Assistive Technology Empowering Students

RE - Assistive Technology Empowering Students

Stepping Into the Future: How Assistive Technology is Transforming Teaching Students with Disabilities

When considering technology, the first thing that comes to mind might not be the assistive tools used in classrooms, but these innovative instruments are revolutionizing the way teachers conduct their classroom business, especially Special Education classrooms. With a variety of different apps, organizers, and special technologies, students with disabilities and their families can rest assured that teachers have a large group of resources at their disposal.


Consider the Academy of Whole Learning, a K-12, private Minnesota school for students with learning disabilities including Autism. The academy introduced virtual reality technology to their classrooms, which is just one example of the many assistive technologies teachers can implement in their teaching. According to Kade Dreschler, a teacher at the Academy of Whole Learning, the immersive VR experience was a wonderful experience for the students. Using the VR technology, the students were able to block out classroom distractions and focus on the environment on the screen in front of them, leading to improvements in their social and friendship experiences. These technologies, too, are helpful for students with a range of disabilities, including those who are blind or visually compared, those who are deaf or hard of hearing, or those with other learning, cognitive, or developmental disabilities.


The types of assistive technology used by teachers is incredibly varied, especially depending on their students’ disabilities. For students who are visually compared, have dyslexia, or are blind, teachers can use text-to-speech technology to allow these students to listen to things on a printed page. It works by scanning words on a page and reading them allowed in a robotic voice, allowing students who cannot easily read to still enjoy the text!


Perhaps a lesser-known type of assistive technology is called the sip-and-puff system and works to assist students and people with paralysis or other motor skill difficulties. Using this system, students can use a joystick in order to control their technological applications, moving the cursor with their heads and clicking with a sip or puff. While this system is new and still needs some refinement, it has already become a pivotal part of special education classrooms.


Clearly, assistive technologies for students with disabilities are quickly becoming a necessity. With the emergence of these technologies, and the tireless plight of teachers to teach their students to the best of their ability, it’s safe to say that students with disabilities are in good educational hands.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.


RE - Music Therapy for Children with Special Needs

Modern research has been demonstrating many positive effects of music for children with special needs. Some therapists are specially trained in utilizing these tools to help their clients increase focus, regulate emotions, increase social abilities, and improve motor skills.


Benefits of music


Improved social interaction


Music therapy or music classes often include collaboration and exchanging instruments and melodies. This type of interaction can be beneficial for children trying to improve social skills. It can also provide positive self-expression and encourage experiences that improve self-worth. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, musical therapy and group music lessons have been shown to produce more diverse emotional expression and social interaction than similar experiences that were non-musical.


Benefits for emotional regulation


For students with ADD or ADHD, music can alleviate symptoms like loss of attention and difficult impulse control. In addition, music has been shown to reduce stress levels which can be a significant factor for many students with special needs.


Sensory-motor skills


Any kind of music creation includes precise movements coordinated with accurate listening. These activities can promote motor skills and sensory-motor coordination. In addition, music can have significant benefits for people with cerebral palsy including reduced muscular tension and increased alertness and dexterity.


Musical therapy types


Music education


While not formally a type of musical therapy, music education can have many of the above-listed benefits. Musical education comes in two main forms: one-on-one music lessons and music classes in a group. Music lessons tend to be focused on teaching musical skills with an instrument and may provide fewer therapeutic benefits than other options. Music classes are offered at most public or private schools as well as many non-profits. These classes can have many social benefits but tend to have less quality musical instruction than one-on-one lessons and may have less therapeutic benefits than working with someone specially trained in the field.


Musical therapists


Musical therapists are specially trained in musical interventions with demonstrated therapeutic benefits. They can work with you to identify specific objectives for your child and develop a plan to achieve those results. They often work with school systems or other childcare programs or in client homes.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Pros and Cons of Remote Learning for Special Needs Students

RE - Pros and Cons of Remote Learning for Special Needs Students

Remote learning can be helpful for some kids with sensory issues, health issues or social challenges. Such students may be more comfortable relating to their classmates and teachers via the internet than in person.


One of the big pros of remote learning is having control over the learner’s environment. This can be especially helpful for special-needs students. However, it also implicitly assumes that there is a certain level of material wealth and family cooperation. This isn’t always the case.


In fact, families with special-needs members tend to be financially stressed. The very existence of special needs tends to simultaneously create high expenses while impairing family earning capacity.


One way to mitigate such issues is to arm oneself with information. On the upside, the internet is a great place to find lists of tips for just about any personal challenge you may be facing in life.


Families can learn better methods to accommodate each other’s needs while sharing the same space. Parents can take it upon themselves to make it a priority to find low-cost methods to make this work better for all parties.


