Student Compass: Class Profile Matrix

Accommodations Resource Guide

Changes in Timing and Scheduling

Changes in Presentation

Changes in Setting

Changes in Response


Determining the Need for Techniques and Tools

General Techniques or Strategies

About Tools


The items mentioned are not an exhaustive list of instructional tools and strategies, but rather a representative sampling.


Determining the Need for Techniques and Tools


According to federal law, the IEP team is responsible for determining the techniques and tools that will help a student (1) attain his or her IEP goals and (2) meet subject-area standards. You, as a teacher, can call on a variety of techniques to use alone or with optional tools to help a student who needs special assistance to succeed. Techniques fall into two categories:

·   Accommodation: An accommodation does not change the task or instructional materials required to carry out the task. It provides an alternative way for the student to learn the content and meet the standards. Accommodations include more time, use of assistive technology (e.g., a computer or calculator) or human help (e.g., a scribe).

·   Modification: A modification refers to a change in the task (e.g., only even numbered problems required) or materials (e.g., an alternative text written at a lower reading level).


Although a classroom teacher can freely alternate between accommodation and modification, based on student present level of performance and task to be carried out, keep in mind that district and statewide assessments mandate the use of only certain accommodations and seldom allow modifications. Why? Because modifications by definition require a change in the task. Let’s say that a passage has been read to the student rather than her reading it herself. Questions to check comprehension in reading are not valid. The test has become a check of the student’s auditory skills rather than her reading skills.


Sometimes the same technique can be a modification in one instance and an accommodation in another. Reading aloud to the student, as described above, is not always a modification. Reading aloud is an accommodation if you are reading directions to assure he understands the task. 


To clarify: If the task has been changed, it is a modification. If the task remains the same, it is an accommodation.


Accommodations include many techniques that will help a student identified as having special needs to learn. As you use this matrix, we’ll show you a wide variety of tools and strategies to address identified student needs. You may know many of them; others will be new to you. What follows are not meant to be an exhaustive list but a representative sampling that we hope will ease your teaching load and make planning easier.


General Techniques, or Strategies, You Can Use 


Don’t forget that you can call on other team members for assistance. Quite often problem solving with someone else produces new ideas or strategies. In addition to working with IEP team members to decide on appropriate instructional and assessment accommodations for students with disabilities served under IDEA, brainstorm with colleagues who teach those students about whom you’re concerned. 


Here are general strategies that can help any student and may be effectively used with a class:

·        Position the student with special needs strategically within the classroom to eliminate distractions and ensure the student can see and hear necessary information.

·        If a student is routinely unable to complete assignments, extend the allotted time. A student who works slowly may simply need more time or sometimes knowing extra time is available relieves pressure and frees the student to perform.

·        Shorten assignments if it is not possible to provide more time. Note that, if the student consistently misses crucial information because of adapted assignments, the technique then becomes a modification.

·        Be aware of your students’ physical problems. Check with the nurse about students for whom health issues demand special attention. These include major health issues but also those students who have allergies, who may need water for adequate hydration, or who may have headache or upset stomach if they aren’t allowed to cool down during hot weather activities.

·        Gain the students’ attention before giving directions and check to see that everyone understands the task.

·        Keep directions brief and limited in the number of steps required to carry them out.

·        To keep students on task, circulate around the room.

·        Your proximity may help with specific students. If needed, prompts, such as eye contact or a brief touch on the shoulder or tap on the student’s desk, can bring the student back to task.


About Tools


The various techniques a student uses may or may not involve use of a tool. If you give your student the choice of an oral report on the feudal system rather than a written report, no tools are required. If you offer making a poster as a third choice, the student needs a variety of tools to carry out the assignment. Some of these tools, like glue and scissors, would be used in actual construction of the poster and some, like a computer with a word processing program that includes a spell checker, would be used to explain the content. All three choices give an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge about the topic while building on personal strengths for presenting.


Some of the tools we’ll discuss fall under the heading of assistive technology. Assistive technology is a broad category that embraces a variety of tools ranging from no tech items like pencil grips to high tech computers with complicated software. Figure 1 below demonstrates the wide range of assistive technology tools. Regardless of its simplicity or complexity, assistive technology serves one purpose: It provides help for a student who otherwise cannot demonstrate competence and knowledge.











Figure 1: Modified Continuum from No/Low Tech to High Tech (Adapted from TATN Consideration Training) Module





Changes in Timing and Scheduling

How timing and scheduling affect student performance

Key Questions

Extended Time

Multiple or Frequent Breaks

Divide Long Term Assignments

Time to Learn Tools

Transition in School Environment


A change in the amount of time you allow a student to complete work is probably the easiest accommodation to make. You can extend the time frame for completion of the activity or give a brief time-out break to the student. You may also rearrange the assignments to make them more doable; for example, a student proficient in working with numbers would finish that part of an assignment before tackling the writing section. Altering the day’s schedule may be equally easy in many schools. Perhaps a quiz can be taken early in the day, when a student is more on-task. Timing and scheduling accommodations may also change the way the time is organized by adjusting the number of days for work completion. These simple changes can benefit many students without disruption to the rest of your class.


Who are these students for whom you should consider making time and scheduling modifications? Candidates are those students who process information slowly or for whom the act of writing is an ordeal or students who routinely use assistive technology equipment, like a Braille writer. Students who have difficulty remaining on task or who are easily frustrated or overwhelmed when faced with an extensive assignment may also benefit, as may students who function better soon after taking medications or for whom lower blood sugar levels or physical fatigue mean less attention to task.


Key Questions to Ask When Considering Changes in Timing and Scheduling


1.       Does this student have trouble completing assignments?  If yes,

Could the student complete the assignment if allowed more time? If yes, see Extended Time

Could the student complete the assignment if allowed a break? If yes, see Multiple or Frequent Breaks

Could the student complete the assignment if it were shortened or divided into segments? If yes, see Divide Long Term Assignments

2.       Does this student need extra time to learn how to use needed tools or technology? If yes, see Time to Learn Tools

3.       Does this student require additional time to move around the classroom or building?  If yes, see Transition in School Environment


Extended Time


Extending time to complete an assignment at school and being allowed to take work home can help, but if the problem is more about attention than speed see Changes in Setting.


Below are some simple tools to help with concerns about timing and scheduling, especially if the student is working on self-timing.


Electronic Organizer: An electronic organizer or personal digital assistant (e.g., Step Pad, Palm Pilot) may help a student keep track of assignments, classes, and activities. Reminders can be programmed with each entry to send an alarm, either sound or flashing image.


Invisible Clock: This multi-function timer, available from Attainment (1-800-327-4269), can be set for up to 12 different alarms. Vibration or beep will remind the student to keep working or to finish within the specified time remaining.


KidsTools: This is more a sophisticated software-based tool to help a student who has difficulties managing and monitoring behavior. Developed with a federally funded grant, the KidTools Support System can be downloaded at no cost from Kid Tools Programs. This program provides a series of planning and monitoring tools to help students gain control over their own behavior.  It can also be purchased as a CD from the same website.


