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Assistive Technology Tools to Prepare Children with Disabilities for STEM Fields

By: Inas Essa

Creating special programs for children with disabilities and using special technology tools to help them fully absorb the experience are fundamental steps to increase their engagement and abilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Besides their vital role in leveling up our lives, these highly progressing fields are packed with opportunities thanks to the evolution of technology that has been creating higher demands for diversity of thought, experience, perspective, and background. Economists report that there is an increase in STEM-related jobs, which means every exerted effort in this field would generate better outcomes for children and societies.

Untapped Resources

Although disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other learning disorders limit children’s abilities in some points, it means they also have points of strength in other areas Learners with ASD may have superior visual acuity and increased attentional focus, which are important requirements to dive deeper into STEM fields.

Yet, people with disabilities remain untapped resources because of the disconnection between their abilities and the opportunities they could thrive in if they were well prepared by receiving special treatment and well-designed programs that help them pursue a career in these fields.


Where to Start?

Implementing assistive technology tools for students with disabilities in science centers and museums would double the benefit of specially designed programs and experiments. These technologies, ranging from low to high, can lend a hand to learners with certain disabilities and help them learn more effectively. They can also make a difference in how they learn and generate better outcomes.



Text-To-Speech Assistive Tools

Text-to-speech software (TTS) is designed to help children with difficulties in reading standard print. Added to blindness, common print disabilities can include dyslexia or other types of visual impairment, learning disability, and other physical conditions that hinder the ability to read. Added to the above, other students can benefit from this technology, such as autistic children, learners with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an intellectual disability.

This technology works by scanning and then reading the words to the student in a synthesized voice. That can help learners focus and increase comprehension of the texts. Additionally, this can improve word recognition and vocabulary development. As a result, learners could feel more independent.


Assistive Listening Systems

Assistive listening systems—hearing assistive technology—can help learners who are deaf or hard of hearing, besides those with other auditory and learning problems. Assistive listening systems use a microphone, a type of transmission technology, and a device for capturing and bringing the sound to the ear.

The specific transmission technology used in the system is typically what distinguishes one type of assistive listening system from another.

  • FM systems could benefit children with sensorineural hearing loss. These systems work by using radio broadcast technology; the speaker uses a microphone and the listener wears a receiver that can be a simple pair of headphones, ear-level receivers that deliver the sound into the ears, or a hearing device. With the transmitter microphone and a receiver, the educator and learner can maintain a consistent sound level, regardless of distance and background noise.
  • Sound-field systems are a good solution for rooms that need to assist listening for all children in the class or lab and they can benefit not only deaf or hard of hearing children, but also others who have auditory and learning problems, such as language delays, central auditory processing disorder, articulation disorders, and development delays. These systems use devices that amplify the speaker’s voice in the room so that the speaker’s voice could be heard more easily over the background noise. Also, it helps in overcoming the problems that could result from the long distance between the speaker and listener.



Sip-and-Puff Systems

Sip-and-Puff systems (SNP) are used by learners who have mobility challenges like paralysis and fine motor skill disabilities, and are considered to replace a computer keyboard or mouse. These devices allow children who are unable to use manual devices, like a mobile, to move the device with their mouth. In this case, the child can move the controller in any direction, like a joystick, and click on the different navigational tools using either a sip or a puff.

It is like taking a sip or blowing a puff of air into something that resembles a straw to create air pressure. This air pressure sends a signal to the device and ignites certain commands–just like a keyboard or mouse. Also, there is an on-screen keyboard that allows the child to type using the same movements. Other devices include buttons or other objects that the person can touch, push, pull, kick or perform some other simple action that can then control the device.


Proofreading Software

This would benefit children with dyslexia and those with any type of learning disorder that makes reading and writing such a challenging task. It goes beyond the typical proofreading features, like the ones implemented in a word processing system, such as correcting misspelled words.

The added features would include word prediction and sentence rephrasing tools that can be helpful for those students learning how to construct sentences properly. Also, it provides a personal trainer that provides practice sessions based on past mistakes made by the student.


Math Simulations

Primarily designed for children with dyscalculia—a learning disability in math that is characterized by having trouble with math, not being able to do basic math problems and more abstract math, and facing difficulty in grasping numbers. This assistive technology in math can also help students with blindness, fine motor skill disabilities, or some other type of disability that makes it difficult to perform math-related work.

It helps children with dyscalculia visualize math problems and concepts to better understand the application of a particular type of problem since many students struggle with the conceptual aspects of math.  Special kinds of calculators that have buttons with large numbers and symbols would be preferred by those learners. That would include different kinds of calculators, from graphing calculators to computer apps; some of them can even solve equations with variables.

Also, there are Math notation tools that allow learners write or type out the special symbols and numbers used for math equations as most traditional word processors are not great at handling math symbols. Additionally, there are graph papers with large squares with a grid that makes it easier to line up numbers and symbols in math problems. That would help kids keep track of things like place value.

In a nutshell, these tools are important to be utilized for children’s academic and personal growth. Yet, using them alone would not be enough; they need to be accompanied by customized programs and experiments for those children with special needs to ensure that learners are gaining value and not becoming overly dependent on these tools.