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Resource File: Early Childhood -- Tools

A Sampling of Technologies Providing Support for Young Children with Disabilities


Descriptions of the kinds of hardware and software discussed in this profile are included below. These represent a small sampling of technologies available to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities in preschool settings. NCIP is not endorsing any product or manufacturer and strongly encourages readers to explore a range of products with qualified personnel in their area.

A more comprehensive product listing, complete with addresses and phone numbers, is available in the Resource File: Early Childhood -- Tools entitled, Software Publishers.


Eye-gaze Communication Boards

Eye-gaze communication boards are sometimes used when pointing is not feasible. Basically, these are clear plastic boards (about 15 inches by 19 inches) on which symbols -- such as words, pictures, and objects -- can be fastened. The student conveys messages by gazing at the appropriate symbols while someone on the other side of the board follows his gaze. Eye-gaze boards can be easily homemade; however, a variety of commercial products already exist, including the Eye-Com Board(TM) by Imaginart Communications Products and the Eye Transfer Communication System(TM) by Zygo Industries.

Switch-accessible Books

A software selection of switch-accessible books is available to build literacy skills and meet the physical and cognitive needs of students with motor impairments. These typically enable students to independently choose their story, turn pages, highlight, and have text "read" or reread by hitting a switch at a particular time. Many include animated graphics that can be manipulated. These include Storytime Tales(TM) by Don Johnston and Wiggleworks(TM), a more comprehensive literacy program by Scholastic.

Electronic Speech Aids

Simple and relatively inexpensive communication devices allow the user to "speak" short phrases or messages that are prerecorded for them. The devices have a set number of "targets" which can be pressed to "speak" the phrases. The targets can be labeled with symbols or words. Messages also can be accessed through one or more switches. Examples of simple "speech boxes" include Cheap Talk 4(TM) by Toys for Special Children and SpeakEasy(TM) by AbleNet.

Clock-like Rotary Scanning Devices

There are a variety of clock-like rotary scanning devices which enable students with limited motor ability to choose from a field of pictures or words. The student controls the circular movement of a pointer by activating a switch, stopping the pointer at the desired message. The speed and direction of scanning is customizable. These devices are lightweight, portable, and battery operated. Two examples include the Communiclock(TM) by the Crestwood Company and the Dial Scan(TM) by Don Johnston.

Alternate Membrane Keyboards

There are a variety of alternate keyboards that simplify access to software for preschoolers and/or students with disabilities. Membrane keyboards typically come with a variety of vinyl sheets or "overlays" with letters, numbers and special "keys" in large print. Users can also design their own overlays for individual students or specific tasks. The touch sensitivity required to activate the "keys" can be adjusted to meet the users' needs. Speech can be added to make these keyboards "talk."


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)  in collaboration with the Center for Literacy and Disabilities (CLD)  at Duke University.   NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by CLD, NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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