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Assistive Technology (AT)


Technology provides all your students with options and choices. Technology can increase student independence and create classrooms that support the diverse learning needs of all students. The line between general digital technologies, such as iPads, and “assistive technologies” is becoming blurred. An increasing number of  tools meet the needs of more people. Consider how standard devices can support all students.

Use this guide to identify devices that may support your students and how and when to use them.


Specifically about
Also related to
Removing barriers to learning
Universal Design for Learning

Understanding assistive technology basics

Assistive technologies can include low technology solutions, such as hand-held magnifiers and high technology solutions, such as computer hardware and software or products such as specialised seating.

The definition of Assistive Technology.

Source: PACER Simon Technology Center (US)

Closed captioning available in player

Suggestions and resources

What is UDL?

Universal Design is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design”. Ron Mace, 1996

Universal Design for Learning is an approach to creating learning opportunities and environments “that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” CAST, 2010

What is UDL?
Differences between AT and UDL

An AT solution: An assistive technology tool is usually selected as an individualised solution to meet a specific need. For example, a student needs additional support in literacy and following a supervised trial, a laptop with a text-to-speech tool is selected as the best fit for the student.

A UDL solution: As many students have access to 1:1 devices, tools such as a text-to-speech can be made available to any students who would like to use it. Text-to-speech in a whole class context becomes a universal option to support learning: it becomes part of the UDL toolkit for students.

Differences between AT and UDL
Expressing learning (image)
Options to support learner preference

A UDL approach supports Daniel to learn and participate in a way that works best for him.  He prefers to plan on paper and then do his writing digitally.

Source: Enabling e-Learning

Expressing learning
Benefits of AT (NZ) (video)
Digital technologies to support learning

Wellington High School teacher, Ben Britton explains the supports provided by digital technologies that are available to all students to select as needed. For example, text-to-speech supports students who have difficulty reading or prefer to learn through listening.

Closed captioning available in player

Source: Enabling e-Learning (NZ)

Benefits of AT (NZ)

Resources and downloads

Assistive Technology Group

The Assistive Technology group in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) contains blog posts and discussions with product information on a range of resources from the Ministry of Education.

Building on a firm foundation: supporting students with 
more intensive support needs 
in UDL environments

In this article, Joy Zabala explores how intensive support needs also require individualised services. She uses the principles and practices of UDL.

Assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning: Two sides of the same coin

A research paper which explores the intersections of AT and UDL.

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Selecting and applying for assistive technologies

To identify the the technology best suited to your student, establish an assistive technology trial.

Evaluate the effectiveness of technologies against agreed success criteria developed with the student and wider team.

A student uses an iPad to increase access to whiteboard content. By taking a photograph of the whiteboard, the student can magnify the content to view it easily.

Source: Ministry of Education

Suggestions and resources


The Ministry of Education allocates devices which are over and above standard classroom equipment, to support students with special education needs. Students supported by any of the following special education services are eligible to apply for AT:

They must also be enrolled in a registered school (compulsory education) or formally exempted from school and aged between five and 19 years (or up to the end of the year in which they turn 21 if they have an individual agreement with the Ministry of Education (Section 9 special education agreement).

Who can apply for assistive technology – detailed information is on the Ministry of Education website.

Applying for AT

The Ministry of Education outline three steps in applying for AT

  1. Establish a collaborative team.
  2. Complete an assessment:
    • Clarify the purpose of the AT.
    • Gather information and assessment data.
    • Trial assistive technology and collect data.
  3. Submit your application.

Forms for assistive technology – downloadable forms including those for application, repairs, replacement, management, and review are on the Ministry of Education website.

Applying for AT

Resources and downloads

Assistive technology – assessment framework

An outline of the assistive technology evaluation process for schools created by the Ministry of Education.

Assistive Technology Service Pathway

This flowchart outlines the AT service pathway and provides a summary of the action points for those involved in AT services.

MoE expectations

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education requires schools to use the SETT Framework as the evidenced-based approach for selecting assistive technology. See the Assistive Technology assessment framework

Matching your student with assistive technology requires a team approach.

