Inside: Explore the many versatile options and examples for low tech assistive technology in the classroom.

If I say the words “assistive technology,” what comes to mind? An iPad with autism apps? Or maybe Stephen Hawking with his thought-activated chair and voice modulator?

When we hear the term Assistive Technology (AT), we often imagine kids with disabilities mastering previously challenging assignments with the help of the latest and greatest high-tech gadgetry.

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Low tech assistive technology in the classroom
Low tech assistive technology in the classroom-the possibilities are endless.

And with that high tech often comes a high price tag, which can be why schools are reluctant to implement AT. But there are plenty of low-tech assistive technology options that can help your child achieve their goals.

In fact, we may be doing our children a disservice by thinking of AT in such narrow terms.

History of Assistive Technology

In 1988, the Assistive Technology Act was passed in the United States. According to the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, the law was passed to “support State efforts to improve the provision of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities of all ages through comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance.”

As defined by the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, AT is “any item, piece of equipment, or product that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

There have been attempts and developments to support people with disabilities for centuries. The first school for deaf children opened in 1817. New organizations emerged throughout the 1900s to service the disabled.

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The 2004 Revision states: “to direct the Secretary of Education to make assistive technology (AT) grants to States to maintain comprehensive statewide programs designed to: (1) maximize the ability of individuals with disabilities, and their family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized representatives, to obtain AT; and (2) increase access to AT.”

Technological assistance for people with disabilities varies based on their specific needs. Let’s deep dive into some key low and high-tech assistive technology examples to understand how each can make a difference.

A magic marker is just one example of low tech assistive technology.
A magic marker is just one example of low tech assistive technology.

Low Tech Assistive Technology Examples

Surprisingly, low-tech devices can often make the biggest difference for a student.

According to Georgia Tech, low-tech devices for students with disabilities “are devices or equipment that don’t require much training, may be less expensive, and do not have complex or mechanical features.”

Examples include:

  • walking canes
  • binder clips that make it easier to turn pages
  • sensory input items such as fidgets and squishy balls
  • writing things down instead of speaking
  • Low-tech assistive technology in the classroom includes printing assignments in larger fonts, pencil grips, adapted pencils, and using colored highlighters to better organize information.
child using a bowling bumper a form of low tech assistive technology
My son’s teachers used a bowling ramp so my son could bowl. Low tech assistive technology for gross motor skills.

Low Tech Assistive Technology in the Classroom

AT is any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around challenges so they can learn, communicate, and function better. A wheelchair is an example of AT. So is software that reads aloud text from a computer. Or a keyboard for someone struggling with handwriting.

These tools can help people work around their challenges, while also playing to their strengths. This is especially important for kids who struggle with learning—whether in reading, writing, math, or another subject.

AT can help these kids thrive in school and in life. And that can help grow their confidence and independence.

Yes, that means a highlighter is considered AT. And it might be just what your student needs to help visually organize information.

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Choosing appropriate AT solutions—whether high tech or low tech—depends on a number of factors: What is impeding success; how is it getting in the way; and how can a student best compensate are the first questions to consider.

Other factors might include the level of fatigue, strain, physical limitations, and how long it would take to complete work (e.g., to write a paper) without the use of technology.

Who uses Assistive Technology?

A typical assistive technology user has a disability that requires a compensatory tool for increased independence. The level of the ability or disability of the user can vary.

It can range from someone who had a spinal cord injury and can only move their head to a person who has pain when using their mouse due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Both adults and children can benefit from technology use.

What is the difference between low and high-tech?

Low tech does not require a power source. Sometimes this can be the easiest and most practical of solutions in assistive technology.

Examples of low tech are a pencil grip for children with grasp issues, a cane to assist with walking, or a reacher to assist an individual with picking up items off the floors.

According to Georgia Tech, low-tech devices for students with disabilities “are devices or equipment that don’t require much training, may be less expensive, and do not have complex or mechanical features.”

Examples include walking canes, binder clips that make it easier to turn pages, sensory input items such as fidgets and squishy balls, and writing things down instead of speaking.

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Low tech assistive technology in the classroom includes printing assignments in larger fonts, pencil grips, adapted pencils, and using colored highlighters to better organize information.

Rulers, sticky notes and other writing implements are low tech assistive technology.
Rulers, sticky notes, and other writing implements are low-tech assistive technology.

