Assistive Technology and Students with Learning Disabilities

by Alina Padilla

What are Learning Disabilities?

Students with learning disabilities have difficulty with achieving success in school but do not have any physical disabilities. Students with learning disabilities may have have trouble with basic skills like reading, writing, reasoning, organizing ideas, or memory recall. These students may have trouble with articulating ideas, vocabulary, grammar, and writing syntax. Students with learning disabilities have trouble across the subjects.

Types of Learning Disabilities

  • Dyslexia- A reading disability in which the student has difficulty reading words.
  • Dyscalcuia- A math disability in which the student struggles with understanding math concepts and problems.
  • Dysgraphia- A writing disability
  • Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders- Having trouble understanding language even though the students no hearing or vision problems.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities- A organizational and processing disorder.

Using technology to help students with learning disabilities.

Assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment or system that helps students with learning disabilities bypass or work around or compensate for their learning deficit. The use of technology does not get rid of the the learning disability but instead is used as a tool to help support students bypass their learning disability. purpose of using assistive technology is to bypass the learning disability, not to cure the student. "Technology is not a barrier to literacy and numeracy, but in fact can be an assistive tool to develop these important skills and support students to compensate for their learning disabilities and difficulties" (Smith 2010).
Assistive technology can be used to help students with different types of learning disabilities. Assistive technology tools are used to help students that have trouble with processing and remembering what they hear. They can be used to help students that have difficulty with math problems. They can be used to help with reading and writing as well as organization.

Types of Technologies Available

There are many different types of technologies that can be used to help students with learning disabilities. These technologies can be both hardware or software. Not all the technologies listed below work for every learning disability. Some technologies work better for some students than they do for others depending on the type of learning disabilities the students have.

  • Audio Books- Recorded books that can be listed to using different formats, such as audiocassettes, CDs, and MP3 downloads.
  • Semantic Mapping Software-Help students organize their thoughts.
  • Alternative Keyboard- Help students that have difficulty typing.
  • Talking Calculators- speak the numbers that are pressed on the keypad.
  • Electronic Math Worksheets- Help align math problems on the screen.
  • Word Prediction Programs- these programs "predict" what word the students is going to type.
  • Reading Pen- handheld text scanner that can be used to decode words and phrases.
  • Speech Recognition Systems- Allow students to speak into the computer and have their words converted to text.
  • Talking Spell Checkers/Dictionaries- Read words and letters out loud.

image found using Google images

Reading Pen Image found using Google images


Higgins & Raskind (2005).

This study looked at the use of Reading Pen and its effectiveness with helping students with reading disabilities. The study looked at 34 students age 10-18. The findings showed that "Students not only read the easier selections on the test more accurately, but were able to move on to read more difficult passages with good comprehension. Each selection increased approximately one grade level in difficulty as the child proceeded through each one. On average, the children obtained scores 7 points higher, more than a grade level higher when using the pen."

"In summary, The Quicktionary Reading Pen II was effective in compensating for deficits in the reading comprehension of students with LD, aged 10-18. Students were quickly and easily trained to use the pen, liked using the equipment, and because of its portability, used it across various school settings (e.g., classroom, library, subject matter courses, homework completion). Children used the pens in their classrooms independently with very little adult support or interference with other classroom activities."

Bausch, M. & Hasselbring, T. (2006)
"Literacy is one area in which well-applied assistive technologies can act as a lifeline to students with learning disabilities. As many as 8 of 10 students with learning disabilities have reading problems so significant that they cannot read and understand grade-level material (Lemer, 2003). Learning disabilities often interfere with students' ability to grasp principles of phonetics, decode text, or comprehend what they read. In our work with schools, we have seen assistive technology break down barriers to full literacy in two ways: as a reading support, meaning that computer-based applications help students with learning disabilities successfully access grade-level text as they read, and as a reading intervention, meaning that the technology helps students strengthen and improve their overall reading skills."



Bausch, M. & Hasselbring, T. (2006) Assistive technologies for reading. Educational Leadership. 63(4) 72-75.

Higgins, E. & Raskind, M. (2005). The Compensatory Effectiveness of the Quicktionary Reading Pen II on the Reading Comprehension of Students with Learning Disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology. 20(1), 31-40.

Smith, B. (2010). We have the technology, we can assist them! Using technology to assist students with learning disabilities and difficulties. Retrieved from

Stanberry, K., & Raskind, K. (2009) Assistive technology for kids with learning disabilities: An overview. Retrieved from

Tools for Life. (2010 ) Learning disabilities and assistive technologies. Retrieved from