student increase 21st century communication skills by encouraging student’s positive thinking and active learning. Teachers can integrate AT communication tools into the curriculum by using computer application activities to collect and share ideas in the classroom setting.

For Learning Use

Today there are many available assistive technologies (AT) devices that can help students learning skills. Students with writing, reading, listening, organization and memory problems may use tools such as spell checkers, proofreading, tape recorders, optional character recognition, variable speech control, electronic mathematics worksheets, talking calculators, FM listening systems, personal data managers, free-form databases and prewriting organizers (Adebisi et al., 2015).

Aside from all the assistive technologies mentioned above, Google created one of the most innovative AT learning software that many people use in class today. More than 25 million students are using Google applications for education purpose (Miller, 2013). Google drive has tools that help students when it comes to reading, writing, and learning. One of the most useful programs on Google Drive is Google Read & Write. This tool is an excellent assistive technology software that allows students and teachers to create, consume, and collaborate inside and outside the classroom setting.

Google Read & Write.

It is software that offers support tools which include read aloud with dual color highlighting, talking Dictionary, Picture Dictionary, Translator, and Fact Finder, study Skills Highlighters and Collect Highlights, Vocabulary List Builder, Annotations and Navigational tools (Miller, 2013). Google Read & Write can easily integrate into classroom curriculum because it allows students to read, write, and express themselves more confidently (Texthelp, 2019). It is an easy-to-use toolbar that makes documents, files, and web pages more accessible to students and teachers (Texthelp, 2019). Google Read & Write is a useful tool in 21st century learning because it is a confidence booster for struggling readers and those with learning disabilities. It helps students with dyslexia and allows students with literacy challenges to improve their learning skills (Texthelp, 2019).

Teachers can integrate this learning software in the curriculum to help student’s complete assignments and projects on their own. Teachers can think about different classroom activities that allow students to participate in discussions and collaborate with others while using Google Read & Write. This learning software can be beneficial in improving student’s 21st century skills because it works as a fulltime aid to help students speak, read, and write on their behalf.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

In conclusion, it is crucial to identify the student strength and weaknesses to figure out the best assistive technology tools and devices that best fit and support students need. Today, assistive technologies are the most useful tools that can help students in special education live independently and comfortably. The assistive technologies tools highlighted in this chapter are some of the most innovative devices and software that can support student 21st century collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking skills. With the demand for 21st century skills, students in special education should take advantage of the different assistive technology innovations that are accessible now.

Further support from the health care providers, government and assistive technology companies will be beneficial for students in special education to create ground-breaking and innovative tools in the future. With the increase in 21st century demand and technologies use, continuous assistive technologies invention, reasonable cost, and device accessibility are some of the areas that require constant research and improvements.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 by Camyl Gatchalian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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