Using the SETT Framework, a team collects evidence of a student’s:

  • short- and long-term learning goals and tasks
  • progress and achievement within multiple learning environments.

The team trials and evaluates a range of tools to meet the student’s needs against agreed criteria.

Follow the steps on the Ministry's website to apply for AT.

MoE expectations
Explaining SETT

Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT)

The SETT Framework is based on the premise that in order to develop an appropriate system of tools (supports, devices, services, strategies, accommodations, modifications, etc.) teams must first develop a shared understanding of:

  1. Student – describe the student’s learning abilities and needs

  2. Environment – describe the student’s learning environment (including their existing support and the technology used at their school)

  3. Tasks – develop learning targets and describe what it is the student needs to do to achieve them

  4. Tools – select the appropriate technology and trial it to make sure it is a good fit.

Source: Joy Zabala

Explaining SETT
Overview of SETT process (image)
Framework outlining assistive technology process
Assistive technology: Assessment framework

The framework promotes a process that is student centred, flexible, allows for shared knowledge and collaboration.

Source: Ministry of Education

Overview of SETT process
SETT team members

People to include in the SETT team

SETT team members will always include:

  • the student
  • the student’s class teacher
  • team members who provide specialist support.

Often the student’s family will be involved, but older students may prefer to advocate for their own needs.

SETT team members

Resources and downloads

Sharing the SETT framework

Explore a range of resources relating to the SETT – student, envrionments, tasks, tools – approach on Joy Zabala's website.

SETTing up staff and supporters to promote student achievement

Recommendations for team building, an article by Joy Zabala and Gayl Bowser.

Collecting data

Use a range of methods to gather and document information guiding your  decisions such as:

  1. interviewing students – ask what they find helpful or makes a difference

  2. gathering samples with and without the use of technology to compare outcomes

  3. observing the student working without technology – consider the potential barriers that may arise, for example letter formation, mobility

  4. observing the student using technology – is it manageable, able to be used independently, or does it require extra support?

  5. taking photos to support evidence

Collecting data
Using video

Use video to: 

  1. collect baseline data to show your student’s current learning (for example, a timed writing sample with your student using pen and paper)

  2. collect trial data in comparative learning tasks to demonstrate the impact of the trialled technologies.

Using video
Using e-Portfolios (NZ) (video)
Collecting and gathering data

John Robinson HoD Learning Support reflects on the impact of using e-portfolios to share learning beyond the classroom.

Closed captioning available in player

Source: Ministry of Education, inclusive education videos (NZ)

Using e-Portfolios (NZ)

Resources and downloads


An explanation of what e-portfolios are, why they are used, school stories describing how they are used, resources, research, and readings on the Enabling e-Learning: TKI website.

Assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning: Two sides of the same coin

A research paper which explores the intersections of AT and UDL.

Ministry contacts

If considering laptops and tablets as part of an AT solution, use school laptops and tablets for a short-term technology trial.

Decide on the technology for trial – discuss options with:

  • your learning support team
  • local specialists
  • the District Technology Coordinator if required (don’t limit yourself to what you already know)

For more specialised devices, you will need to contact the District Technology Coordinator at your local Ministry of Education office.

Trial the assistive technology and record outcomes – most trials take one to two weeks. In complex cases this can take longer as you trial different equipment options.

Ministry contacts

Resources and downloads

Free online assistive technology tools to help with reading, writing and math

Digital tools to assist children with learning and attention issues.

DTSL Evaluations and trials

Desktop Technology Services Ltd. have a range of hardware and software products available for evaluation and trial onsite to see if it meets the needs of the individual.

ATANZ Loan equipment

Assistive Technology Alliance New Zealand has equipment, which can be requested from Talklink, who manage: ATANZ equipment, MoH re-issued equipment and Talklink equipment. TalkLink has a referral form to request loans of trial equipment.

BLENNZ Technology

Information about assistive technology available to support NZ learners who are blind or have low vision.

