Five Top Technology Trends in Special Education (2023)

Fueled by technological advances, changing state policies, and a continued push from advocates, ed-tech companies and researchers are crafting new tools and strategies to better serve students with disabilities.

Underlying a range of new trends, experts say, is a growing recognition that designing learning resources from the beginning with students with disabilities in mind can benefit all students.

“Developers and [K-12] consumers are now very tuned in,” said Cynthia Curry, the director of the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning, more commonly known as the AEM Center. “They’re not only aware of the legal requirements but the societal shift around ensuring that all learners have the opportunities for advancement.”

Against that backdrop, Education Week canvassed the field for insights on new developments in the use of technology to support special education.

Some promising technologies, such as virtual reality, are still very much in the experimental stage.

Some segments of the K-12 sector, such as the burgeoning “Computer Science for All” movement, are hustling to make up for past oversights.

And some experts are sounding cautionary notes.

“Technology is great, but it can also diminish opportunities for slower mental processing that creates a foundation kids can build on over time,” said Sheldon Horowitz, a senior adviser at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “For kids who struggle by virtue of a learning disability or attentional disorder or some other challenge, that can present a double scoop of risk.”

Still, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. Here are five trends in the use of educational technology for special education that K-12 educators and policymakers should keep an eye on.

1. Greater Personalization

As a technology lover who is blind, Luis F. Pérez has long made use of assistive technologies and features such as screen readers (which “speak” the content that appears on a device) and high-contrast screen settings. But it’s frustrating and time-consuming to have to reset his preferences every time he starts fresh on a new computer or application.

Now, though, that’s changing.

“Profiles can now follow you as you log into different devices,” said Pérez, a technical-assistance specialist at the AEM Center. “It’s there for you when you need it.”

Leading the shift is Google, which has made huge inroads into K-12 with its web-based Chromebook devices and popular G Suite productivity tools.

Among the elements that Google touts in those products are a “select-to-speak” feature that allows users to highlight text and have it read back to them; Braille displays to read and edit documents, spreadsheets, and slides; and artificially intelligent tools for word prediction and translation that users can adopt via extensions to Google’s Chrome web browser.

All can be tied permanently to an individual user’s account.

This all means students using Chromebook can “log into any device running Chrome and enjoy the same accessibility settings and experience without having to go through another onerous set-up process,” said Naveen Viswanatha, the lead product manager for Chromebooks for Education.

2. Early Screening

Over the past 17 years, millions of schoolchildren have had their foundational reading skills assessed using a digital tool called mCLASS, developed by ed-tech company Amplify.

Recently, though, Amplify tweaked its software. In response to new legislation in more than a dozen states, the company added new measures into mCLASS that also screen for dyslexia.

“Early identification is key,” said Krista Curran, the general manager for assessment and intervention at the company. “Schools and districts across the country are now [required to] use observational assessments to aid in that. We help them do it more efficiently.”

It’s not just Amplify, and it isn’t just about dyslexia or just for schools.

Researchers such as Fumiko Hoeft of the University of California, San Francisco, and Nadine Gaab of Boston Children’s Hospital are leading efforts to develop new mobile early-screening apps that can be used at home and in health-care settings.

And a startup called Babynoggin is taking a similar tack, targeting pediatricians with a suite of mobile apps that can be used to screen children for delays in the development of motor skills, language, social-emotional abilities, and cognitive processing.

Such tools can be used to screen for risk factors but not to formally identify learning disabilities, which requires direct interaction with a trained professional.

And Babynoggin founder Jin Lee stressed that her company isn’t trying to reinvent existing, validated screening tools. Instead, Lee said, it’s about making the screening process more efficient and affordable for parents, doctors, and schools alike.

“A million kids are entering schools every year with undiagnosed developmental disabilities,” Lee said. “This is about making sure they don’t fall through the cracks.”

3. Virtual Reality

For students with autism, navigating a crowded school hallway or lining up in the cafeteria can be highly fraught.

Sean J. Smith believes that practice in a virtual-reality environment can help.

