Tag Archive: using ICT with students with intellectual disabilities

ELPCG1 – Research Critique

Currently ICT is being used in classrooms. It has been implemented and many schools now have at least some access to ICT within the classroom.  This report is looking at the ways it can be used successfully and effectively, with a particular focus on students with additional learning needs and disabilities.  Looking at the research it is clear that the effective use of ICT programs and assistive technology will have a positive effect on the education of students with disabilities.  An obstacle in achieving this is the fact that many teachers lack confidence with ICT and often refuse to utilise it, or use it in a way which adds little to their students’ engagement and education. This is why teacher professional development in computer technology has become a major priority for most schools, but still needs to be improved (Phelps, Graham, and Kerr, 2004). For students with severe intellectual disabilities ICT can make a huge difference at school and in their home lives, allowing them to be active participants. Students with mild intellectual disabilities can also be assisted greatly by ICT programs; however, there can be a barrier of the student refusing extra help (Soderstrom & Ytterhus, 2010). These are valid problems that should not be ignored. While there are many constraints on the successful implementation of these programs, they can be overcome if attention is focused on this area of education.

For students with intellectual disabilities there are programs which have been developed and are constantly being developed to allow them greater participation within the classroom.  Many intellectually disabled students have limited to no verbal or written communication skills, so assistive technology is vital to their involvement in the world around them (Parette, Stoner, and Watts, 2009). “For most people technology makes things easier. For persons with disabilities, technology makes things possible” (Radabaugh, 1988, as cited in Ribeiro & Moreira, 2010). This statement creates a realisation about the responsibilities teachers have in making participation, inclusion and acceptance possible for these students. It is not simply a matter of making them more engaged or on-task, it is about allowing them to communicate what they are thinking and feeling in ways they never could before or without the use of ICT.  Some examples include the use of programs such as boardmaker, PowerPoint and Clicker5. In various ways these programs allow for students to create written commands, requests and expression. They also allow for visual and kinaesthetic learning rather than auditory (Parette, Hourcade, Boeckmann, and Blum, 2008).

As teachers the use of these programs is almost limitless, having said that, a focus needs to be on finding ways to make sure these programs are being implemented correctly and frequently. A major problem with the implementation of these technologies is the lack of professional development that occurs within the school on ICT implementation. Training is an essential tool, often teachers will be sent to a training session to learn how to use a program, however there is often no follow up sessions (Phelps et al., 2004). When teachers are sent to these training sessions they return to the school and are provided with little support, as they are the only one trained. This can be difficult, especially for teachers who lack confidence with ICT. These issues can be resolved by teachers working more collaboratively, especially across institutions.  In this ICT world working collaboratively, communicating and creating content can happen and be published to world-wide audience (“Victorian Department of Education,” 2010).

Another problem with frequent and constant implementation of these programs is the reliability of the ICT infrastructure within the school. It seems on a practical level it is difficult to maintain the schools network without problems. There seem to always be issues with speed and connect-ability of the internet within school communities. It is almost impossible to rely on technology for a lesson. This is hopefully something that will become more reliable as technologies improve particularly wireless capabilities.

While assistive technologies can create a more meaningful life for students with severe disabilities it can also be helpful for all students in a mainstream classroom, particularly those with learning difficulties and mild intellectual disabilities. Apart from the problems of teacher training and reliability of ICT, there is also an issue that students in a mainstream classroom do not want to look different by having assistive technology. Technology, especially in the Western world can be seen as a symbol of identity and belonging, therefore to be culturally accepted teenagers need to be having and using the ‘right’ type of technologies in the ‘right’ ways (Soderstrom, 2010).