Picture or print schedule: A schedule may be helpful to students who process visual information better than auditory information. Whether symbols, pictures, or words are used, be sure the student clearly understands the schedule and how to use it.


Regular timer: A kitchen timer may work for the student who can ignore quiet ticking, who appreciates being able to check the number of minutes remaining, or for whom the ticking serves as a reminder to keep working.


Talking watch/clock/timer: These provide an auditory cue at set intervals. Many versions are available. Check available options at Independent Living Aids, Inc. (1-800-537-2118).


Visual Timer: A timer that does not have any sound such as the Time Timer available from the Autism Resources Network (612-988-0088) or the Teach Timer from Ventura Educational Systems provides a visual reminder and enables the student to see how many minutes remain.


Watch Minder: A vibration alerts a student to one of 18 possible messages on the Watch Minder. Available from Watch Minder (1-800-961-0023).


Multiple or Frequent Breaks


If the entire class needs a break, incorporate a short stretch time, where students stand in place and follow you (or a chosen student leader) in a few simple stretches. Movement increases blood flow that in turn allows students to better focus on their academic task. Playing Simon Says or singing a simple song with movement works well for younger students.


If only one student needs a break from a difficult task while others continue working, sometimes asking the student to take something to the office or nurse or retrieve a book from the bookshelf provides the change needed to return to work.


The following additional ideas provide more detailed information.


Divide Long Term Assignments


Break up longer assignments: Complex tasks can often be accomplished by breaking them into small, sequential steps. Rather than telling the student to work as far as possible, actually break up the longer assignment into clear and concise steps. Finishing small steps signals success along the way.


Shortened assignments: Shortening assignments is a viable short-term solution for the student who needs more time to complete assignments, but this accommodation can be over-used and can mask ongoing difficulties. Struggling to complete assignments is often a symptom of other problems either in comprehending print materials, producing legible written responses, or behavior. These underlying problems need to be address.


Time to Learn Tools


The use of assistive technology tools mandate training. As noted in Figure 1, the more complex the tool, the more extensive the training must be.


Transition in School Environment


Some students may need additional time for school transitions. They may have a physical disability that makes movement difficult if they walk hesitatingly because of gait or braces or require a wheelchair. Their situation is more complicated if they require use of an elevator to reach another floor.  Or they may simply fatigue easily, or become distracted, as is often the case with young students. Here are some ideas to help with transitions within the school environment.

·        Allow the student to leave early or arrive at her destination late.

·        Plan extra time if a student needs to take down or set up a laptop computer.

·        Allow the student to go to a computer lab, scheduling ahead of time if necessary, if your classroom lacks a sufficient number of computers.

·        If mobility equipment is used, ensure that it is available and in good working order.

·        Provide peer or adult assistance.

·        Modify requirements based on the student's daily energy level and the task to be completed; schedule more challenging tasks when the student’s energy is the highest.

·        If possible, allow the student to choose mobility alternatives (e.g., walker vs. wheelchair).


Changes in Setting

How the setting affects student performance

Key Questions



Access to Technology


Accommodations in setting reflect change in location or instructional functionality of the area, number of people and available personal space, and the student’s access to technology tools. Factors such as lighting, sounds, and classroom movement patterns are elements you need to consider as part of the setting. Although some students feel isolated when they are seated away from other students, some prefer having the fewest possible distractions by working in a small group or even alone. Setting accommodations also include consideration of access to tools and equipment.


Key Questions to Ask When Considering Changes in Setting


1.       Does this student have trouble concentrating? Would it help to adjust the lighting, sounds, temperature, or proximity of people? If yes, see Location

2.       Would this student perform better in a cooperative learning team, with a small group, or with one other person? If yes, see Grouping

3.       Does the student need access to certain technology or equipment? If yes, see Access to technology




Filtered light: If florescent lighting provides too much glare or not enough light from the red end of the spectrum, pink light filters can be placed over the florescent tubes. Available from SHS Ergonomics, P.O. Box 507, Delavan, WI 53115 (262/728-1717).


Lighting: Providing adequate lighting is a challenge because of difficulties in knowing when lighting is a problem and in controlling and changing typical classroom lighting. If you have computer monitors in the classroom, check for glare from the windows or overhead lights during different times of the day. If there is glare, figure out how to move the computers to a better site. Students with low vision may prefer to sit in the part of a room with the best light. If you have fluorescent lighting in your classroom, incandescent lights in a reading area can add to the spectrum of available light and may provide a good addition for some students. Full spectrum lighting or added filters over fluorescent bulbs increase the spectrum of light provided.


Proximity to people: Allowing a student to work in a different location or different area of the classroom is often an easy accommodation. For example, a student who is easily distracted should not sit near windows, doors, trashcans, or pencil sharpeners. Sitting near the teacher’s desk or in front of a classroom may be helpful for some students. Open classrooms offer a particular challenge, and study carrels are helpful for students easily distracted simply by close proximity to others.


Seating: Although the location of the seating is important, the seating itself should be considered.

·        Check position to insure the student’s feet reach the floor.

·        Check position to insure the table is at a comfortable height for writing.

·        Be sure the student can change position frequently throughout the day.

·        If working at a computer, check that the monitor is slightly lower than eye level.


Slant top surface: Slant boards that change the angle of the writing surface are useful for a student who becomes overly fatigued from writing on a flat surface, sits with poor posture, or produces less legible hand writing on a flat surface. A variety of slant boards can be found at Beacon Ridge.


Sound: Some students concentrate best while wearing noise buffers such as headphones, earphones, or earplugs. Listening to background music, especially Mozart, has been found especially effective in encouraging both concentration and learning.


Special table or seating: If a student requires use of a table of a specific height or one that accommodates a wheelchair or other equipment, then it should be provided. Sources for providing a specific seating or table should be investigated for a student who needs this type equipment. Check school furniture suppliers for adjustable height desks and vary the height until maximum comfort is determined.


Visual Accommodations: Note students who prefer to sit near the board or screen that displays written material.


Visual and Auditory Distractions: For many students a clear and clean work area reduces visual distraction and lowers stress. If you don’t know how students react to a cluttered work area, try having a very cluttered area for a day or two and then a totally uncluttered area and note which students, if any, react to the change. Finally, some students are distracted or bothered by the movement or sound from other students who read and think aloud, make noises, or have assistive technology tools that vibrate or produce noise. If a student seems to be easily distracted by such movement and/or sound, provide preferential seating or the chance to work in a separate location or a specialized setting when possible.



Cooperative Learning

Small Group Alternative Instruction



Cooperative Learning


Effective cooperative learning groups do not just happen. Planning and practice will help you develop grouping into a dependable tool that accommodates the levels and strengths of all your students. For more information visit Co-Operation or Boundless Learning. Listed below are a few cooperative learning activities from Kagan (1994):


·        4S Brainstorming: Students in the group have the following roles:

Ø      Speed Captain, who encourages generation of ideas in a timely manner.

