Supporting Student Learning

Information Literacy and Assistive Technology Devices

Educational Psychology

Helen Notley Ruff

May 3, 2015

What is Information Literacy?

Most definitions center on the basic communication competencies of accessing, analyzing, evaluating, and communicating information. More specifically, a Presidential Committee described an information literate individual as someone who is able to:

  • Determine the extent of information needed;
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently;
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically;
  • Incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base and;
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose (American Library Association, 1989).

Included in these simple steps are opportunities for students to develop specific skills like learning to synthesize and evaluate complex thoughts and ideas. Students are exposed to an abundance of information on a daily basis. As a result, they must develop information literacy skills in order to function in society. As educators, we have a responsibility to use our resources to ensure that all of our students become information literate, and in turn, prepare them for success in today's information rich environments.

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Information Literacy and students with physical and learning disabilities

Information literacy instruction is a national education priority and incorporated into many school system's curricula. In particular, the Maryland School Library Media State Curriculum includes specific guidelines for information literacy instruction. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, specifies that students with disabilities must have access to the same curricula as their peers receiving regular education instruction. According to Erickson, Hatch, and Clendon (2010), students who are at greater risk for literacy-learning difficulties must have access to research-based instruction that will support their reading and writing development. Students with learning disabilities are at greater risk of not acquiring the literacy skills needed to ensure their success as life-long learners. As stated earlier, information literacy is not only important for student's learning experiences today, but they provide the necessary skills which will guide their learning as they move into adulthood.
As defined by the IDEA (2004), an assistive technology (AT) device is "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability". [Part A, Sec. 602(1)]. The law also defines AT services as "any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition. or use of an assistive technology device." Such AT devices serve two major purposes; 1) to increase an individual's strengths, and 2) to provide an alternative mode of performing a task. Consequently, the use of such technology devices allows students with disabilities to perform tasks effectively and successfully.

  • For students with learning disabilities (LD), technology can be an assistive tool replacing an ability that is either missing or impaired. It provides the support needed to accomplish a task. For example, word processing assists students with LD in improving writing. Computers offer other support to motivate reluctant writers to write by facilitating motor actions, providing spelling assistance, helping with revising and editing, and producing a document that is neat and legible.

  • AT for students with LD is defined as any device, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for an individual's specific learning deficits. AT does not cure or eliminate learning difficulties, but it can help students reach their potential because by allowing them to capitalize on strengths and bypass areas of difficulty. For example, a student who struggles with reading but who has good listening skills might benefit from listening to audio books.

  • In general, AT compensates for a student's skills deficits or area(s) of disability. In fact, research has shown that AT can improve certain skill deficits. For example such literacy skill as reading and spelling.

  • AT can increase a child's self-reliance and sense of independence. Students who struggle in school are often overly dependent on parents, siblings, friends and teachers for help with assignments. By using AT, students can experience success while working independently.

Image source: Montgomery County Public Schools, High Incidence Accessible Technology

Assistive technology can address many types of learning difficulties. A student who has difficulty writing can compose a school report by dictating it and having it converted to text by special software. A child who struggles with math can use a hand-held calculator to keep score while playing a game with a friend. There are AT tools to help students who struggle with the following:

  • Listening-Certain AT tools can help students who have difficulty processing and remembering spoken language. Such devices can be used in various settings (e.g., a class lesson, participating in group work, or observing a peer's presentation).

  • Organization and memory-AT tools can help a person plan, organize, and keep track of his calendar, schedule, task list, contact information, and miscellaneous notes. These tools allow him to manage, store, and retrieve such information with the help of special software and hand-held devices.

  • Reading-There is a wide range of AT tools available to help individuals who struggle with reading. While each type of tool works a little differently, all of these tools help by presenting text as speech. These tools help facilitate decoding, reading fluency, and comprehension.

  • Writing-There is a wide range of AT tools available to help students who struggle with writing. Some of these tools help students circumvent the actual physical task of writing, while others facilitate proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage, and organization. (Stanberry & Raskind, 2009)
Images source: Montgomery County Public Schools, High Incidence Accessible Technology,

Types of assistive technology devices

Whatever the means, students with physical and learning disabilities who are developing information literacy skills must have opportunities to engage in the same type of explorations of reading and writing that their typically developing peers receive (Erickson et al., 2010). For the most part, AT devices can be broken down into two categories; low-tech AT or high-tech AT. The following are some examples of each developed from information found at the High Incidence Accessible Technology (HIAT) web site.

Low-tech AT

  • Enlarged print-text magnified via copy machine
  • Notes
  • Magnifier bars
  • To do lists
  • Watch/timer
  • Highlighter
  • Hard copies of notes provided by the instructor or other student
  • Outlines, double spaced, with keywords provided by the teacher or note taker
  • Printed materials double-spaced and with larger print
  • Tape recorders
  • Calculators with voice synthesizer
  • Recorded books with accompanying books
  • Sentence template cards to isolate one line at a time
  • Word walls or words commonly misspelled on cards
  • Print dictionaries

High-tech AT

  • Laptop computer for note taking
  • Electronic spelling masters or dictionary with voice output
  • Online reference material with text to speech capability
  • Word prediction software
  • Outline reading websites and subscription software
  • Reading and scanning software
  • Voice recognition software
  • Electronic reading pens to read single word
  • Books on CD/Electronic book
  • Leveled text paired with text readers
  • Text converted using virtual printer
  • Writing software that cues misspellings
  • Automatic correction features in word processors
  • Spell checking tools on computers
  • Electronic text to speech dictionaries

*Please note: the lists are not exhaustive; they simply serve as an example of what technology is available to help facilitate information literacy skills instruction.

Evaluating Assistive Technology Devices

Clearly, AT devices help to support information literacy skills instruction for students with disabilities. The process of selecting and implementing AT in the classroom requires special consideration. According to Kings-Sears, Swanson, and Mainzer, not every AT device will be appropriate for every student. Educators must determine what is best for their student's particular need. The HIAT team of Montgomery County Public Schools has developed a framework for considering AT devices for students with disabilities. Additionally, each AT device should be evaluated for its appropriateness in meeting the individual task as well as the specific needs of the individual student.

  • Determine the individual Student's abilities and needs.
  • Determine the Environment in which the student needs help.
  • Determine if the Tasks are difficult for the student to accomplish.
  • Identify the Tools that may be useful for accomplishing the identified task.


American Library Association. (1989). Presidential committee on information literacy: Final report. Retrieved from

Erickson, K.A., Hatch, P., & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, assistive technology, and students with significant disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(5), 1-16.

King-Sears, M.E., Swanson, C., & Mainzer, L. (2011). Technology and literacy for

adolescents with disabilities. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. 54(8), 569-578.

Maryland State Department of Education. (October 2010). School library media state curriculum prek-12 [PDF]. Retrieved from

Montgomery County Public Schools. (2015). High Incidence Accessible Technology. Accessed at:

Stanberry, K. & Raskin, M.H. (2009). Assistive technology for kids with learning disabilities: An overview. WETA Public Broadcasting. Retrieved from


U.S. Department of Education. (2004). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Accessed April 20, 2015