For a student in the culture of an Australian classroom, peer acceptance and inclusion is more important to them than having the best education they can. For students with learning disabilities or those with vision and hearing impairments it is difficult to make it socially acceptable for them to have these assistive technologies in the classroom. If we take technology as a symbol of identity and belonging, these students end up being identified and classified by the assistive technologies they use. This identification can have negative connotations for the student with the impairment. For most students the capable use of ICT has a meaning of ‘competence, belonging and independence’ (Soderstrom, 2010). Unfortunately for students with assistive technologies, the capable use of assistive technologies does not correlate as a competence, belonging or independence; in fact it is the opposite. Students feel as though they are ostracised from their classmates and that they are seen as different. This unfortunate situation can be resolved, by combining mainstream use of technologies to incorporate programs of assistive technology for those students that need it, we can create an environment where everyone can freely participate in their own ways. For example the use of individual computers, laptops and tablets in the classroom can allow for students to being using different programs to complete the set work. Teachers must be aware that by publicly labelling students or making them use assistive technology that they do not want to use can have more negative than positive outcomes.

The effective use of ICT in the classroom will allow for greater participation and inclusion of all students, but particularly those with disabilities. There are still problems that need to be addressed so that ICT can become part of everyday teaching. By focussing on professional development which will allow teachers to feel confident and capable with technology we will see a greater improvement within schools. This professional development needs to include not just training days, but a collaboration of teachers working towards the same goals of education for themselves and their students. With more use of ICT for all students in the classroom it will be possible for those with additional needs will get assistance without looking different. The solution is to put more and more ICT including assistive technology programs into all schools, alongside professional development. Teaching is a profession not a trade.


Parette, H. Hourcade, J. Boeckmann, N. Blum, C. (2008). Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Support Emergent Literacy Skill Development for Young Children At-Risk or Who Have Disabilities. Early Childhood Education Journal 36.3, 233-239. doi:10.1007/s10643-008-0275-y

Parette, H. Stoner, J. Watts, E. (2009). Assistive Technology User Group Perspectives of Early
Childhood Professionals. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 2009, 44(2), 257–270. Retrieved from http://cec.findeight.com/Portals/0/CEC/Autism_Disabilities/Research/Publications/Education_Training_Development_Disabilities/2009v44_Journals/ETDD_200906v44n2p257-270_Assistive_Technology_User_Group_Perspectives_Early_Childhood.pdf

Phelps, R. Graham, A. Kerr, B. (2004). Teachers and ICT: exploring a metacognitive approach to professional development. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 2004, 20(1), 49-68. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/phelps.html

Ribeiro, J. Moreira, A. (2010). ICT Training for Special Education Frontline Professionals. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/bps/additionalcontent/18/48946974/ICT-Training-for-Special-Education-Frontline-Professionals

Soderstrom, S. Ytterhus, B. (2010). The use and non-use of assistive technologies from the world of information and communication technology by visually impaired young people: a walk on the tightrope of peer inclusion. Disability & Society, 25(3), 303 – 315. doi:10.1080/09687591003701215

Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. 2010. Teaching and learning with Web 2.0 technologies – Findings from 2006 – 1009. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:ZQPADT5woh4J:www.education.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/innovation/technology/web2report.pdf+teaching+and+learning+with+web+2.0+technologies&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjX_7IFTJyA784nUsiE_zdpVBYqbYsCy9t3u5mtpf9-6PMxxBIx6UoaFn0mVUeB65tGZ99hPxVi33AxxsMXaRjEsnRPYx6Mb-JMJ0c27_IXUkFgatmoRStKabbojTKGPegWWOKL&sig=AHIEtbRObRD_mkIlM2AIzPYgVfdvfW7RQg



Research Topic 2 – Using ICT with students with disabilities

From my own knowledge Boardmaker is a technology that is commonly used as a visual prompt for students with special needs that have major difficulties in communication. The teacher can show the student a visual image along with an auditory sound to make the ‘action’ or ‘thing’ more understandable to the student. A teacher will often give a student a choice of two options, this allows them to think about the options and communicate what they want at the time. Boardmaker images are also used to map out a routine for a student in the day, this can help reduce anxiety the student may have about changes in their day as they will know what is going to happen next. Below is some examples of the symbols and pictures that can be used to allow student to communicate their wants and needs.


