Getting the Assistive Technology and Sensory Supports You Need, with the Funding You Don’t Know You Have!

Getting the Assistive Technology and Sensory Supports You Need, with the Funding You Don’t Know You Have!

By Dr. Raymond Heipp

As we move into 2023, we recognize that our students need so much support as the aftershock of the pandemic continues to reverberate in our schools. We have been faced with a funding struggle for decades as we have tried to support our individuals with differing abilities. Now, it is exacerbated by the needs of the neuro-typical students, as they too, struggle with mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic. We have heard of ESSER funding, but still find that many districts have not fully tapped into how those funds can be used to a wider extent while staying within the legal guidelines of the requirements for the funding.

A recent report showed that around 50% of the roughly $122.8 billion in ESSER III funds provided had yet to be used by our schools. There are many reasons for this. The primary causes stem from the fact that the original set of funds were focused on the return of the students into classrooms and had strict guidelines for usage. This has caused districts to evaluate their needs and strictly review the requests for technology and other supports within the school settings. There has also been some confusion as the rollout of these funding programs have caused much questioning about the dates for when the funds need to be spent. To be clear, the first wave of these funds which was about $13 billion has already been spent and the final date for accessing them has passed. That is why some administrators may be telling you that they already spent their funds. ESSER II funding which included about $54 billion in funding has a deadline of September 30th of 2023. Finally, the ESSER III funds have a deadline of September 30th, 2024. That is another reason that much of that funding has not been touched.

As we take a look at the ESSER III funding, we learn that there is significant emphasis on technology, recovery from learning loss, and support for mental health. There have been cases where those making the decisions on this funding are focusing on the upper layers of needs for all of the students, and not drilling down to other supports for both our neuro-typical and neuro-diverse learners. Your insights and support on this can assist them as well as your students in making purchases which address the concerns for the students and operate within the proper guidelines of usage for these funds. In the next few paragraphs, I will take a look at how some districts are using these funds and the rationale that they are using for proper funding usage.

When we look at technology purchases, we have seen so many districts focus on 1:1 initiatives with Chromebooks or iPads. These purchases cover the surface level of providing technology to the students, as these are devices that can be easily adapted to both in-person and virtual environments. The issue is that it does NOT address the needs of our neuro-diverse learners who cannot access these devices without assistance. The argument for fair and equitable access applies to these individuals as well. Thus, we are able to include those assistive technology devices which allow for access to Chromebooks, iPads, and any other technologies used within the classroom. When we look at devices that would be supported through this argument by ESSER III funding, we see items like the Glassouse, Blue2 Switch, alternative keyboards (including those that are designed for those with Dyslexia), other switches based on the abilities of the individuals, like the Movement Sensor Switch or the Finger Switch. In all of these cases, the devices create fair and equitable access to the technologies being purchased for the classrooms.

Using the same argument of fair and equitable access, we see that AAC devices can also be included in this technology-focused funding. We recognize that some students have higher dependence upon AAC and so their insurance may cover items from groups like Tobii-Dynavox and PRC-Saltillo. However, there are those students who do not qualify under insurance, yet still need support in communicating their immediate thoughts and needs within a classroom setting. This example leads to the acceptance of the purchase of devices like the 7 Level Communication Builder, the GoTalk 9+, and the Big Mack. Each of these devices provides a student the ability to communicate and participate in the classroom and a fair and equitable manner.

When we look at the idea of technology and learning loss, one may want to focus on the area of Literacy. We have found that a number of students in the stages of early literacy have struggled as the directed guidance of in-person learning was not available during the pandemic. We also witnessed some regression on the part of those with Dyslexia as our therapists did their best in virtual formats but still faced limitations. As a support to those with Dyslexia or other reading processing issues, the Reader Pen2 offers an effective approach to reading support for any print documents. The outside world often forgets that many texts are still in print and therefore screen readers are not going to work. Being able to have the words read to you through earbuds and have access to a dictionary is huge in combating these types of issues. As we look toward notetaking, both the Livescribe Echo II and the ScanMarker platform can assist in the ability to learn and have things in both visual and auditory formats.

On the side of mental health, our students need to feel less anxious and be able to handle situations that can occur both inside of the school and in their community. When dealing with social situations, a software solution like The Social Express gives students real scenarios and suggestions for how to deal with those situations. School and classrooms can also create sensory areas, including calming areas for when students are escalating or over-stimulated. These areas can be simply made by creating an area in the back of the classroom with smaller products like a Cuddle Ball, Beanbag Chair, or Vibrating Pillow. Larger scale sensory rooms also support mental health and can be purchased. Ready-made kits like the Serene Scene Sensory Bundle can support larger numbers of students and become a place of respite from the heightened anxiety the students are facing today.

The critical piece for you is to know what products will best support your students, approach those who handle the ESSER funds and supply them with the correct rationale for their purchase with those funds, and be sure to use them with as many students as possible. If you have questions or would like to discuss your needs, feel free to reach out to either of our Specialists for Special Education, Jodi Szuter, at or me at and we will be happy to assist you.

May 2023 be a year of helping our students and ourselves continue on the road of recovery from the pandemic and assisting in the educational development of all!


Posted in Special Education and SH Special Education Today Newsletter