Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Success for All Students: Assistive Technology

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 05.28.13

Much dialog has been devoted to education ‘shifts’ related to Common Core instruction and 21st century learning. Some of the basis for these shifts can be seen in discussions about multiple intelligences and differentiation. Looking at the mechanics of instruction, we recognize that pedagogical changes to encourage personalized learning are in order. Educators will find some solutions for students who learn differently with assistive technology.

Assistive technology refers to any item, piece of equipment, or product that helps people with disabilities in a learning environment. It works to support access to information and expression of ideas.

Considering the past 15 years, we can see how assistive technology has helped people with disabilities gain greater independence and integration in our society. Speech recognition systems, electronic communications, personal computers, robots, and artificial intelligence are transforming people’s lives. Excellent examples of assistive technology are provided in the following video, Enabling Dreams: Assistive Technology, from the George Lucas Education Foundation.

The students with disabilities in this video had teachers who understood concepts of differentiation and universal access. These educators actively promoted access to a rich curriculum for all students. Key areas of instructional design involved studying student work with personalized learning as a goal and offering alternate methods of access and expression.

One part of this instructional design can involve assistive technology—thinking about needs and potential uses of technology. The information below offers some starting points for teachers in their role as instructional designers considering potential assistive technology solutions.


Area of Need

Auditory processing difficulty
Difficulty listening to others and/or following oral directions


Audio Recording Device | iTalk | Olympus Recorder
Student, peer tutor, or instructional assistant records key parts of lessons and discussions for replay and review at a later time.

Sound Field Systems | Phonic Ear
Similar to a public address system, these set-ups amplify one voice over others, allowing learners to focus on the individual who has the microphone.


Area of Need

Reads at lower than expected level
Difficulty reading assigned materials



Electronic Text
Changes text size, spacing, color, and/or background. This feature is available in most electronic documents; check the format or preference menu to adjust formatting.

Audiobooks |
Use of books recorded for playback with an MP3 player. Audio recordings from these books are often of higher quality than those read by electronic screen readers.

Electronic Books | Kindle | iBook
Allows for audio playback and changes in text formatting.


Area of Need

Writes at lower than expected level
Discrepancy between verbal and written fluency


Graphic Mapping and Outlining Software | Inspiration
Assists student in pre-writing activities, generating ideas, and associating concepts.

Audio Recording Device | iTalk | Olympus Recorder
Student dictates thoughts into an audio device; transcription to writing occurs at a later time.

Word Prediction Software | Co:Writer
Predicts logical word choices based on subject-verb agreement, grammar rules, and student writing of the past.

Voice Recognition Software | Dragon Naturally Speaking
Software interprets spoken words and translates into electronic text.


Additional support and resources for assistive technology in Sonoma County can be obtained from SELPA’s Adaptive Technology Center.


Blog: Technology for Learners