Ø      Super Supporter, who encourages and recognizes all ideas.

Ø      Synergy Guru, who encourages members to build on ideas from others in the group.

Ø      Chief of Silly, who encourages creative thinking in order to add to the generation of ideas by promoting original and innovative suggestions.

Members carry out their respective roles while the team generates a variety of possible responses. Appointing a team member to record ideas also helps teams build upon, and categorize and classify one another’s ideas. An arrangement like this one works well for the student who has good ideas but is held back by an inability to write them down.


·        Numbered Heads Together: Students within the team number off from 1-4. The teacher poses a question and the students put their heads together to discuss the answer. The teacher randomly calls a number. The student with that number in each team writes the answer on the group’s response board. To avoid embarrassing a student unable to write the answer, the teacher should find out what number that student has and ask a question that can be written very simply or change the rules and request a verbal answer on that turn.


·        Rallyrobin: Within teams, students form partner pairs that work together discussing assigned topics or sharing ideas, etc.  Afterwards, partner pairs compare similarities and differences in their discussions. This format encourages participation by all students and simultaneous sharing allowing for more students to be actively engaged (rather than the teacher calling on one student to share).


The following two activities are helpful for the student who needs to talk before writing and needs help expanding or organizing ideas.


·        Teammates Consult: All students have personal copies of the same worksheet or assignment questions. A large cup is placed in the center of each team, and students begin by placing their pencils in the cup. With pencils still in the cup, they discuss their answers to the first question. When all team members are ready, they remove their pencils from the cup and write their answers without talking. They repeat this process with the remaining questions.


·        Think-Pair-Share: The teacher poses a question to the class and the students think about their response. Then students pair with a partner to talk over their ideas. Finally, students share their ideas with the class. Strategic seating helps this technique work well.


Small Group Alternative Instruction


Two teachers or a teacher and a paraeducator in a classroom allow the option of small group instruction. One adult works with a small group while the other interacts with the larger group. Small groups can be pulled for mini-workshops that involve pre-teaching, re-teaching, special projects, make-up work, or assessment.




Access to Technology


Are the needed technologies or tools located in the classroom? If so, does the student have ease of access? Students may need to be located in a place convenient to the specific technology or other tools that they need for certain tasks. Consider electrical outlets, if the source of light reflects onto the computer screen, whether the use of the equipment will bother other students, and so on.  If the student brings a laptop computer to class, where will it be placed for use? And is an electrical outlet, needed for extended use, near?


Below are some suggestions to make technology available.


Accessibility: Access to technology includes, quite literally, access. Even if the room in which the student will work is accessible, teachers may need to clear the floor of boxes or stacks of books and avoid leaving doors or cupboards half-open, hanging mobiles and other impediments for students with visual or physical disabilities.


If a student has physical limitations, ensure the mouse can be activated and the keyboard reached. Once at the computer, other tools help a student better access its benefits. These tools range from simple key guards and arm supports to sophisticated software applications.


Alternate keyboard: Alternate keyboards are available that are smaller, for a student with minimal movement, or larger, for a student with visual or motor problems. Some of the most common ones are IntelliKeys from Intellitools (1-800-899-6687), Big Keys, TASH mini keyboard from TASH International, Inc. (1-800-463-5685).  


Digital Voice recorder: An example is Dragon Naturally Speaking Mobile from Lernout & Hauspie Dragon Systems, Inc.


Pointing options: A Physical Therapist is trained to select from the variety of pointing options that exist for students unable to activate keys with their fingers and they can show you how to help a student use it. Possibilities include a mouth stick and a head or eye-operated mouse. The latter can be used in conjunction with on-screen keyboards and a switch is normally used to do the equivalent of a mouse click.


Switch with scanning or Morse Code: Morse Code offers an accurate and relatively quick way of inputting information into a computer. Two programs that support Morse Code use are: EZKeys from Words+, Inc (800-869-8521) and Darci USB Morse from WesTest Engineering Corporation (801-451-9393).


Track ball or joystick with on-screen keyboard: For students prevented from using an alternate keyboard, software programs can create a virtual keyboard that is displayed on the computer monitor. Students use a trackball or mouse to activate these on-screen keyboards. For a description and review of on-screen keyboards, click here. Two free on-screen keyboards can be downloaded: Click-N-Type and Virtual On-Screen Keyboard by Milosoft. Commercially available on-screen keyboards include On Screen. Another resource available for similar products is RJ Cooper and Associates (800-752-6673).


Verbal Response using Voice Recognition software: Voice recognition programs allow the user to speak to the computer and the computer prints the text, but the user must first “train” the computer prior to use. The most common is Dragon Naturally Speaking from Lernout & Hauspie Dragon Systems, Inc. This tool also allows the student to remotely record responses, and then someone transfers the information to the computer. The Macintosh Operating System has voice recognition built in. Training the computer is not needed; however, a relatively noise-free environment is recommended.


Changes in Presentation
How information is presented to the student

Key Questions

Adapted Print Materials

Alternatives to Print

Hearing Information

Alternatives to Hearing Spoken Information


Understanding Information



Presentation involves providing information in the form of print, including textbooks, worksheets, and similar materials. It also includes verbal directions, lectures, demonstrations, and video or audio programs. This very large category includes many possible support techniques and tools, with a huge number of opportunities for differentiation. Before approaching all the options available, you may want to consider the difficulties a specific student experiences in accessing information and accomplishing the necessary tasks and assignments.


Key Questions to Ask When Considering Changes in Presentation  


1.       Does this student have difficulty gaining meaning from print materials? If yes:

1.       Would adapting the materials make it possible for the student to grasp the content? If yes, see Adapted Print Materials

Does this student need to use the computer to access content that others get from print materials? If yes, see Alternatives to Print

2.       Does this student need help to understand, remember or act when information is presented orally? If yes:

1.       Would cues or prompts and skills instruction in how to listen make a difference?  If yes, see Studying/Learning

Does the student have difficulty hearing spoken information?  If yes, see Hearing Information

Does this student need sign language, closed captioning, or other alternatives to hearing? If yes, see Alternatives to Hearing Spoken Information

3.       Does this student have difficulty understanding basic concepts? Would concrete objects, pictures, or examples provide needed assistance? If yes, see Understanding Information


Adapted Print Materials

Providing Visual Cues

Recorded Messages

Magnified Text

Recorded Books and Content Materials




Some textbooks and tests are available in editions with large print and enlarged graphs, maps, and charts, and you can order test answer sheets with large bubbles. You can also cut up an original and paste, with fewer items per page. For the child who is blind and uses Braille, a Braille version may need to be requested.


Visual Cues


Using specific markers to identify and highlight new textbook sections, important information, directions, and similar visual cues can enhance focus, without the reader’s losing place or being distracted by extraneous print and graphics.