As I have outlined in previous posts, there is an increasing use of assistive technologies in a classroom setting and because of this there is a requirement for effective professional development experiences. The article I looked at, Assistive Technology User Group Perspectives of Early Childhood Professionals , took a case study approach, 10 teachers who had participated in assistive technology training groups and who were using an assistive technology in their classrooms were interviewed and provided responses regarding their perspectives on various assistive technologies.

While the article focusses on various programs, I was interested in the program called Boardmaker. Below is an excerpt from the article, which was the opinion of 2 teachers ; particularly the way they have been utilizing Boardmaker in the classroom.

We’re using a lot of the pictures, the Boardmaker™ pictures, for requests and
you know things like snacks. We usually make a lot of them and we’ve got
them for everything. We’ve got little visual prompts outside of the classroom
because they can’t remember what they’re supposed to do when they get to
school. Donna
We had an intervention meeting [on a particular student] and I’m using
Boardmaker™ cards specifically for her intervention. And in the meeting
they said ‘Well, who wants to make them?’ and I said ‘I’ve already got it
done!’ Anytime I felt like I could complete something that I knew I would
use, that just made all the difference to me. It made it all worthwhile, going
to the user groups. Carole

These are examples of realistic every day uses of the program which will allow students with no verbal skills to communicate on some level. This is exciting for teachers and parents alike.

Boardmaker is now available on the iPad, this has made the use of Boardmaker much more versatile and it is much easier to take out of a classroom context for students with limited communication. If students can communicate with Boardmaker at home before and after school, as well as during the holidays, they will become more familiar and capable of using the process. This means that the continuing evolution of technology is in this case making a program more usable but still relevant. As many students with disabilities rely on structure and predictability it is impossible to be continually changing programs with changes in technologies. I believe we need to focus on allowing easier use and functionality of existing programs such as Boardmaker on the iPad, rather than always looking to find a completely new and apparently improved program. This will allow students to adapt easier, and will mean less training for teachers. Hopefully improvements like this will be easy and painless to incorporate.


Parette,. Stoner, and  Watts (2009), Assistive Technology User Group Perspectives of Early
Childhood Professionals

Picture – http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/activities/pretend-play-communication-boards

Research Topic 2 – Using ICT with students with disabilities

With the exception of my last post which looked at why students with disabilities may not want to embrace assistive ICT, the majority of my research has led to the opinion that the use of ICT can allow for social integration and acceptance, as well as the ability for students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to overcome obstacles that have prevented them from learning and participating at school.

This article I have looked at for this post is entitled ‘ICT Training for Special Education Frontline Professionals’. This article supports this idea that ICT is important in the teaching of all students, particularly those with disabilities. It goes on to describe the problem and inhibitor of ICT within the classroom. It is the same problem that I came across in my research for topic 1. Teachers have little or no training when it comes to ICT, therefore ICT that is provided in the classroom is often misused or not used at all. This leads to ICT being left out of teaching pedagogy and practice altogether. The paper looks at a study that was conducted through surveys. It involved a questionnaire about ICT, its use, the individuals ICT skills and knowledge, it also asked for their opinions and beliefs. The survey was conducted on a range of teaching professionals, with a majority of special education teachers. The results clearly showed that all respondents were interested in using ICT in the classroom and that they could see the enormous benefits of ICT technologies for students with learning difficulties.

While teachers can see that training is necessary and the use of ICT is important, it seems teachers are very hesitant. I believe as generation X and generation Y teachers take over from the baby boomers we will see an increase in the capabilities and confidence of teachers when it comes to technology (I do realise this is a generalisation). However, as technology continues to develop and change at this quick pace, soon the new generation of teachers will be left behind. Therefore we still need to address the issue of professional development and the need for regular and constant training in the field of ICT, if we want it to truly be part of a traditional teaching pedagogy.

