In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Portable Technology for Special Education

  • Introduction
  • Organizations and Centers

Education Portable Technology for Special Education
Lesley Farmer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0143


Learners with disabilities are often disadvantaged in educational settings. Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) lists fourteen disabilities for which a student is eligible for special education services: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, and multiple disabilities. Services include individualized education programs consisting of assessments, interventions, and other related services. Technologies help level the learning playing field, as they can facilitate the person’s functional academic and social capabilities, be it in school or as an active participant in society. Particularly as technological options have increased, there is a greater possibility of matching the technology with the learning need. Thus, the intersection of assistive technology, portable devices, disabilities, K–16, and special education results in the needed topic of portable technologies for special education. As such, this article addresses portable technology tools, and to some extent their software, as they apply to learners ages three to twenty-one within special education programs and to the teachers of these aforementioned learners. In addition, the geographic scope is largely the United States, with some nods to Canada and Australia. It should be noted that the research findings in the United States and Canada largely overlap. The term “portable” technology has changed its characteristics over the last generation. The first so-called portable computers, for instance, were the size of a suitcase, heavy, and difficult to lift and carry. In today’s lingo, portable technology usually implies a standalone device that may be carried easily in one hand, such as a cell phone, small audio or video player, signal device, or laptop computer. Sometimes the terms “mobile” or “handheld” are used instead of “portable.” In educational circles, the term “mobile learning” or “m-learning” refers to learning activities in which the learner actively incorporates these portable or mobile devices. Therefore, for the purposes of this bibliography, computer peripherals, wheelchairs, and other appliances (such as cochlear implants) are excluded. The article emphasizes fundamental texts and scholarly research from the early 21st century. It should be noted that various usage studies constitute the majority of citations. Rigorous assessment concerning the impact of portable technologies on student success is uneven, and in particular, post-secondary assessment of special education services using portable technologies is limited. Legislative history, often best archived on websites, provides legal context. Although many valuable organizations discuss portable technologies for special education, generally only research-centric ones are included in this bibliography; other resources in the bibliography, such as Grey House Publishing, do list relevant organizations on their websites.


No single monograph specifically addresses portable technologies for special education. Not only do the technologies vary in features and use, but the variety and extent of disabilities preclude an exhaustive and inclusive single work. However, several publications do provide valuable contexts for this topic. Complete Directory for People with Diabilities provides the most extensive and current directories in this field, listing products and services by disability category. Wendt, et al. 2011 provides a good overview of assistive technology. Georgia Department of Education 2012 is a comprehensive manual for special education and a model of a state effort to provide effective services. Green 2011 is a practical guide that focuses on ways that assistive technology can improve literacy skills for youth with disabilities. Research on this topic is uneven at best. Research literature on this topic tends to focus on available tools and their usage but does not systematically assess the effectiveness of that usage. Most studies use a limited population, such as one class or a few individuals. K–12 students comprise the vast majority of study subjects, with post-secondary students being under-assessed. In addition, even in small studies, many researchers investigate special education classes that include a variety of disabilities. Lancioni and Singh 2014 provides the broadest literature review about available types of assistive technology and their evaluation, impact, and associated issues. Current research about assistive technology in K–12 settings is represented in DaCosta 2014, and fairly recent trends in technology incorporation in special education are synthesized by Liu, et al. 2013. Edyburn 2013 recommends a research agenda based on his examination of the emerging special education technology knowledge base.

  • Complete directory for people with disabilities. 2014. Amenia, NY: Grey House.

    At over a thousand pages long, this directory lists current products and services, including agencies and organizations, for people of all ages with different disabilities. Other Grey House reference tools address specific topics such as learning disabilities and special education policy and curriculum development.

  • DaCosta, B., ed. 2014. Assistive technology research, practice, and theory. Hersey, PA: IGI Global.

    DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5015-2

    Seventeen contributed chapters addressed interventions for students with cognitive and motor disabilities. Chapters are arranged thematically into three sections: theories, concepts, and laws; devices and software; and implementation.

  • Edyburn, D. 2013. Critical issues in advancing the special education technology evidence base. Exceptional Children 80.1: 7–24.

    The author analyzed the research and practice in special education technology in terms of theory, innovation, and policy to recommend research issues to advance the evidence base.

  • Georgia Department of Education. 2012. Special education rules implementation manual. Atlanta: Georgia Department of Education.

    This extensive manual provides a general overview and implementation guidelines for education and families. Arrangement is by general resources, and disability-specific resources, including organizations.

  • Green, J. 2011. The ultimate guide to assistive technology in special education: Resources for education, intervention, and rehabilitation. Waco, TX: Prufrock.

    Using a reader-friendly approach, expert Joan Green offers a practical guide for teachers and parents. Most of the volume suggests the use of technology to improve specific literacy skills.

  • Lancioni, G., and N. Singh, eds. 2014. Assistive technologies for people with diverse abilities. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4899-8029-8

    Each of the ten chapters in this book review the literature about devices and their impact for a specific disability.

  • Liu, G., N. Wu, and Y. Chen. 2013. Identifying emerging trends for implementing learning technology in special education: A state-of-the-art review of selected articles published in 2008–2012. Research in developmental disabilities 34.10: 3618–3628.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.ridd.2013.07.007

    This literature review analyzed trends over four years of incorporating learning technology in special education.

  • Wendt, O., R. Quist, and L. Lloyd, eds. 2011. Assistive technology: Principles and applications for communication disorders and special education. Bingsley, UK: Emerald Group.

    This text provides a good overview of assistive technology (AT). It includes fifteen chapters, mainly by US academics who addressed AT’s historical and legal aspects, AT to support specific disabilities, evaluation and use of AT, and administrative issues.

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