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by Holly Cooper

  • General Discussion: why use tech, what's available?
  • Switch Activated Toys and Devices
  • Switch Accessible Software
  • Alternative Computer Input
  • Low Tech Augmentative Communication
  • Computer Based Communication
  • High Tech Augmentative Communication


Why Use Technology for preschoolers?

For students with visual impairments we typically use assistive tech to:

  • Modify presentation of learning media to compensate for sensory and motor deficits (such as screen magnification, voice output, and braille translation, switch activated software)
  • Facilitate interaction with peers and others
  • Provide opportunities for recreation and leisure activities
  • Practice and enhance performance of cognitive concepts
  • Assist children in participating in activities of daily living and self care

What's Out There?

Switch Activated devices:

  • These teach cause-effect
  • Can teach specific fine motor skills such as finger isolation, pulling, pushing, etc
  • These can give kids with motor impairments or very young or developmentally delayed kids can have access to using appliances for skills of daily living, art, music, cooking and other skills

Computer programs:

  • Cause effect games for very young or kids with more severe disabilities
  • Educational games that teach colors, letters, numbers, counting
  • Accessible technology for kids with blindness or visual impairments

Alternative Communication Modes:

Gives kids access to expressive communication

  • Can be low tech such as object symbols, tactile symbols, sign language or simple gestures
  • Can be medium tech such as talking communication boards or other devices which are not computer based
  • Can be high tech such as augmentative communication devices such as Dynavox, Enkidu, Prenke-Romick
  • Can be computer based such as Enkidu

Usually higher tech is used with older kids or kids who are not intellectually disabled when used with kids of preschool age.  In my opinion, it takes a child who has almost the intellectual ability of someone who is functioning at a pre-reading level to use an augmentative communication device if they must rely on auditory scanning to select a choice. (this is a very general statement, don't take it as prescriptive)

Switch Activated Toys and Devices


Let's take a look at some switches, interfaces and other products you might be interested in. Sources for purchasing these items are in your handout.

  • Ablenet: switches, powerlink
  • Battery operated toys and devices
  • Electric appliances

Switch Accessible Software

Now I'll show you some switch accessible software. These are games and learning programs that can be activated either with a keyboard or remote switch. To use a switch with a computer, you must have a switch interface, and the software you use must be switch accessible. I have listed some makers of switch accessible software in your resources list. If you intend to use software in this manner, be sure the literature describing the program indicates it is switch accessible. Also, find out what switch interfaces make it accessible. You may have to call or email the maker to find this information.

Switch Interfaces

There are a lot of switch interfaces. The one I will show is the Don Johnston Switch Interface Pro. It is sold by a lot of different vendors, and it is able to access a wide variety of software. At this time and in this state, I would guess it is the one used the most.

  • Don Johnston: Switch Interface


I have listed software sources in your web resources list. If you look at the resources page that is called Informational Websites, you will find some resources for free software.

Free Software:

  • SENSwitcher
  • Spell the Fruit/Vegetables
  • Toddler Toy

Commercial Software:

  • RJ Cooper: Rad Sounds, others
  • Judy Lynne Software: Cause Effect Cinema, Match It (not accessible with DJ switch interface!!)
  • Attainment Company: Grooming for Life
  • Laureate Learning: Nouns & Sounds

Talking Books

It's pretty easy to make switch accessible talking books Using Power Point or Clicker 4. I'll demonstrate one with Powerpoint.

  • PowerPoint
  • Clicker 4

The tutorials for making your own talking books are listed in your Resources Informational Websites list. A print copy of the tutorial for using Power Point is included in your handouts for the MIVI workshop.

Clicker 4

I'll show you some examples of what Clicker 4 does. It's got a great built in tutorial that will walk you through the steps of creating communication and choice grids. You can make simple choice making grids, communication grids, grids to write sentences and stories, and of course, talking books.

Alternative Computer Input

  • Switch Interfaces: discussed above
  • Touch Window
  • Big Keys Keyboard


Lots of you have access to Intellitools kits. The Intellitools keyboard comes with pre-made overlays, you can customize your own overlays and do a variety of activities appropriate to students of different age and ability levels. Here's some purchased packages. The presentation tomorrow on tech for MIVI students will cover Intellitools. See your handouts for the MIVI workshop for additional information.

Low Tech Communication Devices

See your resources list.

  • Talking switches, talking communication boards: not computers.
  • Ablenet
  • Big Mack (single message)
  • Step by step communicator
  • Adaptavation
  • Chipper (single message)
  • Sequencer (sequenced messages)
  • VoicePal communication device
  • Enabling Devices
  • Cheap talk (4 messages or more depending on device you purchase)
  • Communicator series
  • Communication builder series
  • Take n' talk series
  • Hip Talk series
  • Compartmentalized communicator series
  • Lots more!
  • Crestwood
  • Talk Back series

Computer Based Communication

There are more and more programs available that allow you to design and use a communication board that lives in a computer. These programs feature voice output, auditory and visual scanning of choices, and accessibility by touch screen, or switch. Our current favorites for kids with MIVI are Clicker 4 and Writing With Symbols. Both programs have all the above features, and have other capabilities as well. Both have good built in tutorials that guide the new user through a variety of activities. For an in-depth description of what Clicker 4 can do for our kids, see the handout in the MIVI section.

High Tech Augmentative Communication

These are actually small portable computers loaded with communication overlays and custom overlay software, and synthesized speech. You really need a speech pathologist who is a specialist in augmentative communication to advise if the child is ready for such a device, and what the best item is for the individual child involved. Usually pre-school aged kids are not developmentally ready, but not always. These devices take a lot of planning to use in the classroom, they take a lot of preparation time to build custom overlays appropriate for the user, and they take time for the adults to learn to use. They are what we aspire to, for some of our students. They are wonderful, complicated and expensive. Usually about $5000. Some are accessible for blind users, but those accessibility features add another level of skill the student who is the user has to attain. I have seen the use of these devices fail again and again. Most often the failure is due to the adults in the environment not believing in the device enough to learn to use it, plan activities around it and structure the environment so it is needed, functional and accessible. Sometimes the failure of the device is due to the child not yet having attained the skill level needed to access it. Sometimes devices are purchased for students for whom they are not appropriate because the adults believe technology can make anything possible. The user must have a good foundation of receptive and expressive language using no tech and lower tech devices before a high tech augmentative communication device is appropriate.