A quote in this article is “For most people technology makes things easier. For persons with disabilities, technology makes things possible” (Radabaugh, 1988 – from Ribeiro & Moreira,2010)

This is a powerful statement that makes me realise that as teachers we have the responsibility to make things possible for students with disabilities! This is a huge responsibility and it falls on all teachers not just special education teachers. Students with a wide variety of disabilities are now, more than ever, being put into main stream classrooms, therefore we have a responsibility to use ICT and assistive technologies to allow them to learn at the best of their ability but also without making them feel different or incapable! It’s a big challenge…


Ribeiro & Moreira (2010) ICT Training for Special Education Frontline Professionals’

Research Topic 2 – Using ICT with students with disabilities

While researching this topic I have been thinking about assistive technologies as just another part of the ICT spectrum. I have been thinking of them as ways to engage all students, as well as being able to allow participation and inclusion for all students particularly those with special needs.

However, while doing this research I have come across an article ‘The use and non-use of assistive technologies from the world of information and communication technology by visually impaired young people: a walk on the tightrope of peer inclusion‘(2010), which has brought forward an issue which I had not yet thought about – what if the student doesn’t want to use the assistive technology?
If we look at these issues through a cultural lens we can see how peer acceptance and inclusion could be more important than getting assistance. We accept that young people, particularly teenagers are enthusiastic and quick to learn when it comes to new technologies, they bring them into their everyday lives with little trouble, we can see this through the explosion of social networking that is happening in the world at the moment. This article looks at the idea that technology, especially in the Western world is almost a symbol of identity and belonging, therefore to be culturally accepted teenagers need to be having and using the ‘right’ type of technologies in the ‘right’ ways. While in some cases this may mean that students are academically improved, but in other cases it is an inhibitor. Imagine you are the student who has a vision or hearing impairment. ICT capabilities symbolically do ‘stand for competence, belonging and independence'(Soderstrom 2010), however assistive technologies are still symbols of difference and inability. They show that a person is restricted and incapable of something. When looking at assistive technologies in this light it is possible to imagine why students with disabilities might not be as excited about technological advancements as their teachers!

This really means that as teachers we will have to reflect and proceed once again with caution. What do our students want and need from us? I had already decided that our students wanted to be put in an environment where they were engaged and able to learn. I had not thought of what this would necessarily mean for all of my students. Most students would actually be happier if the focus was more on the fact that they could be treated the same as everyone else in the classroom whether or not it meant they could actually learn.

All hope is not lost,  technology is developing at a rate which means that these assistive technologies are becoming less obtrusive and obvious. We can use devices such as MP3 players and tablet computers to assist students with additional needs without labeling them as different. I hope that schools can get to a stage where every student (no matter their ability) will have these devices to use in the classroom, so that a student with a disability is not as obviously outcast.

Below is a brief pictorial timeline to show just how far technology has come, in regards to students who are hearing impaired!

FIRST we had ear horns…

THEN we had these breakthroughs

NOW the FM blue tooth  receiver is so small it is barely visible!!


Soderstrom & Ytterhus (2010)  The use and non-use of assistive technologies from the world of information and communication technology by visually impaired young people: a walk on the tightrope of peer inclusion



Research Topic 2 – Using ICT with students with disabilities

Assistive technologies are necessary in teaching. They are especially important and useful for teaching students with an intellectual disability.
I have been looking into the different available technologies to assist students with intellectual and learning disabilities.

An article ‘using clicker 5 to enhance emergent literacy in young learners‘ shows a brief review of successful practices in emergent literacy utilising ICT, focusing on the specific software of Clicker 5. With the large influx and growth we are seeing in the technology world it is no surprise that the abilities and availabilities of assistive technologies are becoming vast. The Clicker 5 program was created to help students with basic and initial reading and writing skills. It is used with early childhood learning, but I believe it is an extremely helpful tool for students of any age who have poor basic literacy skills.

Clicker 5 is an ‘important grid writing tool’(Parette et.al,2008) one way it works is by having a split screen with the top half as a basic word processor which functions the same way a traditional word document would. The bottom half of the page contains words, letters or phrases that the teacher can select; allowing a student to learn the basics of building simple sentences.