Low-Tech AT Options For Reading 

  1. Tachistoscopes (e.g., an index card with a cut-out showing a few words)
  2. Highlighters
  3. Colored overlays
  4. Changes in lighting
  5. Dictionary pens
  6. Audiotapes and CDs
  7. Low-Tech Help For Writing
  8. Slant boards
  9. Pencil grips
  10. Adapted paper (e.g., colored, raised line, and with portions highlighted)
  11. Word banks
  12. Dictionary/thesaurus

Low-Tech AT Options for Learning Disabled Students

  1. Alternative keyboards
  2. Digital recorders
  3. Spelling devices, and even computers with word-processing software
  4. Graphic Organizer
  5. Visual Schedules
  6. Adapted Pencil (weighted, fat, skinny, triangular, golf etc.)
  7. Adaptive Paper (graph, special spacing or texture, HWT etc.)
  8. Pencil Grip
  9. adapted eraser
  10. Slant board
  11. post-it’s
  12. highlighter
  13. squishy ball or sensory input (fidgets)
  14. tactile ruler
  15. velcro
  16. electrical device
  17. screen magnifier
  18. audiobook
  19. adapted cd player/music player
  20. voice amplification
  21. scooter
  22. gait trainer
  23. wheelchair
  24. braille translation software
  25. switch adapted games or toys
  26. adapted switches
  27. adapted seating (a bouncy ball, chairs with seat belts, wiggly butt cushions)
  28. adapted keyboard
  29. calculator
  30. electronic speller or dictionary
  31. word prediction software
  32. page protector or colored transparency
  33. binder clip (for grip for turning pages)
  34. jumbo anything (text, materials, paper, etc)
  35. manipulatives

Examples of Low Tech Assistive Technology for Reading

Here are 15 ways you can use low-tech assistive technology for reading skills.

  1. Large-print books: Books with larger font sizes can help individuals with visual impairments.
  2. Magnifying glasses: These can be used to magnify text in books, newspapers, and other printed materials.
  3. Colored overlays: Placing colored overlays over text can help reduce visual stress and improve reading speed and accuracy.
  4. Book stands: Book stands can help hold books upright and make them easier to read.
  5. Reading guides: These are plastic strips that can be placed over text to help readers focus on one line at a time.
  6. Highlighters: Highlighting important information can help readers retain information and better understand the text.
  7. Page turners: Individuals with mobility impairments may benefit from a page turner, which can help them turn pages in a book.
  8. Braille books: Braille books are written in braille, a tactile writing system, and can be read by individuals with visual impairments.
  9. Audiobooks: Audiobooks can be helpful for individuals with visual impairments or reading difficulties.
  10. Talking calculators: Talking calculators can read out calculations aloud, making them more accessible for individuals with visual impairments or learning difficulties.
  11. Talking clocks: Similar to talking calculators, talking clocks can read out the time aloud for individuals with visual impairments.
  12. Reading rulers: Reading rulers are transparent rulers that can be used to isolate and magnify text.
  13. Finger trackers: Finger trackers can be placed on a page to help readers keep their place and prevent losing their place while reading.
  14. Reading lamps: Adequate lighting can help improve reading conditions for individuals with visual impairments.
  15. Book holders: Book holders can be used to prop up books at an angle, making them easier to read.
Yes, Braille is considered low tech assistive tech.
Yes, Braille is considered low tech assistive tech.

Examples of Low Tech Assistive Technology for Dyslexia

Many of these low tech assistive technology examples for dyslexia will overlap with those used for reading, there are a few different ideas.

  1. Text-to-speech software: Text-to-speech software can read text aloud, making it easier for individuals with dyslexia to comprehend written material.
  2. Dyslexia-friendly fonts: Certain fonts, such as Dyslexie or OpenDyslexic, are designed to be more readable for individuals with dyslexia.
  3. Colored overlays: Colored overlays can reduce visual stress and make it easier for individuals with dyslexia to read.
  4. Reading rulers: Reading rulers can be used to isolate and magnify text, making it easier for individuals with dyslexia to read.
  5. Highlighters: Highlighting important information can help individuals with dyslexia retain information and better understand the text.
  6. Audiobooks: Audiobooks can be helpful for individuals with dyslexia, as they can listen to the material rather than having to read it.
  7. Spelling aids: Spelling aids, such as dictionaries or electronic spell checkers, can help individuals with dyslexia check their spelling.
  8. Word prediction software: Word prediction software can suggest words as individuals type, making it easier for individuals with dyslexia to write.
  9. Graphic organizers: Graphic organizers can help individuals with dyslexia organize their thoughts and ideas for writing.
  10. Mnemonic devices: Mnemonic devices, such as acronyms or rhymes, can help individuals with dyslexia remember important information.

Examples of Low Tech Assistive Technology for Writing

And, here are 15 examples of low-tech assistive technology to assist students with writing.