“We’ve taken the literature on effective ways to develop social competencies and skills in students with autism and learning disabilities, and we’ve created scenarios that can help children learn how to interact with these challenges in their environment,” said Smith, a professor of special education at the University of Kansas.

So far, Smith said, his team has developed more than 30 scenarios, spanning 10 virtual environments. When a student uses the tool, he or she interacts with avatars and is given choices about how to respond—then gets real-time reinforcement for appropriate behaviors and instruction on what he or she might do better.

Other examples of VR for students with disabilities include environments that promote mindfulness and allow users with motor disabilities to manipulate objects in ways they can’t in the physical world.

Most such work is still in the testing phase, experts caution. Some observers also have raised concerns that VR may trigger emotional and psychological distress and could have as-yet-unknown effects on brain development, especially in young children.

But the hope, said Smith, is that VR can bridge a new gap emerging in schools that increasingly expect students to demonstrate an aptitude for teamwork and collaboration.

“We don’t outright teach those skills, and so a lot of learners struggle,” he said. “VR offers a way of introducing that in an environment that feels realistic.”

4. Making Computer Science Accessible for All

More than 100 companies, universities, and nonprofit and advocacy organizations have signed a new “accessibility pledge” intended to make K-12 computer science education more inclusive.

Among the groups taking the most significant steps: Bootstrap, a research project based out of Brown University that develops computer science curricular modules to be used within schools’ existing math and physics classes.

One of Bootstrap’s goals is to make its user interfaces friendlier, including for students who are unable to use a computer mouse. Another is to incorporate a screen reader capable of reading the output of a program a user creates. The most ambitious is to create a “toolkit” that can be integrated with multiple programming languages, read code aloud, and also verbally describe the code’s structure and purpose—in multiple languages, at age-appropriate reading levels.

“The users we’ve worked with on this, some of whom are professional programmers, have said, ‘God, I wish I had this growing up. I wish I had this now,’” said Emmanuel Schanzer, Bootstrap’s founder and co-director.

For many of the pledge’s other signatories, embracing accessibility will mean more basic steps, such as putting captions on videos.

Pressure to take such steps is necessary, said Ruthe Farmer, whose title is chief evangelist at the nonprofit group CSforALL, which is behind the accessibility pledge. She said the K-12 computer science materials market developed so quickly that those disabilities were often an afterthought.

“It’s early enough that if we address this now, we can build a fully inclusive” movement, Farmer said.

5. Making ‘Open’ More Open

Schools’ embrace of free open educational resources, or OER, (which educators may use, adapt, and share as they see fit) has many potential benefits.

But Jose Blackorby, the senior director of research and development at CAST, a nonprofit that promotes the principles known as universal design for learning, says the OER movement also has an often-overlooked problem: The pdf is not our friend.

The commonly used electronic-file format for documents with text and graphics often doesn’t work well with screen readers. It generally doesn’t allow supportive and assistive features to be embedded. And pdfs are difficult to make searchable.

“If you’re presenting content using digital formats, you should have a lot more options on how to customize them for students with visual impairments, autism, and dyslexia,” Blackorby said. “But none of that works terribly well on pdfs.”

Now, though, CAST, through its Center on Inclusive Software for Learning, has a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs to tackle those problems. Blackorby described three main goals: Develop new authoring tools that would make it easy for OER creators to output their content in more adaptable formats, such as EPUB. Create a “preference discovery tool,” that enables students to learn what kind of customized, built-in digital learning supports work best for them. And build a new “OER player” that would make it easy for users to activate assistive supports such as text-to-speech when they open the files up on any device.

There will no doubt be obstacles, Blackorby said, including the “Wild West quality” of the current OER landscape.

But there’s reason to be excited.

“The marketplace is changing very fast,” he said. “But where it’s going to end up is anyone’s guess.”

Five Top Technology Trends in Special Education (1)
Benjamin Herold

Contributing Writer, Education Week

Benjamin Herold is a contributing writer covering learning environments and ed-tech issues for Education Week.

A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2018 edition of Education Week as Top 5 Technology Trends in Special Education


What are the trends in special education? ›

Some of the current trends in special education include increased inclusion in mainstream classrooms, differentiated instruction, personalized learning plans, use of assistive technologies, and a focus on social-emotional learning.