3x5 card: A 3x5 card can be held lengthwise and moved down a page to help a student focus on each line of print without the distraction of seeing lines that follow. If the student is also distracted by previous lines, use manicure scissors to cut a window the size of one line. This technique also encourages left-to-right orientation for reading.


Color-coding: Color is a useful cue and you can easily use a simple highlighter to emphasize important sections of text so that they are visually easy to locate. You may want to use a different color to identify key words or color-code all the verbs for a student who has trouble recognizing the action that is taking place.


Highlighting Tape: This removable colored tape comes in four colors and several widths. It can be used on books or text booklets to highlight specific words or phrases without damaging the original material. Available in office supply stores or from the manufacturer, Lee Products (1-800-989-3544).


Highlighting Tape on a Transparency as guide: Highlighting tape can be used on a section of an overhead transparency to make a transparent “marker” that the student can move down the page as the test items are addressed.


Graphic Organizer: Graphic organizers are basically simple visuals that provide a mental image to help the reader organize the content in his mind and remember key concepts. Often the student can make notes on the graphic organizer; these notes further encourage storing the information in long-term memory.


Colored Overlays: Try a packet of colors, make your own, or buy a commercial set from See It Right (909/481-2950), Irlen Institute (562/496-2550), or National Reading Styles Institute (1-800-331-3117).


Highlighting Tape: See above for complete description. This colored tape can be used on books or text booklets to highlight specific words or phrases. Available at office supply stores or Lee Products (1-800-989-3544).


Index Tabs: These flexible but sturdy tabs come in five different colors, are removable, and can be repositioned. Available at office supply stores or Lee Products (1-800-989-3544).


Masks/Templates: Masks can be made out of manila folders or other card stock. They should be designed to mask, or block out, all except one important paragraph or one question to be answered.


Sticky notes/flags/arrows: These small, colorful, removable items are easy to use and do not lift print or otherwise damage the page. They can be used in a variety of ways to mark the start of a new question, to color code each question, or point to the place where the answer needs to be written. They are available from office supply stores and discount department stores.


WikkiStix: Kids love to play with these thin, flexible, colorful sticks and you’ll love them to mark important material or to act as an underline or writing guide. They can be easily bent into any shape, even a word a student has trouble spelling. They are available at school supply stores.


Magnified Text


Students with low vision who need a tool to magnify print and pictures have a variety of options. The following are available from companies that specialize in vision aids such as Independent Living Aids, Inc. (1-800-537-2118) or LS & S Group, Inc. (1-800-468-4789).


Hand Held Magnifier: Although small, this magnifier has a great range of magnification and the student can easily move it to improve focus.


Line Magnifier: This small magnifier lays directly on the page and, as its name says, magnifies one line at a time.


Magni-Cam: Although handheld and lightweight, this magnifier connects to a television or other monitor from which the print is read. Available from Innoventions, Inc.(1-800-854-6554).


Mouse Cam: This lightweight, portable magnifier with variable magnification will easily connect to any television.  Available from Vision Technology Inc. (1-800-560-7226).


Sheet magnifier: As its name implies, this tool magnifies an entire page at one time.


Recorded Messages


For the student who benefits from hearing information repeated, you need only some simple and relatively inexpensive tools to orally present textbook material or directions that he can listen to again and again.


Audio Cassette with digital numbers: This inexpensive resource allows you to record a series of paragraphs, directions or study questions so the child can find the one he needs by fast forwarding or rewinding to the place on the tape where the specific information is located. Available from discount department stores.


Can-Do Recorder: This device uses cards with a magnetic recording strip along the bottom. Although it is similar to the Language Master of years past, it weighs only 8 ounces and is easily moved to various locations. Sentences from stories, directions or test questions can be printed on the card and recorded. The student can access the recorded audio message as needed by running the card through the recorder. The Can-Do Recorder and recordable cards are available from Independent Living Aids, Inc. (1-800-537-2118).


Voice output devices: These simple devices can have anywhere from one to 32 messages.  Sources include: Enabling Devices (1-800-832-8697) and AbleNet (1-800-322-0956). Another device that allows you to record directions or questions to be answered is the Step-by-Step. After you record a series of short voice messages, the student then presses the switch once to hear the first direction or question, completes that task and then presses the switch again to hear the next direction and so on. Available from AbleNet (1-800-322-0956).


Recorded Books and Content Materials


Using recorded books can be helpful if the student hears the book read and concurrently follows along with a print copy. Used this way, students’ comprehension and vocabulary skills have been shown to significantly improve. Simply listening without looking at the text has not been shown to provide the same benefits. Explaining the process and checking to be sure the student is looking at each word as it is being spoken is highly recommended.


Taped Books: A variety of books are available on tape and CD from Books on Tape, a division of Random House, and, an online community created expressly to provide access to books for individuals, schools, and groups who provide proof of a print disability.


Braille materials: Because Braille is a specialized method, Braille users require materials produced in the raised-dot code that they read with their fingertips.


MP3 files/iPods: The latest technology is on its way to the classroom and is in many classrooms already, as students make their own podcasts or listen to those available through software like iTunes and A podcast is a free audio file that you save and listen to at your convenience from your computer or MP3 player, such as an iPod. MP3 refers to compressing CD-quality sound by a factor of roughly 10, while retaining most of the original fidelity; for example, a 40MB CD track is turned into a 4MB MP3 file.


Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic: With 500 new books recorded each month, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic is a well-respected and time-honored source of recorded books for individuals with print disabilities. Through their RFB&D Learning Through Listening program, digitally recorded books are available on CD and accessed by using specially adapted CD players or software.


Start-to-finish books: Each book in this series is supported by an auditory and visual support package that presents the content in multiple ways. Materials vary, based on subject and intended audience. High interest materials and a controlled vocabulary help struggling readers follow a read-aloud story because each word is highlighted as it is spoken. Don Johnston, Inc (1-800-999-4660).


Rewrite Textual Material


You can also re-write textual material to meet your students’ level of performance by following the tips below.


1.       Read through the passage you want to adapt, circle vocabulary words that represent an important concept, and cross out irrelevant passages.

2.       Begin to rewrite; simplify material as you rewrite.

·        Retain key words.

·        Substitute synonyms that are more familiar conceptually.

·        Provide contextual clues for key words that are difficult.

·        Write most sentences with regular sentence order; i.e., subject first, followed by verb, but avoid short, choppy sentences that sound stilted.

·        Use active sentences. Example: Use: “The car hit the child.” Not: “The child was hit by the car.”

·        Be sure every pronoun has an unmistakable antecedent.

3.       Prepare the material.

·        Add pictures, charts, or graphs that reinforce key concepts.

·        Use a dark, clear font.

·        Leave wide spaces between lines and generous margins so the page appears uncluttered.

·        Use cueing devices; e.g., highlighting, bullets, and subheads.


