Tech Tools to Try with Special Needs Students

Educational expert Sally Hagarty shares some of her favorite tech tools to try with special needs students.

By Lisa Lawmaster Hess

Sally Hagarty is a RESNA-certified assistive technology specialist who chimed in on how special needs and technology can work together. Here are some of her favorite tools to work with special needs students.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking lets kids dictate their stories instead of writing them down. Find out more (and see a demo) at There are also lots of videos on YouTube of people trying out the software, but my favorite is one put out by Nuance, the creator of software.

Google’s Voice Typing is similar to Dragon NaturallySpeaking—and easy to access on the Google platform.

Kidspiration lets kids (K-5) use pictures, words, and numbers to create visuals. With three views (Graphic Organizers, Writing View, and Math View), it’s useful across the curriculum. Kidspiration Lite is the free app version for iPad.

For audio books, check out Bookshare and Learning Ally.

Fascinated by the idea of mind-mapping software, I played with a few programs, too, and Popplet was my favorite. Easy to use with clear visuals, it allows kids to create a “web” that’s great for drafting writing projects. For more information, go to, or check out Popplet Lite on iTunes.

ESL teacher Anne Smith told me about Rewordify, a multi-purpose site that helps kids dissect difficult text and build vocabulary.

Middle school music teacher and band director Jim Biddle recommended SmartMusic, software he’s used to teach rhythm and pitch to students with special needs, allowing them to be part of the larger ensemble.

Finally, I was curious what technology stood the test of time. What might kids learn how to use in elementary school and continue using throughout their school years?

Lock Haven University senior Molly Wolfe chose her Kindle. “I’ve been using it a lot in college, and it’s been so beneficial (especially for English classes that have a lot of books). I can take notes in the text and it wouldn’t harm the book, and it’s a lightweight way to carry hundreds of books.”

And, when Molly’s my age, she’ll appreciate the fact that she can enlarge the font.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary school counselor.