What are the five trends of education and technology in a sustainable future? ›

We address here the following changes: 1) changes in aims and objectives; 2) changes in educational ecologies; 3) changes in our conceptions of teaching and learning; 4) changes that specifically affect teachers; and 5) changes in governance.

How technology has changed special education? ›

The main benefits of technology in special education are: Personalized learning experience. Mobility impairment assistance. Address social anxiety and attention-based disorders.

What is the latest innovation in special education? ›

Personalization is another new trend in education. It allows special needs kids to set custom options just once. Content and other settings can be automatically altered based on actions they perform with their profiles.

What are the 5 factors that make special education special? ›

Answer and Explanation: The behavior, limited English proficiency, blind or visually impaired, communication needs or deaf or hard of hearing, and assistive technology are the five factors that IEP team must determine to make special education effective for the students with disabilities.

What is technology in special education? ›

Assistive technology is anything that helps students with special needs engage in basic tasks their peers can do without assistance. Both low-tech and high-tech devices can make a significant difference in ensuring lessons and activities are accessible to all students.

What are the 5 technologies that will change the future? ›

AI and machine learning are the foundation on which many other technologies are built. For instance, without AI, we wouldn't have achieved the amazing advances in the Internet of Things, virtual reality, chatbots, facial recognition, robotics, automation, or self-driving cars, just to name a few.

What are 5 emerging or current trends in information technology? ›

What are the emerging trends in information technology? In addition to the mentioned tech trends, computing power, big data analytics, extended reality, digital trust, new energy solutions, 5G, and sustainable tech are among the emerging technologies that will give you a competitive advantage.

What are the 5 essential areas of technology powered learning? ›

The NETP presents a model of 21st century learning powered by technology, with goals and recommendations in five essential areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity.

How does technology help individuals with disabilities? ›

Hardware and software tools–known as assistive technology– can aid in tasks such as reading and writing documents, communicating with others, and searching for information online.

How do students use technology in the classroom? ›

Ways to Incorporate Technology in the Elementary Classroom

Students can use interactive games to reinforce math, spelling, phonetic, and reading skills. Sites like Spelling Training permit students or teachers to upload their own word lists to practice word pronunciation and create interactive games.

What are the six 6 common examples of innovation in higher education? ›

Since administrators and professors are thinking about innovation, we've included examples for the course, program, and school.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) ...
  • 3D printing. ...
  • Flipped classrooms. ...
  • VR & Augmented Reality. ...
  • Virtual labs. ...
  • Social media. ...
  • Blended/hybrid learning.
Nov 10, 2022

What changes do you see for the future of special education? ›

According to Resilient Educator, new technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence will be at the center of technological advances in special education. Technological advances greatly increase educators' abilities to personalize learning.

What are the new innovative ideas? ›

  • Cloud Computing. The modern cloud of 2022 supports development, new applications, and provides robust infrastructure. ...
  • Immersive Experiences. ...
  • Blockchain Technology. ...
  • 5G. ...
  • Conversational Intelligence.
Feb 21, 2022

What are the seven C's of special education? ›

The seven skills are: • Collaboration • Communication • Creativity • Critical Thinking • Character • Citizenship • Computational Thinking If we believe our work as teachers is mainly to prepare students for successful futures, then we should give opportunities for students to strengthen these skills.

What are the six pillars of special education? ›

Key to the legislation are six pillars that ensure a child's education needs and progress are met with:
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP). ...
  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). ...
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). ...
  • Appropriate Evaluation. ...
  • Parent and Teacher Participation. ...
  • Procedural Safeguards.

What are the four major goals of special education? ›

The Four Goals of Early Childhood Special Education
  • Intellectual Development. Cognitive or intellectual development is one of the biggest goals of early childhood special education. ...
  • Physical Development. ...
  • Emotional Development. ...
  • Social Development.

How technology has helped autism? ›

Benefits of Technology for Kids With Autism

Touchscreens are much more accessible to those with Autism than a keyboard. Tapping and sliding motions are easier than typing on a keyboard. Using tablets improve non verbal communication with others. Handwriting is a challenging motor skill for Autistic children.

