Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and assistive technology (AT) work well together for students and adults with developmental disabilities in a multitude of environments. UDL and AT can be used in formal learning environments (e.g., school classroom, clinical therapy session, day programs) & informal learning environments (e.g., community, workplace).
Formal Learning Environments
AT can help in engagement for any student with a disability. Many students with disabilities are eager to use tablets or computers in their learning modules and assignments. Stress balls and fidget toys can relieve stress and anxiety for some students. Pomodoro timer apps (e.g., Focus Booster, PomoDone, Pomodoro Keeper) can help students engage in learning tasks for a set amount of time before granting a break session.
This is where AT really begins to shine in formal learning environments. Slide presentations can be used to break down and/or enlarge text, and allow students to work at a personalized pace. Graphic organizers can present information in alternate ways. E-readers, audio books, brail, text-to-speech, book stands and magnifiers can make reading tasks more accessible and understandable. Blocks, organizers, paper cutouts, digital stories and computer/app games can bring understanding to math and language arts.
Many options exist for students and adults to demonstrate mastery of curriculum content. The point of multiple means of expression is to allow students and adults to express content knowledge in ways that their brains can best plan and execute. AT devices exist to execute functions that a student’s or adult’s brain has difficulty executing on its own or in culturally standard ways. Speech-to-text software can allow students to write papers or send emails to teachers. Graphic organizers and slide presentations can demonstrate content mastery in various subjects in lieu of traditional papers or worksheets. AAC devices can be used to participate in class discussions and presentations. The possibilities are endless, yet must be treated on an individual basis.
Informal Learning Environments
AT for affective networks is the same for both formal and informal learning environments. The key may not be the AT, rather the informal environment in which the individual is placed. Choosing work environments or community activities/locations that do not meet the individual’s needs and/or interests is not going to be beneficial. No individual should be forced into situations that fuel anxiety or fear. In cases where this cannot be avoided, AT can help reduce feelings of anxiety and fear through stress balls, fidget toys, and other devices.
Smart phones, tablets and personal computers are great for informal learning environments. Unfamiliar or confusing information can be researched on the Internet, and information can be read or listened to from the device. Dictionaries and Web-based tutorials are also available on these devices. Magnifying text can also make materials in the workplace more accessible. Emotion charts can help individuals with disabilities recognize the feelings of those around them and prepare them to respond appropriately.
AAC devices play an important role in informal settings. They can be used to express understanding to communication partners and ask clarifying questions when needed. Personal computer programs and plugins can not only make computers more accessible but can also allow individuals to either complete a task in an alternative way or prepare thoughts, ideas and numbers in ways that will help them fill reports or meet other tasks.
More adults need AT services for issues other than mobility. Most adult service agencies are not equipped to provide AT consultations, evaluations or services. Many family members for adults with disabilities have difficulty finding services and funding. Google searches can help individuals and families find services and funding, yet it can still be difficult. Almost every state has a center for developmental disabilities and/or an assistive technology program/project. These centers are great resources to start with if you are searching for services.