Remote learning inherently involves a certain amount of screen time. Especially for younger kids, there is always the worry that they will be getting too much screen time.


If the student in question is a child and is doing remote learning through a public school, there may be little that can be done to mitigate this issue. However, in many situations, this can be mitigated by using printed books, hands-on learning, and other activities to supplement computer-based learning.


Remote learning tends to go over better when it was freely chosen as an option. Currently, this is not the case for a great many students. It was thrust upon them and people are having trouble adapting.


It can help to keep in mind that everyone needs time to adjust to new situations, especially when it was introduced suddenly and without warning. All the lead-up time one normally gets to think about it and make small changes in anticipation has been skipped.


Human beings are quick to focus on the negative. This can be protective, but can also lead to a bad attitude. Looking for the pros is the antidote.


This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Work From Home Opportunities for People With Disabilities

RE - Work From Home Opportunities for People

With the outbreak of the novel Covid-19 coronavirus, more people than ever are working from home. This provides more opportunities for the disabled if they can find jobs that fit their skill levels and capabilities. With that in mind, the following are some jobs that disabled people can work from the comfort of their homes.


Customer Service

Anyone, including the disabled, can be successful working from home with the proper accommodations and equipment, according to USA Today. For a customer service job, disabled applicants will need a computer, internet connection and a phone. Customer service jobs usually entail answering incoming calls from people who have questions or need to resolve issues. Some customer service representatives also take orders over the phone. A few companies that hire customer service reps to work from home include Amazon, Apple, Working Solutions, and LiveOps, according to FlexJobs.


Technical Support

Any disabled person who has expertise with computers, software, or other technical issues can work a technical support job from home. To find these jobs, it’s best to see if some of the larger companies, like Amazon, hire people in the local area for technical support. Disabled workers can also try calling the local cable company.


Telecommute on Present Job

When a disabled person has a job but needs more suitable accommodations, he or she can ask his or her boss to work from home. That’s because telecommuting is a reasonable request under the American Disabilities Act. The best way to initiate this type of move is to talk with both a superior and the human resources department. This better ensures a disabled individual is following the proper communication channels.


Become a Freelancer

Today’s disabled folks have a wide variety of skills, which can easily be converted into freelancing careers. The types of jobs that can be done on a freelancing basis include writing, graphic design, bookkeeping, teaching, tutoring, and even virtual assistant. One way to find these jobs is to conduct an online search. There are also some sites that cater to freelancers, including Fiverr, Upwork, Guru, and Moonlighting. Linked-In may also have some freelance opportunities available for those who are qualified.


The key to being successful as a work-at-home disabled person is to select the right type of job. This means a job for which the individual has the proper skills and education. The disabled person should also have a penchant for what he or she is doing. From there, the individual just needs to work hard and become indispensable.


This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

The Importance of Adaptive Clothing

RE - The Importance of Adaptive Clothing

Disabled representation in the fashion industry has been practically non-existent until now. Despite the fact they comprise the third-largest market segment in America, people with disabilities are largely excluded from contemporary fashion design.


In order to make daily tasks easier, disabled clothing should feature “adaptive” features such as magnetic closures in place of traditional buttons and snaps. Allowing neurodivergent people to access modern clothing does far more than simply expand their fashion options – it opens the door for greater inclusivity that bridges the gap between “accommodation” and universal acceptance.


Innovating adaptive clothing will not only profit companies but better society as a whole. A brand’s reputation will naturally begin to evolve as it begins to incorporate adaptive design into its apparel; people will become more accustomed to adaptive fashion, and those with disabilities will no longer have to feel excluded from something as basic as personal style because of their condition.




People with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other neurodivergent conditions are often impacted by other health conditions that can make contemporary clothing inaccessible. Those who wear diapers have a hard time fitting into traditional form-fitting garments, and many special needs people have heightened sensory sensitivity that can make typical styles extremely uncomfortable and distressing to wear.


Target has become the first major retailer to begin selling adaptive clothing for people of all ages. The adaptive lines feature sensory-friendly and ease-of-dressing features while maintaining the look of the store’s typical clothes.


For too long, people with disabilities – either physical or intellectual – have been ignored by the mainstream. Rather than forcing them to tolerate products that do not meet their needs, it is instead the responsibility of designers to consider the diversity of the world’s population and expand their own mindset when it comes to the type of clothes they create.




Fashion and style are not concepts exclusive to neurotypical communities; everyone deserves the chance to express themselves through their clothing choices and feel confident about their appearance with respect to any of their limitations or special needs. Comfort is always something that has been regarded in the fashion world, but with the rise of adaptive clothing, it will begin to take on a new meaning.