What is educational technology in technology for teaching and learning? ›

Educational Technology is the field of study that investigates the process of analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating the instructional environment, learning materials, learners, and the learning process in order to improve teaching and learning.

What makes a technology and assistive technology for students with disabilities? ›

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines assistive technology devices as items, equipment, or systems that serve to “… increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.”

What technology has changed the most? ›

10 Technologies That Changed The World
  • The Wheel. It's pretty hard to argue that the wheel isn't one of the biggest engineering marvels the world has ever seen. ...
  • Electricity (Battery) ...
  • Automobile. ...
  • Lightbulb. ...
  • Transistors. ...
  • The refrigerator. ...
  • Television. ...
  • The Computer.
Apr 12, 2022

What are the top future trends in technology by 2030? ›

Artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) are among the key technologies that will underpin the delivery of education in 2030.

What are examples of technology? ›

6 common types of technology
  • Television. Television sets transmit signals over which we can listen to and view audio and visual content. ...
  • Internet. ...
  • Cell phones. ...
  • Computers. ...
  • Circuitry. ...
  • Artificial intelligence. ...
  • Software. ...
  • Audio and visual technology.
Mar 10, 2023

What are 5 examples of emerging technologies? ›

In this article, we will discuss the top five emerging technologies for 2023 and their use cases: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML); Blockchain and Web3 technology; Intelligent automation and robotic process automation (RPA);

What are 3 emerging trends in technology? ›

Artificial Intelligence (AI) for development. IoT technologies, infrastructure and applications (smart societies) Blockchain technologies, infrastructure and applications. 5G.

What are the five 5 characteristics of emerging technology? ›

The resulting definition identifies five attributes that feature in the emergence of novel technologies. These are: (i) radical novelty, (ii) relatively fast growth, (iii) coherence, (iv) prominent impact, and (v) uncertainty and ambiguity.

What are the 4 C's education technology? ›

The four C's of 21st Century skills are:

Critical thinking. Creativity. Collaboration. Communication.

What are the 4 pillars of education technology? ›

He calls these processes the “four pillars of learning,” which are attention, active engagement, error feedback, and consolidation.

What are the three 3 educational technology domains? ›

It is hence important for teachers to ensure that the three (3) domains of learning which include cognitive (thinking), affective (emotions or feeling) and Psychomotor (Physical or kinesthetic) to be achieved.

What type of technology helps people with disabilities? ›

Assistive technology, also called AT, refers to assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices designed for people with disabilities and the elderly. These groups of people encounter difficulties in activities of daily living. They may need assistance to bathe, dress, eat or get around.

Which type of technology is used for people with disabilities? ›

Assistive technologies (ATs) are designed to improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. Some are relatively low-tech and very familiar, such as such as reading glasses, crutches and hearing aids.

What are two examples of assistive technology helps people with disabilities? ›

Examples include:
  • magnifiers,
  • talking devices such as a talking thermostat,
  • Braille displays,
  • screen reading software,
  • text-to-speech systems using Optical Character Recognition (OCR),
  • large print materials, and.
  • phones with large tactile buttons.

What are the benefits of using technology for children? ›

Interactive websites and games help children learn to solve problems as they work their way through the challenges presented to get to the next level. Even simply using the devices makes them more adept at this, learning how to solve problems like programs not working correctly or connection issues.

What are the new technologies used in schools? ›

Schools are incorporating emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality, into the classroom. The aim is to enable more innovative and engaging teaching methods and learning experiences.

What are the 5 innovation strategy? ›

Five critical elements lie at the core of any successful innovation strategy: Innovation Culture, Leadership Buy-In, Enable Team Members, Reward and Recognize, and Defined Metrics and KPIs. These concepts are imperative to achieving results and maintaining a scalable, sustainable innovation model.

