Assistive Technology Helps Improve the Lives of Those with Disabilities

Posted: December 10, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Hand-held KIDH device
Mason’s Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities has developed a new technology to help teachers collect and chart data on the progress of students with disabilities.
Photo by Nicolas Tan

By Catherine Ferraro

For a young person with a disability, keeping up with other students in the classroom can be frustrating and overwhelming. Michael Behrmann, professor of special education and director of the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities, has devoted his career to finding ways to aid these children and their teachers.

Behrmann, who is entering his 29th year at Mason, began his research in assistive technology in special education in 1981. His interest in technology integration has led him to apply for and receive numerous grants for training, technical assistance and research.

Michael Behrmann
Michael Behrmann
Photo by Evan Cantwell

As a result, Mason is home to one of the most established assistive technology training programs in the country.

Assistive technology enables children with severe learning and other disabilities to perform tasks they were unable to accomplish or had great difficulty doing by providing them alternative ways to complete these tasks.

AIM Virginia

As part of the College of Education and Human Development, the Kellar Institute combines Mason resources with those of local, state and national public- and private-sector agencies to develop products, services and programs that help children with disabilities.

One such program is the Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Virginia Project, which provides free accessible instructional materials to Virginia public schools. While federal government standards require that all children with disabilities related to printed materials have access to instructional materials, the Commonwealth of Virginia has broadened this initiative and established its own system for providing these materials to the estimated 70,000 children in Virginia with print disabilities.

AIM Virginia, headquartered at the Kellar Institute, operates as a library, loaning electronic copies of textbooks and supplemental materials to eligible children in public schools for free. Going beyond federal requirements, AIM Virginia also supplies electronic copies of other books or materials students may need.

For example, if a teacher needs an electronic copy of “The Red Badge of Courage,” he or she supplies AIM with a print copy of the book, which is then scanned and turned into Braille, large-print or any other format needed. A state-of-the-art scanner, capable of scanning up to 2,400 pages per hour, is housed at Mason and used by Behrmann and his team to produce these materials.

The Kellar Institute was selected for the AIM Virginia headquarters because Mason has provided similar services to its own student population for many years. Mason also has a collaborative relationship with the Virginia Department of Education and has the faculty, staff and students who can work on this project.

KIHD Handheld Data System

Another of Behrmann’s projects is the Kellar Instructional Handheld Data (KIHD) System, which allows teachers to electronically collect data on observable student behavior more accurately and conveniently.

The system can be used to observe children with any disability and is compatible with any browser-based device such as a computer, BlackBerry or cell phone. The data collected on KIHD Systems are automatically graphed for further analysis.

“The KIHD System will give teachers more time in the classroom for instruction, rather than using that time to record and graph the data they’ve collected,” says Behrmann.

The KIHD System may also play a major role in the development of the Response to Intervention (RTI) method, a program instituted by the U.S. Department of Education. RTI diagnoses learning disabilities and assists children who are not performing at the same rate as others.

For example, to determine the time a child needs to develop his or her reading skills, a teacher would give the child an extra 30 minutes three times a week. If the child did not improve after the intervention, the teacher would give the child an extra 45 minutes, five times a week. By charting the child’s progress using the KIHD System, teachers can determine whether educational or behavioral interventions are effective or need to be increased or decreased.

Children who do not respond to interventions are considered to have disabilities and in need of special education. Using the KIHD System can also help teachers ensure their students meet the testing standards set by the commonwealth.

The KIHD System also has potential outside the classroom. Zookeepers who track animal behavior or industrial psychologists who study assembly line behavior can benefit from the device, as well as others who measure observable behavior.

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