Assistive technologies may be defined as "any item, device, or piece of equipment that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional abilities of persons with disabilities"(Holder-Brown & Parette, 1992, p.73). Devices such as automatic door openers, chair lifts, large print books, customized cars, hearing aids, and wheelchair ramps enhance the independence and productivity of persons with disabilities and increase their ability to participate in the mainstream of society. In a school setting, this technology is not an end in itself; rather it is a means to provide increased experiences, opportunities, and independence for children who have disabilities. Assistive technology should generally facilitate gradual behavioral changes in the child that are observable and have social validity.

For students who have difficulty communicating, very specific methods, known as Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC), have been created to help them function more normally both in and out of the classroom. These methods include the use of sign language systems and communication boards, as well as sophisticated computer-based systems that typically produce voice. These special assistive technology devices may assist an individual in daily and vocational activities, as well as in academic activities such as hearing, listening, reading, and writing.

This paper discusses how one teacher of multi-handicapped students uses augmentative communication devices to enable her students to function both in the classroom and in the community. I will attempt to show how these devices not only enhance learning, but also, increase the students' independence and lift the individual's self-esteem. Before discussing the specific findings of my study, I think it is important to first offer you some background on how assistive technology came to be prevalent in schools and some issues that special education professionals must consider before implementing the devices.