iPads, Apps Help Students With Special Needs in the Classroom

The use of iPads in classrooms is growing rapidly, and assistive technology advances with iPads are helping schools expand educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Sharing her thoughts with educators and parents during a daylong workshop on using iPads to aid students with special physical and mental needs, Therese Willkomm, an expert in adaptive technology, said that iPads are the best tool for students with disabilities, according to Kathleen Ronayne of Concord Monitor.

Blind students can use an iPad to translate verbal words to written words with one touch. Using their voice, students with dyslexia or other reading disorders can work on an iPad to complete work. and students with autism can find alternative ways to express their thoughts and feelings.

"It does everything – it's a memory device, it's a reading device, it's a computer device, so it has more accessible features and capabilities for people with disabilities than any other device we have ever been exposed to," said Willkomm, a clinical professor with Assistive Technology in New Hampshire, a program within UNH's Institute on Disability.

The workshop on ‘using iPads to aid students with special physical and mental needs' was part of a four-day iPad boot camp in Concord, New Hampshire. The event attracted participants from across the state as well as Vermont, Massachusetts and even Georgia.

Willkomm, during the session with educators and parents, highlighted dozens of applications that can aid students with hearing, vision and speaking impairments, autism, and other physical, emotional and communicative issues.

The session highlighted several useful classroom apps such as TextGrabber, which takes photos of written words and dictates those words out loud. Another app called ReQall records voice memos that can act as alarms later to remind students to complete a certain homework assignment. ReQall also "benefits students who struggle with writing and those with speech impediments because it can play back the recording later for parents."

Districts nationwide are moving to make use of tablets in the classroom on a large scale. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) recently announced plans to buy and distribute free iPads to 640,000 students in the nation's second-largest school district by late 2014, according to Todd R. Weiss of Cite World. The school district has launched a new $30 million program to give free iPads to 31,000 students this school year to begin the program.

As David Smiley of the Miami Herald points out, the use of assistive technology in special needs classrooms isn't new. However, prior to the last few years, its use was limited to things like wheel chairs and hearing aids. But recently, solutions that have been used successfully for general student populations are being used for disabled students to overcome barriers that arise from physical disabilities and mental illnesses.

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