As more fashion brands become aware of the need to serve the disabled population, a new era of style can begin to emerge, one that reflects the progressive nature of modern society.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Podcasts That Are Promoting Inclusivity

RE - Podcasts That Are Promoting Inclusivity

If you think the world of podcasts is all true crime and political commentary, think again. Among the millions of podcasts available that promise to entertain and educate, listeners will find various podcasts, including the following, that tackle the complex, inspiring, and sometimes difficult topic of disabled life in an inclusive way.




Liz Malone started AccessPoint without focusing on a target demographic. Instead, she focuses on her message that disability should be spoken of in an open and honest way. Malone relies on her experience as a legally-blind woman as she interviews guests from the disabled community through eight episodes. Malone promises not just to entertain or educate the listener but to make them feel. Those who cannot get enough of Malone can also check out her longterm podcast Breaking Dishes.


Disability Visibility


Part of The Disability Visibility Project, this podcast gives listeners a view of life through a disabled lens. Every week, host Alice Wong and her wide array of guests discuss culture, politics, and media as they pertain to disability. Wong’s drive to be intersectional ensures she speaks to people of color, making this one of the most inclusive podcasts around.


Special Parents Confidential


Parents of disabled children of any age might find this podcast to be especially useful. John Pellegrini started this podcast as a parent of a disabled child himself with the hopes that he could reach out to others like himself and show that everyone is in this together. Pellegrini, who has a background in radio production, struggled to connect with others through in-person support groups during the process of having his son diagnosed, talks with experts on the Special Parents Confidential. The show both provides an outlet for him to express his thoughts and feelings while creating a sense of community through the Internet.


Disability After Dark


This podcast diverges from the content of others, but it’s wonderful to listen for those who want inclusivity and sex-positivity in their podcasts! Host Andrew Gurza is a Disability Awareness Consultant and speaks to listeners as a disabled gay man. Gurza aims to bring sexuality out of the shadows, especially when it pertains to a disability, and the podcast touches on all facets of sexuality.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Teaching Students with Disabilities

RE - Teaching Students with Disabilities

Every type of teacher plays a crucial role in their students’ lives and should consider it an opportunity to instruct all different types of people. When working with children with disabilities, there is a unique set of challenges that come with the job. It might be worthwhile to learn about certain accommodations and modifications that can be used to make things smoother and more understood all-around.


Please always keep in mind that the differences and discrepancies in learning or general comprehension between students are not indicators of overall intelligence. People have various types of strengths that aren’t always adequately measured by the standardized testing process and the general public school grading system. Every student has a unique learning potential, and a teacher’s job is to find the best way to communicate individually.


In general, here are a few overall tips that are helpful for all teachers having the opportunity to educate children with disabilities:

  • Provide Oral Instructions.
    Written instructions may be difficult to understand in some cases and can lead to difficulty. Oral instructions are easier for those who have low reading comprehension.
  • Give Frequent and Specific Feedback.
    Students with disabilities respond well to feedback and progress checks. Check-in and let them know how they are doing with specific praise. Instead of general “good work” comments, try to make them apply directly to the activities at hand, such as: “Good work following instructions and placing all the green tiles together.”
  • Keep Activities and Lessons Short and Concise.
    It can be frustrating for students with disabilities to follow along through multiple levels of instructions and actions. Take breaks when needed by following their cues.
  • Keep it Simple.
    Refrain from using abstract examples and terms. Keep concepts literal whenever possible. When in doubt, focus on the senses, and bring it back to things they can see, touch, hear, smell or taste.
  • Plan for Cooperative Activities.
    Students with disabilities, and in fact all students, benefit from practicing activities where everyone comes together for a common goal or outcome.

There are lots of resources online and via the Education Department to gather, learn and utilize even more tips and strategies for your classroom. Good luck, and happy teaching!

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Tips on At-Home Learning for Parents of Kids With Special Needs

RE - Tips on At-Home Learning for Parents of Kid with Special Needs

Millions of students and parents are now faced with the task of home-schooling. Schools around the country have closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While many students will continue doing their normal schoolwork, some will face bigger challenges.


Children with special needs are going to face more challenges than most. Their needs are varied, from being visually impaired to being on the autism spectrum disorder. Most of these students have a very specific education plan in place, called individual education plans (IEP), to help them learn and keep up with their peers. Even with at-home learning in place, schools are still legally required to continue providing special needs children with the services they require. Just keep in mind that how these services are implemented will change.


  1. Keep a consistent schedule. Many special needs children have difficulties with change. They like consistency and thrive with a solid routine. Parents should set an at-home schooling schedule and stick with it. This can be anything from a simple start and stop time for schoolwork to having a detailed schedule that gives each subject and activity their own timeframes.


