Beginning communication is just a tool away – accessing multiple environments through assistive technology

Quick Overview

In this session, Nancy Robinson and Kathleen Sadao discuss the use of assistive technology in communication and learning for children with disabilities. They emphasize the importance of having a toolkit approach and provide examples of low-tech and high-tech tools that can be used in various environments. They also discuss the process of assessment and the importance of teamwork in implementing assistive technology. The presenters highlight the rapid changes in technology and the wide range of apps available to support communication and learning. They conclude by emphasizing that the goal is communication and learning, and that finding the right tools takes time and trials.


In this talk, we will discuss the importance of assistive technology in facilitating communication for individuals with disabilities. We will provide practical ideas and resources that can be used in various environments, such as homes and classrooms. Our goal is to empower parents and professionals with the tools they need to support communication and participation in daily activities.

The Toolkit Approach

We believe in the power of a toolkit approach, which involves using a range of low or no technology assistive technology tools to support communication. By providing a variety of options, individuals can find the tools that work best for them in different situations. Our book, published in 2010, delves deeper into this approach and provides more ideas and resources.

Assistive Technology Links

To further support your exploration of assistive technology, we have created a three-page handout called “Assistive Technology Links.” This handout includes a variety of research and applied links on assistive technology for young children. You can find this handout on our website or access it during this session.

The Importance of Assistive Technology

Technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, and assistive technology has become more accessible and affordable. It is crucial to introduce assistive technology and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools early in a child’s life to support their communication and participation in daily activities. Research has shown that starting early and using a range of tools can have a significant impact on a child’s communication skills and overall development.

Practical Ideas for Using Assistive Technology

Low-Tech Tools

  • Adapting books with page turners and stabilizing them with Velcro or other materials
  • Creating simple communication books with photographs or drawings of communication symbols
  • Developing daily schedules using pictures or symbols
  • Using highlighter tape to emphasize repetitive lines or favorite words in books
  • Using sponge curlers to adapt pens, pencils, and paintbrushes for easier grip
  • Labeling centers in classrooms with picture labels for visual support

Eye Gaze Boards

Eye gaze can be a powerful tool for communication, and low-tech eye gaze boards can help individuals with limited motor abilities participate in activities. Clear plastic clipboards or other materials can be used to create eye gaze boards, allowing individuals to communicate by directing their gaze towards different pictures or symbols.

Toy Adaptations

Adapting toys can make them more accessible for individuals with disabilities. Simple adaptations, such as adding knobs to puzzles or using Velcro to attach objects to toys, can make a significant difference in a child’s ability to interact with and enjoy toys.

Visual Scene Displays

Visual scene displays involve using photographs of a child’s actual environment to create communication stories. These stories can be used to support language development and social interaction. By incorporating symbols or pictures into the scenes, children can begin to make connections between pictures and symbols, which can later be used in more sophisticated communication systems.

Apps and Digital Devices

The use of mobile technology, such as iPads and tablets, has revolutionized the field of assistive technology. There are countless apps available that can support communication and learning in various environments. It is essential to choose apps that align with the individual’s goals and needs. Assessing apps based on factors such as ease of use, appropriateness for the individual’s age and skill level, and alignment with specific goals can help ensure that the right tools are selected.

The FEAT Assessment Process

The Functional Evaluation for Early Technology (FEAT) is an assessment process that can guide the selection and implementation of assistive technology tools. The process involves gathering information from the family, observing the child in various settings, brainstorming with the team, selecting tools to try out, and evaluating their effectiveness over time. The FEAT process is not linear and can be repeated as the child’s needs and skills evolve.

The Importance of Teamwork

Building a strong team is crucial in supporting individuals with disabilities in their communication and learning journey. As a parent, you are the strongest advocate for your child’s communication and learning. It is essential to work collaboratively with professionals and other team members to ensure that the right tools and strategies are implemented consistently across different environments.


Assistive technology is a powerful tool that can support communication and participation in daily activities for individuals with disabilities. By using a range of low or no technology tools, such as adapted books, eye gaze boards, and digital devices, individuals can access multiple environments and communicate effectively. The key is to find the right tools and strategies that work best for each individual and to work collaboratively with a team to ensure consistent support.

Talk details

  • Title: Beginning communication is just a tool away – accessing multiple environments through assistive technology
  • Author(s): Nancy Robinson, Kathleen Sadao
  • Author(s)’ affiliation: None
  • Publication date: 2017-12-24
  • Collection: 2017 FAST Educational Summit