What are the 4 types of innovation with examples? ›

The four types of innovation
  • Sustaining, or incremental innovation. “Sustaining innovation” initially seems like an oxymoron. ...
  • Breakthrough innovation. We've spoken about how the current smartphone market is an example of sustained innovation. ...
  • Disruptive innovation. ...
  • Basic research.
Nov 7, 2022

What is a current trend in special education? ›

Some of the current trends in special education include increased inclusion in mainstream classrooms, differentiated instruction, personalized learning plans, use of assistive technologies, and a focus on social-emotional learning.

What are the 3 important components that make up special education? ›

That's three separate, distinct, and critical elements–special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services–and each is worthy of a book on its own. Don't worry!

What are three innovative ideas? ›

Below are 10 examples of innovations that are turning problems into progress.
  • A bag that slow cooks food. (Photo: WIPO) ...
  • Bottle light bulbs. (Photo: Liter of Light) ...
  • Energy-producing roads. ...
  • 1 dollar microscope. ...
  • Medical drones. ...
  • Mobile water safety check. ...
  • Solar rechargeable hearing aids. ...
  • Wearable breast cancer detector.

What is the next big technology? ›

Augmented Reality

Look at the current trends and we can foresee the future of technology becoming increasingly interconnected and automated. The next big thing in technology is leaning toward augmented reality, as this technology will enable people to view and interact with the physical world in completely new ways.

What are the three types of innovative? ›

Essentially, there are three types of innovation: product innovation, process innovation and business model innovation. These types of innovation can include breakthrough innovation (very rare) or incremental innovation(much more common).

What does the future of special education look like? ›

According to Resilient Educator, new technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence will be at the center of technological advances in special education. Technological advances greatly increase educators' abilities to personalize learning.

What is a trend in early childhood education? ›

1) Mindfulness. 2) Nature-based Early Childhood Education. 3) Social Emotional Learning. 4) Technology-Based Learning. 5) STEM/STEAM Education in ECE.

What is the future outlook for a special education teacher? ›

Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. About 37,600 openings for special education teachers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

What is the role of special education in modern classrooms? ›

Special education and general education teachers often work together to develop a curriculum and create a positive student culture. In an inclusive classroom, special education teachers have the essential role of ensuring that students with disabilities or special needs receive a quality education.

What is learning differences and the future of special education? ›

The Initiative on Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education is an interdisciplinary research, training, and policy effort focused on improving the lives of millions of children worldwide with diverse learning needs.

In what ways has special education been most successful? ›

Special-education has been successful in providing a least restrictive environmental education for individuals with disabilities. The IDEA's Federal expectations, have effectively increased educational instruction for students with disabilities.

What is a developmental trend? ›

The patterns that emerge at different ages are developmental trends. It's important to remember that developmental trends simply provide a reference point, and may not necessarily apply to all children and youth, especially children and youth with mental and/or physical disabilities.

What is trend analysis in education? ›

Trend analysis is the method of collecting data and identifying a pattern or trend (upward or downward shift) in the data.

Why do so many special education teachers quit? ›

Lack of support from administrators and colleagues. Large caseloads. Non-teaching responsibilities (e.g., excessive paperwork) Student behavior.

Where do sped teachers get paid most? ›

Maryland has the highest special education teacher salary of $76,282. Mississippi has the lowest special education teacher salary of $38,081. The national average salary for special education teachers is $54,290.

What are the four goals of special education? ›

The framework regards academic goals as the means for achieving other outcomes, namely the four outcomes that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) declared: equality of opportunity, full par- ticipation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

What are the three models of special education? ›

There are six main types of special education within most public-school settings.
  • Push-in Services. ...
  • Pull-out Services. ...
  • Inclusive Classrooms. ...
  • Exclusive Education. ...
  • Specialty Schools. ...
  • Residential Programs.
Jul 24, 2018


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Stevie Stamm

Last Updated: 06/12/2023

Views: 6003

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Stevie Stamm

Birthday: 1996-06-22

Address: Apt. 419 4200 Sipes Estate, East Delmerview, WY 05617

Phone: +342332224300

Job: Future Advertising Analyst

Hobby: Leather crafting, Puzzles, Leather crafting, scrapbook, Urban exploration, Cabaret, Skateboarding

Introduction: My name is Stevie Stamm, I am a colorful, sparkling, splendid, vast, open, hilarious, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.