Alternatives to Print—Using Technology Tools to Access Content

Text to speech software

Visual accommodations


Synthetic reading is available through a computer for the student who, for whatever reason, cannot decode written language. Software turns symbols (i.e., words) into speech and so these are commonly called text-to-speech programs. The computer needs a voice output capability and software that translates the printed word into synthesized speech. Research has shown text-to-speech software that highlights the words as they are spoken helps students improve comprehension, fluency, and accuracy in addition to increasing concentration. Word recognition skills also improve because the colored highlighting captures the reader’s attention and helps him focus on the word being read. The following software items can be used to read material that has been scanned in or typed in to the computer.


Text to Speech Software


Text to speech software includes programs that scan text, present text as speech and also have a variety of other study and learning features such as spell checkers, definitions, syllabification, book marks, verbal and written notes and much more. Both Microsoft Windows and Macintosh operating systems offer a variety of accessibility features that can be helpful to students with special needs.


Awesome Library for Kids: This program offers a free screen reader that can be downloaded.


Kurzweil 3000: This reading system incorporates optical character recognition and text- to-speech.. 


ReadPlease: ReadPlease offers both a free program that can be downloaded from their website and a plus version for sale. The user can choose from 20 different voices.


Scan and Read Lite: This scanning, optical character recognition software and reading package contains its own voice synthesizer. It allows a PC (not available for Macintosh) to magnify text up to 400 percent


Talking word processing software: This software speaks text and can be used for text to speech purposes, but it is primarily designed for producing text rather than reading existing text.


TextHELP! Read & Write Gold: This program incorporates screen reading and integrates easily with all Windows programs. Available from textHELP! Systems (1-888-248-0652).


WYNN (What You Need Now): This reading system, which includes optical character recognition and text to speech, is available from Freedom Scientific, Inc., Learning Systems Group (1-800-444-4443).


Visual Accommodations


Nemeth Code: The Nemeth Braille Code makes it possible to convey technical expressions in a written format to students who are blind or visually impaired. Although Nemeth Code uses the same set of Braille cells as literary Braille, most cells have new meanings assigned to them in order to express the numerous technical symbols that occur in math and science.


Refreshable Braille displays: These are electronic devices that are connected to a computer and produce Braille output on the refreshable Braille display. The refreshable Braille display reads only one line of text at a time and generally includes directional keys, which allow the user to navigate through a document. Because these devices are expensive and require hours of training to gain competence, experienced Braille readers are the primary users.


Screen Magnifying software: A variety of software programs will magnify the print on the screen to help those with vision loss. One is ZoomText Xtra, which can magnify from 2X to 16X. It is available from LS & S Group, Inc. (1-800-468-4789) and other vendors of products for vision.


Screen Reader: A screen reader is a computer application that converts text to synthesized speech or to Braille (read with an refreshable Braille display). Computer literacy is essential for screen reader use. This software allows students to listen to text, multiple times if they wish, while it is displayed on a computer screen.




Hearing Information


After you first try preferential seating and eliminating extraneous noise, consider amplification for the student with a hearing loss. Research on sound field amplification (http: // in classroom systems indicates that these devices provided the following benefits, all of which will help other students and you:

·        Improved student attention.

·        Improvements in verbal and analytical performance on standardized tests.

·        Reduced referral for individual resource assistance.

·        Reduction in vocal strain for the teacher.


There are a variety of amplification devices, but here are some to consider.


FM System: This is another type of amplification where you wear a microphone and the student, wearing a Frequency Modulated (FM) system, receives speech input directly. There are numerous vendors.


Sound/field FM systems: These systems provide amplified speech from a teacher-worn microphone, which transmits the teacher’s voice to speakers mounted on the ceiling or wall. The teacher’s voice is amplified 8 to 10 decibels (dB) above the prevailing level of noise in the room. This amplification allows all the children, regardless of seat location and the direction the teacher is facing, to hear the teacher clearly.


Alternative to Hearing Spoken Information


Students with severe hearing loss may need services from a specialist in hearing impairment and a sign language interpreter. These specialists can provide information and ideas for the classroom teacher. You may find the following general strategies will help all your students:

·        Check the students’ prior knowledge and build on their background of experience.

·        Pre-teach vocabulary and develop readiness for the lesson.

·        Provide the students with a purpose for reading; e.g., should they skim to get the gist, read slowly to understand directions, look for words they don’t know, etc.

·        Speak slowly and clearly while looking directly at students.

·        Pause after speaking to allow processing time.

·        Use gestures when giving verbal directions.

·        Illustrate key points with visual aids (pictures, symbols, diagrams, maps).


I-Communicator: This combination of hardware and software is designed to provide real time speech to text/sign using voice recognition technology.


Videotape of signed directions: A student who relies on sign language may be able to use a videotape of the signed directions or, if appropriate, the test questions to review material as needed.


Studying & Learning

Acting Upon Directions

Completing Assignments

Studying Information



Acting Upon Directions


You can try several techniques with students who have difficulty following and acting upon directions.


Physical cues: When giving directions, try using physical cues, such as touch, proximity, and eye contact, to prompt students to attend to important information.


Recorded Directions: Record directions on a voice output device so that the student can listen to them as often as needed.


Sign Language: You can easily learn a few basic signs that will provide students with visual cues.


Simplifying Directions: Reducing the number of steps is helpful, assuming that omissions are not so significant that students are confused.


Visual Supports: Supplement verbal directions with print or pictures. If the directions are recurring ones, photographs of your students carrying out the task can make them feel an investment in following the directions.


Completing Assignments


If a student has difficulty keeping track of assignments and/or remembering due dates, try the following strategies.


Assignment Checklist/Self-Monitoring/To Do Sheet: Create an assignment checklist, schedule, or self-monitoring sheet to help students organize the tasks that need to be completed for an assignment. Many of these can be found online and in various books on study strategies and personalized for your students. Weekly is best, since many students have difficulty with a longer timeframe.


Assignment Directions Sheet: Provide an assignment sheet that gives a written explanation of the directions.


Assignment Notebook: Some students (and their teachers and parents) prefer a notebook rather than a consumable assignment sheet to keep track of assignments.


Electronic Organizer: An electronic organizer or personal digital assistant (e.g., Palm Pilot) can help a student manage due dates and keep track of assignments. 


Reminder Service: A reminder service, such as Mr. WakeUp, will call the student with a reminder.


Repeated Directions: Ask a student to verbally repeat the steps of an assignment and explain them to a peer.


Web-based Calendar: A web-based calendar, such as My Yahoo, will work to help some students keep track of assignments.


Studying Information


For the student who struggles with organizing information or studying for tests, direct instruction by you on concept mapping and study skills encourages an awareness of how to study.


Concept Mapping Software: Concept mapping software such as Inspiration, for grades 6-12, and Kidspiration, for grades K-5, helps students develop ideas, organize their thinking, and combine pictures and text to represent thoughts and information. CMAP is a free program similar to Inspiration and can be downloaded onto PC and Mac by clicking here.


Online Reference Tools: If a student has difficulty remembering factual information, teach him how to use online reference tools that are easily and accessed and do not include adult sites. Three popular ones are Ask Jeeves for Kids, KidsClick, and Yahooligans.