  1. Grippers: Grippers can be placed on writing utensils to help individuals with motor difficulties grip and control the pen or pencil.
  2. Weighted pens: Weighted pens can help provide feedback and increase the stability of the pen for individuals with tremors or shaky hands.
  3. Slant boards: Slant boards can help individuals with fine motor difficulties position their writing materials at an angle that is more comfortable for writing.
  4. Raised line paper: Raised line paper has embossed lines that can help individuals with visual impairments write more neatly and stay within the lines.
  5. Pencil grips: Pencil grips can help individuals with weak grip strength or fine motor difficulties hold a pen or pencil more comfortably.
  6. Handwriting guides: Handwriting guides can be used to help individuals with difficulties forming letters or staying within lines.
  7. Highlighter tape: Highlighter tape can be used to create guides for writing, highlighting important information, or outlining areas of a page.
  8. Sliding clipboard: A sliding clipboard can be used to position writing materials at different angles for increased comfort.
  9. Typing aids: Typing aids, such as keyguards or typing gloves, can help individuals with motor difficulties type more accurately and efficiently.
  10. Dictation software: Dictation software can allow individuals to write using their voice, which can be helpful for those with physical or learning disabilities.
  11. Writing stencils: Writing stencils can help individuals with difficulties forming letters and writing more neatly and accurately.
  12. Writing slopes: Writing slopes can be used to angle writing materials, making it easier for individuals with fine motor difficulties to write.
  13. Braille writers: Braille writers can be used to create written material in braille, a tactile writing system used by individuals with visual impairments.
  14. Sticky notes: Sticky notes can be used to mark important information or create reminders for individuals with memory or organization difficulties.
  15. Raised alphabet stamps: Raised alphabet stamps can be used to create tactile letters and words for individuals with visual impairments or tactile learners.

Examples of Low Tech Assistive Technology for Autism

And, while no two kids with autism are the same, they often have needs similar to other autistic students.

Here are some ways to use low tech assistive technology for your autistic students.

  1. Visual schedules: Visual schedules can help individuals with autism understand and anticipate daily routines.
  2. Picture communication systems: Picture communication systems, such as PECS, can help individuals with autism communicate their needs and wants.
  3. Sensory tools: Sensory tools, such as fidget toys or noise-cancelling headphones, can help individuals with autism regulate their sensory input and reduce sensory overload.
  4. Social stories: Social stories can help individuals with autism understand social situations and appropriate social behaviors.
  5. Calming strategies: Calming strategies, such as deep breathing or mindfulness techniques, can help individuals with autism manage anxiety and stress.
  6. Task lists: Task lists can help individuals with autism break down tasks into manageable steps and stay organized.
  7. Weighted blankets: Weighted blankets can provide deep pressure and help individuals with autism regulate their sensory input and reduce anxiety.
  8. Visual timers: Visual timers can help individuals with autism understand the passage of time and stay on task.
  9. Structured routines: Structured routines can help individuals with autism feel more secure and less anxious by providing predictability.
  10. Social scripts: Social scripts can help individuals with autism learn and practice social interactions and conversations.

Who Can Perform an Assistive Technology Evaluation?

An Assistive Technology evaluation can be performed by an individual that has demonstrated a skill level in the field. A qualified professional will perform a comprehensive evaluation focusing on the individual’s goals and needs.

After the evaluation is completed, the student will trial technology options and participate in the best selection to meet their goals.

Typically, individuals that are certified are also occupational, physical, speech therapists, or engineers. ATPs can work in various settings including rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, schools, or universities.

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If the individual is also a licensed therapist, many insurances may cover the evaluation and follow-up treatment sessions. They may also assist with obtaining funding for the needed equipment when appropriate.

Funding Options for AT

Many schools recoil at the thought of purchasing assistive technology for students. Hey, I get it, schools operate on very limited budgets.

And there’s this weird notion out there that all AT is expensive, and that one student (or parent) is going to see another student’s AT device, and want the same for their child.

My advocacy experience has taught me quite the opposite. These are a few commonalities that I’ve observed over the past decade.

  • Many specialists (such as Teachers for the Visually Impaired/TVI) are connected with other professionals in their field and often know little secrets to getting AT funded.
  • AT seems to be a very common grant opportunity, if you’re willing to search for them.
  • Many community charities will often scholarship a piece of AT for a child if it fits with their mission. Or, they may house and recycle/redistribute pieces of AT.
  • Parents networking with other parents about topics like this can be a great resource of information of how to secure AT for your child.
  • Many times, the AT device does not cost nearly as much as expected.
  • If you’re willing to do insurance appeals, you may get it funded that way.

I hope this helps. As always, there is much more information on this site about this topic and incorporating it into your IEP.

Don’t miss the post below, which offers IEP goal ideas for Assistive Technology.

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