Free and low-cost visual supports for special education classes

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by Kindy Segovia, OTR
Assistive Technology Coordinator, Kent Intermediate School District

Kindy Segovia

Kindy Segovia

Visual supports in the classroom have historically been utilized for students with significant disabilities, such as those with cognitive challenges or on the Autism Spectrum. However, they are increasingly being utilized as a strategy to support many students, both with and without disabilities. Visuals, embedded purposefully into the student environment, can assist with comprehension and understanding, memory and organization, following directions, independence, and other essential skills.

While most of us understand the importance of incorporating visual supports, finding, creating and implementing them can be overwhelming. Here are some strategies and resources to get you started.

Be organized: Create a place and a structure for saving pictures, graphics, ideas, and materials. Decide if you want to use Google Drive, Dropbox, or another “cloud-based” location, and develop a file folder system within one of these tools. Cloud-based storage gives you access to your visuals from anywhere.

Bookmark and get ideas and visuals from your favorite resources, such as:

  • teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com has some terrific links, ideas, visual strategies and more.
  • speakingofspeech.com has a free Materials Exchange with hundreds of ideas, activities and visuals.
  • Suncastletech, the makers of PixWriter software, hosts hundreds of free PDF files. The text in each is supported with picture symbols.
  • connectability.ca/visuals-engine is a free platform to create visual arrays, such as choice boards, schedules, icons, and more.
  • Picto4me is also free, housed in the Google Drive platform, allowing for custom creation of visual arrays, communication pages, icons, choice boards and more. Picto4Me has the added bonus of audio and interactive features
  • mrsriley.com is a low-cost site that allows for the creation of custom picture boards, visual arrays, icons, activity or sequencing cards and more. For $5/month, or $45/year access unlimited graphics, photos, upload your own, and create and save your own boards.

Three sites offer various versions of books adapted with visuals:

Finally, take advantage of screen capture for the free creation of custom visuals. Find an image from a website that you want to use, and follow some simple steps to save it:

  • Windows computers come with Snip It and Snipping Tool. simple tools for quick clipping and saving of anything on the screen you want to save. Just search programs and files for “Snip It”, and drag to the bottom task bar on your desktop for easy access.
  • Macintosh computers allow for simple use of key-commands to save any portion of your screen. Utilize “Control+Command+Shift+4”, along with a “click+drag” of the mouse to save something to the clipboard. (Mac users can also utilize the “Grab” utility tool found in the Applications folder).
  • iPad and iPhone users can capture a screen shot by simply pressing the On/Off button at the same time as the Home button.
  • Many Droid devices allow you to take a picture of the screen by pressing the On/Off button at the same time as the Down Volume button.

With these simple free and low-cost strategies you can create everything from picture icon symbols and communication supports, to social stories, schedules, and content supports on a shoe-string budget! These classroom supports will not only benefit students with identified disabilities, but all students!

Kindy Segovia, OTR, is currently the Assistive Technology Coordinator at Kent Intermediate School District, Grand Rapids, Mich. She has worked as an occupational therapist in both schools and pediatric rehabilitation for over 25 years. She has provided educational training for teachers, parents and administrators over the past 15 years with a focus on adapting curriculum, classroom accommodations, and integrating technology into instruction. She is also an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University.

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