Technology use has become as standard in today’s classrooms as it has throughout every other aspect of our lives: jobs, family life, personal finances, etc. While students used to carry a stack of textbooks to school, now they’re carrying laptops—even at the elementary level. The paper notebook, in many cases, has been supplanted by the computer notebook.

Technology has always been designed to make the user’s tasks easier to complete, whether it’s an assignment for a class, a time-sensitive project for an employer, or annual tax documents. For students with developmental and learning disabilities, the need for technological assistance in education is even greater.

Special education is geared toward students living with a broad range of conditions, including blindness, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down syndrome, motor impairments, and autism. Estimates show that more than 7 million students living with disabilities are attending public schools in the United States, and individuals with specific learning disabilities or speech or language impairments make up the majority of these students. Technology in special education can help these disabled students keep up with their peers to the extent possible and prepare for future success.

Types of Technology Used in Special Education

Various assistive technologies are being used for special education students today. These include:

  • Virtual Reality

Virtual reality environments can help autistic students in stressful situations where they deal with crowds, such as hallways, school assemblies, and the cafeteria. By encountering these scenarios in a nonthreatening virtual environment, these students can gradually become accustomed to them and will be better prepared to respond calmly and appropriately in real-life situations. Virtual reality also gives students with motor disabilities the ability to manipulate objects that they are unable to manipulate in the real world.

  • Tablets/Handheld Touchscreen Computers

These devices are useful for visual learning, reading, drawing, and watching videos. They can help students with motor impairments improve their coordination and those with reading disabilities comprehend written information via text-to-speech apps. Further, students with autism respond very well to using these devices to learn. Numerous apps have been created specifically for autistic students.

  • NOVA Chat

NOVA Chat is a dedicated speech generation device that, in conjunction with text-to-speech programs, provides assistance to students who have reading disabilities. It reads text aloud and also converts speech into text on the screen.

  • Read 180

This software is designed for students who have reading disabilities. It enables users to customize a learning program for each individual student, giving those students fluency goals and tracking their progress as they continue to learn through the program.

  • DynaVox xPress

Known as a handheld augmentative communication device, DynaVox xPress helps students develop greater reading fluency and natural speech patterns and pronunciation. The device uses a combination of text and images to express language to and increase the vocabulary of the user.

  • MangoMon

This software offers interactive lessons in reading and math that provide students with individualized attention and tailored education plans. In addition, it gives the parents of the students the ability to view their child’s learning progress.

How Technology Helps

The central purpose of technology in special education is to enable students to learn in a way that accommodates their individual learning styles and limitations. Equally important is helping them experience:

  • Greater independence
  • Less anxiety
  • Improved connection with their classmates
  • Natural, more comfortable and effective communication
  • Increased academic performance

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, a Columbus, Indiana public school district with approximately 12,000 students, provides one example of how technology in the classroom can help students with special needs excel. According to a U.S. Department of Education report, students in that district who were hesitant to communicate face-to-face became engaged in class discussions in the online setting. After the school district implemented universal design for learning (UDL), an approach that incorporates digital books, specialized software and websites, screen readers with a text-to-speech feature, and other technology tools, graduation rates increased 22% for special education students.

Potential Limitations of Technology in Special Education

While much of the technology mentioned here is user friendly, these innovations aren’t always easily implemented in the classroom. Tools and applications may have a learning curve for the teachers who will be tasked with using them and demonstrating their use to special education students. With internet-enabled devices, there’s also a risk that students’ attention will be drawn away by websites or other functions of the technology that aren’t germane to their coursework.

Our Online Special Education Programs

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers online master’s-level programs in special education that can prepare students to take on the challenges of technology and other aspects of special education as teachers. In their roles as educators, they’ll be able to use technology to improve their students’ learning abilities and, consequently, their lives. Each of these CAEP-accredited degree programs explores the use of technology and innovation in the classroom:

  • Master of Arts in Special Education
  • Master of Arts in Special Education with a track in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Master of Arts in Special Education with Educational Diagnostician track

Technology and School Change—a required course in these programs—was created to help students acquire a deeper understanding of the impact technology has on education, especially as it relates to students with disabilities. Course objectives are to understand that impact as it currently exists and what it may be in the future, as well as to examine how educators can use technology across all educational settings to positively influence the learning environment for all students, disabled or not.

Students in any UT Permian Basin special education program can complete Technology and School Change and all their other required courses in a 100% online classroom that allows self-paced learning from any location. The core degree program and autism track can be completed in as little as 12 months, and the educational diagnostician track can be completed in as little as 24 months.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online Master of Arts in Special Education now.