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Planning for the effective use of assistive technology

Ensure that everyone knows how to support students in their use of assistive technologies. Offer opportunities to build a shared understanding of the impact assistive technologies can make to access, participation and independent learning.

Matt, a Year 13 student at Wairarapa College, describes how he makes school effective for him. He reflects on his use of technology, effective partnerships with teachers, and the need for self-advocacy skills and a sense of humour.

Source: Enabling e-Learning (NZ)

Closed captioning available in player

Suggestions and resources

Compatibility with school IT

Encourage the school’s IT team and local technical supports in regional areas to be fully engaged in conversations about how to seamlessly support the learner as they move around their environment.

Teams will need to consider wireless access and access to school software such as Microsoft Office, anti-virus software and curriculum software from the outset.

Compatibility with school IT
Suggestions for setting up

Take time to establish a shared understanding of why a student has AT and its effective implementation.

Things to consider:

  1. how the device will be stored, moved around the school, and maintained

  2. who needs to be trained to use it and who will provide support and maintenance

  3. learning tasks that support your student to use the technology and develop the skills they need to use it

  4. the skills needed to design learning environments that fit with the assistive technology, for example, accessible online environments

  5. ongoing professional development to ensure skills are kept up-to-date and in line with emerging technologies.

Suggestions for setting up
AT familiarisation (video)
Increase understanding of unfamiliar AT solutions

Explore short video demonstrations of unfamiliar assistive technologies to understand their value.

No captions or transcript available

Source: BLENNZ (NZ)

AT familiarisation
Insurance and repairs

The school is responsible for ensuring the safekeeping and insurance of assistive technology. If the assistive technology is damaged, stolen, or in need of repairs, have a clearly understood process to help get AT fixed quickly.

The MoE’s Insurance and repairs information sheet is a useful starting point.

Insurance and repairs
Utilising online tutorials (video)
Use online tutorials to access professional learning

In this video tutorial, US educator and UDL consultant Kit Hard explains how to use text-to-speech to access digital text across the curriculum.

View transcript

Source: Kit Hard (US)

Utilising online tutorials

Resources and downloads

Assistive Technology Group

The Assistive Technology group in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) contains blog posts and discussions with product information on a range of resources from the Ministry of Education.

Examples of students using assistive technology

Six examples describing how AT is used to support student learning in the classroom. They include students with dyslexia, vision impairment, cerebral palsy, global developmental delay, hard of hearing, physical disabilities, and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Talklink – Wahanga tu korero – Assistive Technology Services – Courses

The TalkLink Trust hold a number of courses each year. The latest courses available are outlined on this page.

Supporting differentiation (NZ) (video)
Digital technologies for independent learning

Jan Heffernan, from Brisbane Boys’ College, outlines their use of technology enabling students to be independent learners and collaborators in the classroom. Find out more about the Livescribe pen and Book Creator for iPad and Prezi.

View transcript

Source: EDtalks (NZ)

Supporting differentiation (NZ)
Reading and writing support (NZ) (video)
Using AT to support all learners

Felix, a year 5 student with dyslexia, shares the benefit of using text-to-speech tools. Making these supports available to everybody reduces barriers to learning and removes stigmatism.

Closed captioning available in player

Source: Enabling e-Learning (NZ)

Reading and writing support (NZ)
iPad as remote desktop (video)
The iPad as a remote desktop: Kalim's low vision solution

An example of a student problem-solving his own assistive technology solution to increase his access to learning.

Closed captioning available in player

Source: BLENNZ Learning Library (US)

iPad as remote desktop
Netbooks at Parkvale Primary (NZ) (video)
1:1 Netbooks in the classroom

For Tyler, a student with dyspraxia, writing with a pencil was a significant barrier to participation.

He describes how using a laptop has enabled him to share his ideas.

Closed captioning available in player

Source: Enabling e-Learning (NZ)

Netbooks at Parkvale Primary (NZ)
The impact of AT (video)
Supporting student independence

Using everyday digital technologies to support the varying needs and preferences of diverse learners removes stigmatisation and supports them to learn.

