Cognitive & Perceptual Disabilities

Non-accessible education environments impede access to learning for students with a wide range of cognitive and physical disabilities.

Dyslexia and Literacy difficulties

According to Dyslexia Action, Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that primarily affects the ability to learn, read and spell. It often runs in families and stems from a difficulty in processing the sounds in words.

Assistive technology offers a way for dyslexics to save time and overcome some of the issues they may encounter because of their dyslexia, such as slow note taking or unreadable handwriting, and allows them to use their time for all the things in which they are gifted.

Two technologies that facilitate this process are the Livescribe smartpen and Dragon Naturally Speaking. Each aid is designed to make the learning process easier and each offers support to the dyslexic student in different ways.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

ASD is a brain-based disorder characterized by social-communication challenges and restricted repetitive behaviors, activities, and interests.

The Centers for Disease Control describes ASDs as:“a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.”

Learning technologies for ASD primarily exist for children because it has the potential to show better effects when started earlier.

Dyscalculia and Numeracy difficulties

This condition affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculia learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive group of numbers & and have problems learning number facts and procedures.

Types of Assistive technology for dyscalculia and other numeracy difficulties are -

Calculators, electronic math games and worksheets, math flashcards and manipulatives, “talking" calculators, alternative keyboards, graphic organizers, proofreading software, word processors, speech recognition and synthesis software, spellcheckers

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioral symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a type of ADHD. Common symptoms include short attention span, restlessness, being easily distracted, constant fidgeting. Additional symptoms include sleep disorders and learning disorders. But no effect on intelligence.

Choice of AT for ADHD should be focused on the core symptoms or behaviors (like impulsivity, inattention, hyperactivity and distraction) that are being seen that interfere with studies, learning and homework.

Most commonly used AT for ADHD are noise cancelling ear phones or ear plugs can be used for those who are easily distracted by external noises when they try to study. Auditory or vibrating alarms can be used for reminder deadlines or to schedule a 30 minute study time for example.

Visual Impairments

A broad range of visual abilities and needs are comprised in Visual Impairments. Since each person is unique, what works well for one student may not work well for another. Selection of AT should be the result of a team process that takes into consideration feedback from family, educators, paraprofessionals, and the student.

Examples of low tech tools for students with visual impairments might include enlarged text or raised line paper, while high tech tools may encompass digital tools that “read” to the student, connect to a braille display, or even incorporate GPS.

Hearing Impairments

“Hearing impairment, or deafness, is when your hearing is affected by a condition or injury. Some people are born with a hearing loss while others may develop it as they get older. Most commonly, hearing loss happens with age or is caused by loud noises.” (NHS Choices, 2011)

A variety of technologies are available to support hearing impairments depending on the level of impairment, with hearing aids and induction loops being perhaps the most well known. However, many of these technologies can be considered to provide access to learning rather than being assistive learning technologies

Mobility Impairments

The term ‘mobility impairment’ may cover a range of conditions relating to physical disabilities, including difficulties with dexterity and coordination. Most physical impairments are not considered to be learning difficulties, although learning (and particularly access to learning) may be difficult. Learning through physical 'hands-on' manipulation of objects can also be made difficult, which can affect learning some concepts which would normally benefit from tangible feedback.

The degree to which an assistive technology to support mobility impairments can be classed as a learning technology might perhaps be related to the type of motor skills which they aim to compensate for – for example, a wheelchair would not normally be counted as a learning technology, although it enables access to learning, but voice recognition or literacy support for users with cerebral palsy might be.


“Dyspraxia, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder, is a disability that affects movement and co-ordination. It is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. Dyspraxia is characterised by difficulty in planning smooth, coordinated movements. This leads to: clumsiness; lack of co-ordination; problems with language, perception and thought” (NHS Choices, 2010).

Dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty which is relatively common in US. With difficulties in coordination and movement, there is evidence that learners with dyspraxia may also experience lower levels of independence and difficulties in interacting with peers (Bart et al., 2011). Yet despite this, there seems to be very little research literature on technology to support dyspraxia.