Special Education Assistive Technology is Driving Independence

Two educators watch as a student using a power wheelchair drives down the hallway of a school.

Special education assistive technology has paved the way for students with disabilities to expand the ways in which they learn and grow. At the Watson Institute’s Education Center South, eye gaze technology has opened the door for students with physical disabilities to achieve new academic, social, and communication goals.

At Watson, students benefit from a multidisciplinary educational team approach, meaning that each student has access to staff with a myriad of experiences and years of expertise! From the classroom teacher, paraprofessionals, and behavior staff, to the physical, speech, vision, and occupational therapists, each team focuses its efforts to support each student in attaining their unique and individualized goals.

One such classroom team at Watson’s Education Center has been working to help students with limited physical mobility gain more independence by using a new assistive technology program called Ability Drive®.

Ability Drive® Improves Student Independence

The Ability Drive technology is designed to enable users to maneuver their power chair using eye gaze technology! Jackie Logan, an experienced Speech Therapist and Assistive Technology Specialist at Watson learned about Ability Drive at the ATiA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conference and recognized the benefits this program could offer her students.

A number of students with physical disabilities at the Education Center South experience difficulties utilizing switches and joysticks. These devices are essential for enabling students to operate communication devices as well as equipment like power wheelchairs.

With Ability Drive, students gain the ability to independently navigate their power wheelchair using their visual gaze, offering them a greater means of independence in day-to-day routines! Not only can students navigate their environment more easily, but eye gaze technology also improves their ability to communicate effectively.

Ability Drive syncs directly with each student’s power wheelchair, loading directly onto their existing eye gaze communication device. Students are presented with directional arrows indicating that they would like to move forward, backward, to the left, or to the right.

Individualized Approach to Assistive Technology Training

Throughout the school year, Jackie, a specialist in assistive technology, works in collaboration with the classroom’s multidisciplinary team composed of Taylor, the special education teacher, Kathy, a physical therapist, and Carrie, a teacher of the visually impaired.

Each student at Watson has unique needs and diverse learning styles making collaboration within and among the classroom teams essential for building individualized plans that suit each student.

“Each person brings valuable expertise and knowledge to our multidisciplinary team and to our classrooms filled with hardworking students!” – Jackie

Tessa, a student at the Education Center South, has been working with Jackie, her classroom team, and her parents to learn how to use Ability Drive for independent mobility.

Since the technology relies upon the student’s eye gaze resting on the arrow icon for a few seconds to trigger motion, Tessa’s team first focused on connecting the understanding that if she places her gaze on a specific location on the screen, she can communicate with others and make things happen within her environment.

Jackie, along with Tessa’s classroom team, utilized a number of items and cues to help Tessa train her eye gaze on the Ability Device screen, enabling her to navigate her chair throughout the school building.

Visually-appealing stickers were placed on the screen to help students focus their gaze in particular places; in this case, on the directional arrows. For Tessa, Disney princess stickers are a hit in terms of visual cues!

The classroom team is working with more than 6 students to utilize Ability Drive, helping students gain more consistent visual attention, and help them increase independence through mobility and communication! Each student prefers to learn in their own unique way and craves a different environment in which to learn and practice.

As new students are identified who would benefit from learning Ability Drive, Jackie and her team adapt their approach to meet their needs, helping students find success with the assistive technology!

Learn more about the Education Center South and how assistive technology is helping students make strides toward their individualized goals!