Study Skills Resource Site: Websites like: and Virginia Tech’s Study Skills Self-help Information offer free study skills strategies, resources, and tips for upper elementary, middle, and high school.


Understanding information


Reading Strategies

Multi-modal Presentation



The best way to determine a student’s reading needs is through administration of an Informal Reading Inventory (IRI). Commercially published IRIs are available but about 10 minutes using the process described below should provide the information you need. First, help the student select a library book she thinks she will enjoy and be able to read. Then follow these steps:

1.       Check phonics ability. Print these words in a list and ask the student to read them: teck, daw, tike, tuckle, skeerat, mirapation.

2.       Check silent reading. Pick a paragraph from the book, have the student read it silently, remove the book, and ask for retelling. If necessary, probe by asking questions.

3.       Check oral reading. Ask the student to read the next paragraph aloud. The number of miscues should be less than one every 10 words, intonation should be acceptable, and the meaning of the paragraph should be maintained.

4.       Check listening comprehension. You read the next paragraph aloud to the student. Ask for retelling to assure the gist is understood.

5.       If the student stumbles badly or seems frustrated at any point, stop and try later with easier material.




Research solidly shows that pre-teaching techniques such as teasing out students’ prior knowledge of a subject, arousing interest, and previewing material helps students learn new information. Additional techniques include the following:


Guided Note-taking: Teachers can provide a guide for taking notes. This type guide is basically an outline that uses a fill-in-the-blank format. Key words are missing that the student adds as he follows the presentation. For students who need note-taking accommodations, provide additional information pre-filled in the blanks or buddy the student with a classmate who can provide help. 


Presentation Outline/Organizer: Teachers can provide an advance organizer or outline of key points that will be presented during the lesson. Students can also use a standard format to show they comprehend fiction or nonfiction. This format never changes when one of those three kinds of material is read. For example, the format for reading fiction would have the following elements:


Setting (time and place)

Characters, Problem faced

Events that happen (rising action)

Climax (high point of the story)

Conclusion (falling action, the end).

Elements in the nonfiction format would be:



Main points


This type format, or comprehension map, serves two purposes. Students do best when a process doesn’t change and, once they are understanding how to use these formats, they can comfortably use them on their own. In addition, you do not have to prepare comprehension questions to check understanding of each new material assigned.


Providing Background Knowledge: By pre-teaching important vocabulary and essential concepts that may be difficult to grasp, you can provide background knowledge needed for students to comprehend presented materials. Popular and familiar games, such as Bingo and Jeopardy, can be located online by using your favorite search engine. You’ll find both blank and already constructed versions. Avoid word finds. Although students enjoy them, they do not encourage the left-to-right orientation reading requires and, even worse, words written on the diagonal and often backwards, can confuse correct tracking of letters.


Reading Strategies


A student may have adequate listening skills to comprehend the content but poor decoding skills. If the student seems to have appropriate background knowledge and performs well on tasks when information is given orally, try the certain reading strategies.


Color-coding—Use color coding or highlighting to emphasize key points. See Visual Cues.


Phonemic Awareness—Some students may need instruction in phonemic awareness and other basic reading skills. For more information visit the National Institute for Literacy’s Partnership for Reading website and download The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read.


Vocabulary List—Provide a customized vocabulary list.


Reading in the Content Areas—Explicitly teach strategies like attending to text features (e.g. title/chapter headings, captions), locating main ideas, asking questions about the text, making inferences, drawing conclusions, and identifying cause and effect relationships. Additional strategies include the following:

·        Simplify the text by finding materials that parallel the textbook, but are written at a lower level; children’s librarians can provide a great deal of help finding trade books that are high interest, low vocabulary.

·        Search Marco Polo for lessons at the grade level you need.

·        Use software and websites related to the topics in the textbook; check out Windows on the Universe for ideas.

·        Frequently verbalize what is printed on board, overhead, textbook or slide.

·        Assign work in cooperative groups where students need to read only a short segment and then share information.

·        Use peer-assisted learning strategies.


Multi-modal Presentation


Students’ conceptual understanding may be enhanced by presenting information in pictorial, tactile, video or audio format.


Picture symbols to support words: Using pictures paired with words has been shown to strengthen the association of text with vocabulary and also help struggling readers comprehend the written word. This strategy is excellent for every classroom with emergent readers. In books where picture symbols are paired with words, the word-pictures draw attention to key concepts and help develop vocabulary. Seeing words illustrated makes text more meaningful and easier to remember. Commonly used picture symbol programs include, Picture It from Slater Software  (877-306-6968), Writing with Symbols 2000 from Mayer-Johnson Co. (800-588-4548), and Clicker from Crick Software (866-332-7425). There are also sources of free symbols such as Symbol World.


Pictures from web: Several websites provide excellent photographs of objects that can be used to help students decode new words or remind them of steps in a task. Examples include Free Photos and Free Images.


Tactile Materials: This multi-modal presentation strategy involves includes using tactile materials or objects to illustrate key ideas.


Video of related actions: Some textbooks that have been developed with universal design principles include software that has videos of the major concepts being taught. In other cases, you can supplement existing texts by showing a video or using software with video clips; for example, Sunburst Technology’s A Field Trip to the Sea, A Field Trip to the Rainforest and A Field Trip to the Sky.



Changes in Response

How the student demonstrates learning

Key Questions

Physical Support for Written Response

Instructional Support for Written Response

Alternatives to Written Response

Support for Spoken Response



Response refers to the way a student is asked to demonstrate knowledge and skills.  Response accommodations, then, are implemented so the student may demonstrate his or her full capability by completing activities, assignments, and assessments in a different manner or format. Consider the difficulties that the student has been experiencing in accomplishing the necessary tasks and assignments. 


Key Questions to Ask When Considering Changes in Response


1.       Does this student have difficulty completing writing assignments? If yes:

a.       Would alternatives to standard pencil and paper help in complete writing assignments? If yes, see Physical support for written response

b.      Are sentence starters, word banks, and other tools needed to provide support in creative writing? If yes, see Instructional support for written response

c.       Does this student need access to the computer to complete writing assignments? If yes, see Alternative to written response

2.       Does this student have difficulty verbally expressing needs and demonstrating knowledge? Would alternative ways to express needs and demonstrate knowledge be helpful? If yes, see Support for spoken response


Physical Support for Written Response






There are a number of strategies that can be used to help students who struggle with the motor aspects of writing.  One is to provide warm-up exercises for fingers, hands and arms prior to writing, perhaps as a short, optional activity for the whole class. Of course, increasing the time or decreasing the length of the assignment as described in Changes in Timing and Scheduling are possibilities.


Assignment Format: For students who struggle with the motor aspects of writing, consider changing the format of the assignment to multiple choice, matching word banks, fill-in-the-blank, or short answer. Anything that allows the student to demonstrate knowledge by selecting or writing key words as opposed to writing entire sentences can be less discouraging for a struggling writer.