No captions or transcript available

Source: National Center on Accessible Educational Materials

The impact of AT

Resources and downloads

AT fact sheet: Assistive technology solutions

This resource provides visual examples of a range of AT products to help parents and educators who are beginning their search for AT. It includes basic questions to be considered when trying to identify AT that will best suit the child and illustrated examples of some of the AT options available. Curated by the Center on Technology and Disability (USA).

Assistive technology in action

A playlist of short videos introducing students talking about how they use AT and overviews of tools such as text-to-speech and word prediction, produced by the Pacer Center in Washington.

Assistive technologies

Enabling e-Learning offers school stories, snapshots of learning, and resources to support assistive technologies in the classroom.

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Using assistive technology in assessments and exams, including NCEA

Ensure that all students have equitable access and are able to participate in assessments and exams alongside their peers.

A student types instead of using pen and paper to write. Digital technologies offer students multiple ways to record, edit, change, and work with ideas.

Image source: Enabling e-Learning (NZ)

Suggestions and resources

Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)

Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) provide extra help for approved students when they are being assessed for their NCEA so that barriers to achievement can be removed and they have a fair opportunity to achieve credits. The support is used for internal standards and external (exams) standards.

SAC are available to meet a range of physical, sensory, medical, and learning needs.

Applications are made by schools on the behalf of students.

For more information visit Special Assessment Conditions – information for parents and caregivers.

Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)
Application details for NCEA and SAC

Detailed information on SAC is available from the NZQA website.

Application details for NCEA and SAC
SAC support for schools

Applications for special assessment conditions (SACs) are made by schools on behalf of the student. Ministry of Education staff can support the process but are not responsible for it.

Contact NZQA if you have any queries.

SAC support for schools

Resources and downloads

Special assessment conditions (SAC)

Ministry of Education advice on preparing alternative evidence to support special assessment conditions (SAC) applications.

Using digital technologies to support learning in a senior secondary context – Digital assessment

A guide developed by the Connected Learning Advisory providing information and resources to support NCEA assessment, including SAC.

Assessment accessibility

Supporting understanding of assessment

When designing assessment consider the potential barriers for students in accessing, understanding the format and content.

Consider barriers within or created by:

  1. text heavy assessments

  2. multiple choice assessments (paper-based or online)

  3. online assessments

  4. time restrictions

  5. writing tools

  6. unfamiliar layout

  7. length of assessment.

Assessment accessibility
Supporting success in assessments

Discuss with students what support they need to demonstrate their understanding in assessments.


  1. possible barriers, hidden, in the physical environment, for example: unfamiliar layout of room, lighting, temperature

  2. possible barriers, hidden, in the resources and materials, for example: cluttered presentation, hard-to read diagrams, unclear layout, hard-copy only

  3. approaches to managing time allocations such as: calendar tools and visual timers

  4. approaches to managing anxiety

  5. approaches to maintaining concentration

  6. negotiating breaks

  7. use of digital technologies such as text-to-speech and predictive text

  8. pre-teaching specific assessment/exam skills such as how to approach multiple choice questions.

Supporting success in assessments
Digital assessment

Use technology options to support assessment

Text-to-speech options provide specific and critical support for students experiencing barriers to learning.  

When designing and using standardised assessments, consider:

  1. using digital assessments that can be personalised and adjusted by students e.g. font size, layout

  2. assessments that can be used with text-to-speech options such as Read&Write

  3. using built-in options available within online PAT and STAR  assessments, supporting students with dyslexia.

Digital assessment
Assessment with iPads (image)
tudent taking a photo with an ipad
Provide flexible options to capture learning

Consider how technology can be used by students to capture and assess their own learning.

Source: Ministry of Education

Assessment with iPads

Resources and downloads

Using digital technologies to support learning in a senior secondary context – Digital assessment

A guide developed by the Connected Learning Advisory providing information and resources to support NCEA assessment, including SAC.

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