Sunday, December 4, 2011

Universal Design for Learning/Assistive Technologies

Our current module in Selection and Integration of Instructional Technology, we have been discussing the use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in classrooms. UDL recognizes that every learner is unique and processes information differently. It provides a basis to create and put into practice lessons with flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that support learning for all students. 

For our assignment, I interviewed two SLP’s (Speech-Language Pathologists) that utilize UDL everyday. Rowene White is a speech–language pathologist in Bryan, TX. She works with children that have delays with their speech and language skills such as:  articulation disorders, voice disorders, fluency disorders, expressive and receptive language delays, physical and social communication skills (mostly hearing impaired and cognitive delays). She loves to see her students improve on their communication skills with families, friends and peers successfully at home and school. 

Katie Darby has previously worked as a speech-language pathologist for an AEA in the schools and currently works at Childserve in Ames with children with mild to severe speech and language deficits.  Many of her kids have autism to some degree, while others have speech and language delays (or just developmental delays).  She loves that she can make such an impact on a families life by changing the child's communication and being able to 'reach' that kid to let them be a part of their environment like they have never before.

Rowene's answers appear in yellow and Katie's appear in red.

1. How do you decide to use UDL or assistive technologies with a student?
I look at the overall abilities of the student - cognitive, physical, and behavioral.  I choose the complexity of the technology according to their mental abilities (for example, picture symbols on cards vs. an electronic device with up to 1000 symbols).  Some students may not have the manual dexterity to manipulate a keyboard.  Some may have visual impairments, and the picture symbols would need to be enlarged.  Students with hearing loss may not benefit from devices with synthetic voice outputs.  When choosing assistive technologies, I also consider the individual's negative behaviors.  High cost technology may not be appropriate for someone who could potentially damage or destroy the device. They may require assistance from another individual.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I use AT (assistive technologies) for many students.  I have several kids that are currently non-verbal and can only communicate with the use of AT devices. I have others that just need a little bit of support to succeed in the school setting.  For the last couple of years, I was a part of the Assitive Technology team for my AEA and it was very important to us that everyone in need be given the chance to have AT carefully considered for their schooling and potentially included on their IEP. 

2. What is the process used when designing curriculum to implement these devices?
First, I look at the needs of the individual.  In what environment will the assistive technology be used?  For what purpose will the technology be used?  Who is the audience when the device is used?  Specific picture symbols, words, and/or auditory messages are then developed with these needs in mind.

My role typically consists of trialing devices to see what is a good fit for the child and then training the child and support staff to effectively and efficiently use it in the classroom and at home.  I really don’t set up classroom curriculum.

3. How does a device help a student communicate or learn?
Information can be shared with the student through the means of the assistive device.  It also allows the student to interact with the listener using different forms of communication:  comments, requests, questions, answers to questions, and negations. 

It is one of the most rewarding things to see when a child is able to use an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device to communicate and interact with their environment.  For so long, many kids that benefit from AT have been isolated from the world around them.  Having access to certain AT devices allows them to ask and answer questions, request objects and simply interact with their peers....and although that maybe not be highly academic, it is life changing!

4. Do you have any favorite tools, devices, or apps to use?
 I frequently use picture symbols generated by a computer program called "Boardmaker".  These picture symbols have also been used in a booklet form called PODDS (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display). I also use photo symbols taken with my own camera. An iPod is an economical assistive device.  Several apps, such as Proloquo2go, have been developed using picture symbols. Dynavox is a company with an array of assistive devices.  They vary in their complexities.

Proloquo2go device found at:

Over the years, I have had good success with different Dynavox systems as well as Springboard Lite.  My current favorite, however, is the iPad with either the Proloquo2go or Tap-to-Talk apps.  This seems to be the most functional and allows them access to other educationally rich items that the strictly communication devices do not offer.  I also really like the Read and Write Gold program for kids that are fully verbal but need some assistance with literacy activities.  It is an excellent program that helps kids become more independent, which should always be the goal when using AT.

 SpringBoard Lite communicator found at:


  1. Meghan-- Two great examples of how assistive technologies are being used to help students.

  2. Hi Meghan! Very interesting post--thanks for sharing this. Last year the speech pathologist at one of the elementary schools I worked at started using iPad apps in her sessions. She couldn't praise them enough. And, the kids eat it up. I appreciated the real-world comments from your interviewees, though. It is smart to consider the behavior of a student and how he/she might act and interact with an expensive device. iPads are durable, but not unbreakable! And, even if an app "simply" helps a student become more independent in general, this does go a long way to helping students academically as well. Sara R.

  3. Hi Megan, I like your views on this post. You have gone quite in depth with some of the information relating to UDL. Specifically, I can see that the interviews that you carried out have a lot of difference as to how the two individual teachers approach this issue. This in itself reflect the fact that we are all different and therefor interpret information differently too. Some of the resistive technologies like the AAC you have talked about is one of those rear ones. Thanks for sharing, I have learned something new.