Guided Note-taking: For older students who need to take lecture notes, providing a typed outline or typed copy of lecture notes to students prior to a lecture or presentation can make the content easier for the student to follow. Another strategy is to have the student highlight key points on a printed copy of notes rather than personally recording lecture them.


Oral Dictation: In some cases oral dictation is a sensible alternative to writing. You can use a peer or an instructional assistant as a note taker or scribe. But use caution with this strategy as it can make a student overly dependent on another person and result in a failure to learn to write. Once a student finishes school, there will not be a scribe available to handle the writing.




When thinking about tools that can help improve handwritten work, begin by providing a variety of pencils and pens of different sizes and shapes. Select some of the many on the market today that have special grips built in or purchase additional grips that make a pencil easier to hold and reduce fatigue. If students have difficulty monitoring the pressure they are producing, fun pens that light up when you press the tip down to write can help provide feedback. They are available periodically at dollar stores and other discount stores. For a student with a physical disability, more creative but still low tech ideas may make it possible for the student to independently demonstrate knowledge.


Enlarged Sheet: A student who needs larger spaces in which to print or write can be given an enlarged sheet to write on and then have the answers transferred to the answer sheet by an adult.


Graph paper: Standard graph paper help a student copy and complete math problems.


Magnets: Using a magnet with answers on a metal surface is another “low tech” alternative for multiple-choice assignments, fill-in-the-blank or cloze activities. The answers are printed on thick cardboard and attached to magnets. Then the student pushes the correct “answer” across a line or into a designated space in one corner of the metal surface. A large cookie sheet with a lip works well to hold the magnets and keep them corralled.


Old fashioned green and white tractor feed computer paper: Turned sideways, this paper provides a great visual aid for doing math problems or other tasks where items need to be lined up vertically. Regular lined notebook paper also works.


Special Paper: A variety of special papers are available with raised lines, wider lines, shaded lines, etc. They are available from such school supply vendors such as Pro-Ed (1-800-897-3202) or Beacon Ridge.


Stamps: The use of stamps to complete worksheets or mark a copy of a test booklet may allow independent responses.


Instructional Support for Written Response


Math Ideas




When the difficulty with writing is more about composing the content than it is about forming the letters, the student needs different strategies to gather or check on information.


Concept Mapping: Students can use a webbing / concept mapping strategy to organize their thoughts or gather information. Inspiration and Kidspiration are successful concept mapping software programs. CMAP is a free program similar to Inspiration and can be downloaded by clicking here.


Electronic Dictionary: Similar to electronic spell checkers, these have definitions as well as spelling.


Electronic Spell Checkers: A variety of electronic spell checkers can be found at Radio Shack and office supply stores.


Hand held scanner: The Quick Link Pen Elite from WizCom (1-888-777-0552) and Notetaker from Don Johnston, Inc. (1-800-999-4660) are useful tools for scanning information into the computer to have it spoken or to use in organizing and writing research papers.


Portable word processors: These, if they have spell checkers, are useful for science experiments, field trips, and other times when mobility is necessary.


Quicktionary II Reading Pen: This handheld product is about 1 1/2” by 6” long. It is held in the hand and scanned across a word from either left or right. It will then read the word aloud, show the definition on a small screen or read the definition aloud.  Available from WizCom Technologies, Inc. (1-888-777-0552).


Talking Spell Checkers: These look the same as non-speaking electronic spell checkers, but cost more and generally are not as available. Franklin Electronic Publishers (1-800-525-9673) is the producer of most of these products.


Word Banks: Word banks and sentence starters help many students. Keeping a problem word list visible to all students and a word wall, preferably organized and categorized, of key words can help all students in the classroom.



Math Ideas


Math presents some unique opportunities and also some unique challenges for struggling students. It lends itself well to using multi-modal instruction--visual, tactile, auditory--with real objects. Some specific teaching programs can be especially helpful such as Finger Math or Chisenbop have proven helpful for some students.


Assignment Format: If difficulties with math involve writing, try providing additional spacing between problems, changing the format of assignments (e.g., writing the answers only) or increasing the size of print through photocopying. Occasionally it may help to use mental math.  Have the student dictate to a peer/adult who records the response.  It may also help to reduce the complexity of assignments. For example, a teacher might separate the problems by operations required.


Big Calc: This on-screen calculator with extra large numbers, speech output, versatile layouts, and built in scanning can be used to support a student with physical, auditory, or visual disabilities. This is made only for the Macintosh platform from Don Johnston, Inc. (1-800-999-4660). There is a free version of Big Calc for PC available by clicking here.


Large display Calculator: This calculator with enlarged buttons and display is available from a variety of vendors such as Independent Living Aids, Inc. (1-800-537-2118) or LS & S Group, Inc. (1-800-468-4789).


Large display Scientific Calculator: The VisAble Scientific calculator has large display and is available from Betacom Corporation (1-800-353-1107).


Math Line: This simple color-coded math manipulative, similar to an abacus, is available from Howbrite Solutions, Inc. (800-505-MATH).


Math Pad software: This easy to use math processor by Intellitools (1-800-899-6687) can be used with a mousepad, Intellikeys keyboard, or a switch in addition to the traditional keypad. Variety of font sizes, background colors and speech options are available.


MathPad by Voice: The voiced version of mathpad by Metroplex Voice Computing uses voice recognition technology to allow users to complete addition, subtraction, multiplication and division by voice.


MathTalk Scientific Notebook: This product by Metroplex Voice Computing Scientific Notebook will graph, evaluate, evaluate numerically, factor, combine, expand, simplify, check equality and more using over 600,000 voice commands.


Talking Calculator: This calculator with voice output is available from a variety of vendors such as Independent Living Aids, Inc. (1-800-537-2118) or LS & S Group, Inc. (1-800-468-4789).


Alternative to Written Response


When using a computer to produce written assignments, be sure that the student has been taught needed keyboarding skills. If not, teach keyboarding before expecting the student to effectively use a computer as a tool. When using the computer check for proper positioning of student in relation to the computer screen and keyboard. The computer screen should be slightly below eye level so that the student does not need to throw his head back in order to see it and the keyboard should allow the student to sit comfortably with arms parallel to the floor and shoulders relaxed.


Abbreviation/expansion: This technique is a way to increase typing speed and improve spelling. The user created specific abbreviations (that are not real words) that can be used to represent regularly used phrases and terms. For example the name of the class that needs to be typed at the top of the page for every assignment, or the name of the person whose biography the student is writing. For more information on abbreviation/expansion, click here.


Brailler: A Brailler is a Braille keyboard used for typing text that can then be printed in standard print or an a Braille embosser. The Brailler is similar to a typewriter or computer keyboard. Paper is inserted into the Brailler, and multiple keys are pressed at once, creating an entire cell with each press. Through an alternative computer port, newer Braillers can simultaneously act as a speech synthesizer that reads the text displayed on the screen when paired with a screen-reading program. 