Like with many of these programs Clicker 5 allows for different levels of ability. Students with severe intellectual disabilities as well as restricted movement can build a sentence just by clicking, without having to even touch a keyboard. This can be made even easier for these students with restricted movement by adding a ‘big mack’ button. A big mack is a large clicking device which has other capabilities but in this case would be helpful for a student who was for example confined to a wheelchair so therefore cannot reach the mouse. (http://www.spectronicsinoz.com/product/27765)

The photograph below shows an example of a student using a Big Mack device.


It is difficult as a teacher to work with the limitations of severely intellectually disabled students. My mother is a high school Support Unit Head of faculty, her staff often find themselves exasperated and looking for new ways to engage and involve all of the students as much as possible. While this can sometimes be difficult, especially in a classroom with so many varying abilities, the introduction of programs and devices such as Clicker 5 and the Big Mack and continuing development of ICT and assistive technologies we can allow these students to feel a sense of accomplishment when being able to participate someway in the classroom environment.


Parette, Hourcade, Dinelli, Boeckman (2008) ‘using clicker 5 to enhance emergent literacy in young learners





Research Topic 2 – Using ICT with students with disabilities

Students with severe intellectual disabilities find it hard to communicate and participate in classwork. An article from 2008 entitled Using Microsoft PowerPoint to support Emergent Literacy Skill Development for Young Children At-Risk or who have Disabilities, looks at the use of the Microsoft program of PowerPoint and how it can be used to engage both young students and those with disabilities.

Students with intellectual disabilities are being included in mainstream settings more and more frequently. They are also often in mainstream schools but in a special education unit or class. PowerPoint is an excellent tool for allowing these students some aspect of participation. PowerPoint allows for the inclusion of pictures, including photographs or drawings as well as audio and video content.

The article states that the only limit to PowerPoint is imagination (both of the teacher and student). There are so many possibilities for example interactive stories both fact and fiction made by the teacher, as well as slide shows and presentations created by the student. In the article it suggests that once you use a picture of the student in your slides you will have them fully engaged.

The following blog; Using PowerPoint with students who have special needs (PowerPoint is not just for presentations!), is written by a Science teacher who has also had an interest in incorporating PowerPoint into classrooms for students with disabilities or special needs. He has given suggestions on ways we can use PowerPoint in the classroom. One of my favourite ideas is sequencing. This involves getting a student to put an out of order presentation into the correct order. Many students with intellectual disabilities spend a lot of time completing puzzles, this is a good way for the students to get an understanding or reason and logic. Using PowerPoint in this sequencing way will allow these students to use the same skills they have developed when using puzzles and be able to apply it in an ICT context. Below is a very simple example of what I am talking about (That I quickly made). Students with very minimal literacy and computer skills will be able to participate by putting these slides in their correct order.


The aspect of PowerPoint which excites me most is the ability for students to participate at any level. I have worked with a student who has Fragile X syndrome, and while he has poor written and verbal skills,  his skills on a computer are comparatively excellent. I find that sometimes he is left out of class discussion (even though all students in the class have intellectual disabilities). This is because he is often unable to verbally give a coherent or appropriate answer. While using PowerPoint wont give him better skills in a class discussion, it will give him another way to be able to participate. He, and other students with low levels of academic ability would be able to create some sort of slide show, with images and few words to participate.

Powerpoint assignments and tasks could be incorporated into any mainstream class with a whole range of abilities. Those who are more able can go further and be more creative and more technical, similar to our ELPC class and our use of blogs!!


Parette, Hourcade, Boeckmann, Blum (2008) Using Microsoft PowerPoint to support Emergent Literacy Skill Development for Young Children At-Risk or who have Disabilities

Blog – http://fiendishlyclever.com/2010/02/using-powerpoint-with-students-who-have-special-needs-powerpoint-is-not-just-for-presentations.html-Using PowerPoint with students who have special needs (PowerPoint is not just for presentations!)