  1. Communicate with child’s school specialists. While classroom teachers are always the first contact for parents, special education teachers, therapists, and other school professionals should be consulted about helping a special needs student. This team of specialists can put together a plan to keep the child’s education ongoing.


  1. Become familiar with online learning platforms. These platforms include services like Google Classroom and Class Dojo. Become familiar with whatever platform the school will be using. These platforms will allow students to send/receive assignments and reading material, communicate with teachers, and get instructions for projects. The more help a parent can give a special needs student, the better.


  1. What is the student’s learning style? Special needs students have varied learning styles. Some have no problems using digital platforms for school, while others need classroom material printed out. Parents should ask the child’s special education team how the child learns best. They’ll be able to give specific recommendations and help the parent tailor at-home schooling to the student’s preferences.


  1. Be flexible and patient. At-home schooling is new for both parents and teachers. Parents must be patient and know there will be some trial-and-error. Be prepared for teachers to change their methods if something isn’t working. Teachers and specialists are working hard to continue giving each student a quality education.


Parents with special needs children will face an uphill battle for the rest of the 2020 school year. But as time goes on and students fall into a routine, the challenge and pressure will ease. The key for parents is to take it one day at a time, even one hour at a time, if necessary.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

RE - Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

As modern Americans, we often struggle with our natural desire to do good in the world and the stark reality that we just don’t have the time. Between going to work and raising kids, it often feels like a half-hour of free time is the most we can expect out of a day. This means that, no matter how much we’d like to volunteer at the local soup kitchen or help out at an animal shelter, it simply isn’t a realistic option. Luckily for those of us in this situation, there is still a way to help out. Technology offers us the chance to volunteer right from our own homes. By engaging in virtual volunteering, you can make use of whatever time you have to make the world a better place and reap all the mental health benefits of counting yourself a caring member of the global community.


From huge international charities to local food dispensaries, there are many non-profit organizations that could use whatever help you can provide from home. If you want to go macro with your contribution, check out the virtual volunteer program at the United Nations, which can put you in contact with smaller programs around the world. Your work for the UN can include anything from advocacy to translation.


With so many options out there, you can seek out the programs that seem perfect for you. If you are interested in disaster relief, look for opportunities with the Red Cross, which can often use help with social media updates and internet discussions during an emergency. If you are passionate about learning, reach out to the Smithsonian Institute and see if you can assist with documents or online entries.


If you have a personal story that ties you to some movement or cause, contact a relevant organization to see if they can use you for advocacy. Many groups need first-hand accounts of how their work impacts the community. If you are willing to share it, your story can be a powerful tool.


Many advocacy campaigns are also looking for people to contact politicians or government officials. If you are passionate about some issues, this is a great way to help out.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.

How Virtual Reality is Assisting Individual’s with Disabilities

Russ Ewell - Virtual Reality

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was launched in May of 2012. Ever since then, it’s been recognized on the third Thursday of May every year. Its purpose is to increase awareness about the digital options people with disabilities have. This is in hopes of generating innovative digital solutions to increase their ease of mobility. Virtual Reality (VR) technology has a strong potential for making learning easier for disabled men, women and children.


An Equal Playing Field


Distance learning is evolving at a rapid rate, and VR technology is the platform of choice for many educational companies. For example, ENGAGE is a virtual reality education and training platform that deeply immerses each student and teacher into their topic of study. The platform was built with the idea of helping the disabled learn just as effectively as those who are not disabled. In this platform, and similar ones, each student has an equal opportunity to learn and not feel hindered.


Navigating Virtual Worlds


For the physically challenged, a world of opportunities now exists to learn things they could have never learned before. VR technology is making it possible for those confined to wheelchairs to take their time learning how to get around their cities. They can now do this in a virtual world, while in the comfort of their living rooms. Or they can take part in sports activities that they never could have without VR technology. The wheelchair confined can learn about surfing sitting in their wheelchairs while standing up on their skateboards in the virtual world.


Increasing Attention Levels


Children, as well as adults with moderate to severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), can learn with the help of these VR platforms. The learning environments are so stimulating and engaging, those with ADHD tend to remain engaged throughout the lesson and retain more of what they have learned. The VR headsets also cover their frame of view, cutting out distractions from the physical world. Autistic children can learn how to connect with others socially with the help of VR environments specially created for their individual needs.

The fact that these VR applications can be used in familiar environments is an added plus. While most VR headsets are out of many people’s financial reach, more affordable options, such as Google Cardboard, are compatible with smartphones and are much more affordable.

This blog was originally published on Russ Ewell’s website.