Electronic pencil: There are several software programs that can be used to scan in a form or a test page so that a student can respond by keyboarding instead of writing with a pencil.  One such program is Omniform from Caere Corporation.


Portable note-taking devices: These are small, lightweight devices equipped with a Braille or typewriter-style keyboard for input and synthetic voice. Some note-takers also contain a Braille display (between 18 and 40 characters) for output. Note-takers are excellent tools for recording notes in school, at home or at work. They often have additional features such as a calculator and a calendar function. Newer models have a built-in modem, which allows the user to access e-mail as well as surf the Web. When connected to a PC, files can be exchanged, or information can be sent from the note-taker to a Braille embosser or to an ink printer. When linked to a computer using a screen reader, note-takers equipped with a Braille display can act as a Braille output device.


Portable Word Processor: These lightweight devices are easy to use and easy to carry around. They are primarily for word processing and provide the opportunity to keyboard instead of write with a pen or pencil. They have spell checking available and one (the Laser PC6 can speak the text). Most common are Alpha Smart 3000, Dana, and Neo from Alpha Smart, Inc. (1-888-274-0680), QuickPAD (H45 Technology, 1-800-373-8181) and Laser PC 6 (Perfect Solutions, 1-800-726-7086).


Talking word processing: This software allows you to have text spoken as it is typed of when it has been highlighted. Most programs let you choose whether the computer will speak individual letters, words, or sentences.  Popular products include Write: OutLoud from Don Johnston, Inc (1-800-999-4660), IntelliTalk 3 from Intellitools (1-800-899-6687), CAST eReader from CAST, Inc., The Talking Word Processor from Premier Assistive, (517-668-8188), and WillowTalk 2.5.  RJ Cooper and Associates (800-752-6673) also has a talking email program-I Can Email.


Word prediction: In word prediction the computer predicts what the user is trying to write based on the first few letters of the word. A number of word prediction programs are available. Some of the most frequently used are Co:Writer from Don Johnston, Inc. (1-800-999-4660) and WordQ (1-866-629-6737).


Support for Spoken Response


Strategies to help a student who struggles to make herself understood with spoken language includes such simple steps as providing additional response time and accepting shortened or alternative types of responses. Students appreciate being given enough time to formulate and speak their comments.  This means that both teachers and fellow students need to learn to pause to provide processing time and only then repeat the request or provide a verbal prompt.


Teachers can support a student’s spoken response by providing symbols, pictures, or words that the student can point to or hand to someone for communication purposes. The use of even this type of simple tool is augmentative communication. Augmentative and alternative communication is the field that focuses on helping individuals whose speech does not meet their communication needs. For an easy to understand overview click here. The Following is a list of augmentative communication tools that begins with simple, inexpensive options and moves to more complex, computer based tools.


Devices with Leveling or Layering: These are also relatively simple devices where messages are created by pressing a button and speaking into a microphone. They will, however, hold more messages in multiple layers or levels. The teacher or instructional assistant will need to mechanically switch from one level to the next and generally must insert a new overlay for each level. The advantage is that this allows uses for multiple situations or settings, for example, Level 1 can be programmed with messages appropriate for social greetings, Level 2 can hold messages for science class, Level 3 for Language Arts, etc. Alternatives include Macaw by Zygo, BookTalker by Frame Technologies, Lighthawk by AdamLab, Digivox by Sentient Systems.


Devices using Icon Sequencing or Semantic Compaction: Icon Sequencing or Semantic Compaction is a way of organizing language which uses an ordered array of pictures to code vocabulary. Minspeak™ is the primary example of semantic compaction and is used by Prentke-Romich Company in their devices. To use it, the student presses two or three keys in sequence to produce one message. For example, using Minspeak, the user presses a button with a picture of a dog with a newspaper in its mouth followed by pushing a button with a picture of a question mark.  The device produces the message, “What’s new with you?” On the same device, pressing the picture of the clock followed by the picture of the question mark produces, “What time is it?” The user must be able to remember the message codes, but when he does, he can produce a large number of messages. Alternatives include Vanguard, Pathfinder and by Prentke Romich Co., and Chatbox by Saltillo.


Devices using Dynamic Display: These are computer based and the pictures, symbols or words are displayed on a screen, like a laptop computer monitor; the screen is capable of touch activation and pressing a picture on the screen produces a message. The device automatically changes the picture displays and corresponding messages through the use of internal hyperlinks. For example, to ask for a cheeseburger at McDonald’s, the user selects a picture of food on the first page.  The device automatically produces a new page of pictures which includes a picture representing fast food.  The user selects the fast food picture and the device produces a page with pictures representing several fast food restaurants.  The user presses the picture for McDonald’s and the device changes to a page that includes items on the McDonald’s menu.  The user selects the picture of the cheeseburger. These devices are a “user friendly” method of storing messages because the student only needs to “recognize” the message, not “recall” it.  This is a rapidly growing type of devices. Some examples include: Dynavox, Dynamyte, Dynamo by Dynavox Systems, Talking Screen by Words + Speaking Dynamically on Macintosh Powerbook, Gus Software for PCs by Gus Communications Inc., Vanguard by Prentke Romich Co., Portable Impact devices by Enkidu Research.


Eye Gaze frame: This is a simple frame that holds a choice of pictures, symbols, or printed words for a student to select by gazing at his desired response. Many are home made from PVC pipe or plexiglass. Place the words, pictures, or symbols across the frame, far enough apart so that a communication partner (e.g. teacher, peer, etc.) can discern at which one the student is looking. This allows a communication partner to sit facing the student and see very accurately where the student is looking as he eye gazes at the desired object or picture to communicate a choice or interest.


Simple and/or Low Cost Voice Output Devices: These devices allow just a few recorded messages. They typically work by pressing a button and speaking into a microphone to record a message. There are now dozens of these devices on the market. They include everything from talking picture frames available at Radio Shack to more specialized tools. Numerous alternatives are available from AbleNet, Adamlab, Enabling Devices, Mayer-Johnson, and Saltillo. Characteristics of these tools include the following:

·        One set of messages (represented on one overlay) available to the user at a time.

·        Pressing a key (or cell) produces one message.

·        May have one, two, four, sixteen, forty, or more buttons with messages.

·        Overlay must be physically changed, and device reprogrammed to change the messages.


References and Resources


Assistive Technology Consideration Resource Guide, Georgia Project for Assistive Technology ( downloaded May 10, 2005.


CAST Universal Design for Learning.


Ely, S., Hounshell, M., Irwin, M., Soto, S., & Janes, M.B. (2001). Reach Them All:  Adapting Curriculum and Instruction with Assistive Technology in Inclusive Classrooms. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.


Making Assessment Accommodations: A Toolkit for Educators, Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative, downloaded, May 10, 2005.


Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE): Maryland Accommodations Manual 2005-2006: A Guide to Selecting, Administering, and Evaluating the Use of Accommodations for Instruction and Assessment of Students with Disabilities.  


Special Connections, University of Kansas ( ) Downloaded April, 2005.