Adaptive Switches

Assistive Switches, Assistive Technology Switches

UDL 4.1 UDL 4.2

Adaptive Switches are access devices that enable people with significant motor limitations to use technology or operate other electronic devices. The simple movements used to operate a switch replaces complex actions that limit independent access for some students (e.g., pressing a button instead of turning a knob). Switches can be plugged into many types of devices such as computers, voice-output communication tools, kitchen appliances, toys, etc. Students who use these switches increase their independence, engagement, and participation in their school, home, and community.

Implementation Tips

Switch Training
Most students need coaching and repetition to learn to use switches. Teachers should first ensure that the switch meets the student's needs. Some students will only be able to use switches with an elbow, side of their head, or outside of their knee, rather than a hand. In addition to the type of switch, teachers should also consider switch placement, resistance settings, time delay settings, etc. Be sure to run trials with different types of switches with various functions across environments. The training period may involve some trial and error, and may vary from student to student.
Student Motivation
Increase the likelihood that students will use switches for challenging tasks by first using switches with activities that are highly motivating for the student. Once the teacher has determined that the student has mastered using a preferred switch in highly-engaging actvities, it can be used for more rigorous tasks or during non-preferred activities.
Assistive Technology/Augmentative Communication Specialists
Assistive Technology (AT) and Augmentative Communication (AC) are specialty practices. Many experienced teachers of students with severe multiple disabilities are capable of choosing switches for their students. However, specially trained and experienced Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists or technology specialists are often best prepared to determine which switches are most appropriate for specific students. Many school systems have AT and/or AC specialists available for consultation. Students with this level of disability are often involved with hospital-based specialty clinics that are also good partners for families and teachers in choosing switches.
For More Information
Check out this [[|link]] for more ideas on how to use switches in a classroom setting.


Accessing Technology for Academics
Switches can be plugged into a computer, calculator to other electronic device, enabling students to perform functions that typically require more precise fine motor control on very small buttons or keys. A switch like the Big Mac provides a large flat surface that can be activated with the whole hand. A joystick can be pushed or pulled in various directions to perform different functions such as selecting letters on a digital keyboard instead of physically typing.
Nonverbal students with cognitive or physical impairments that limit access to complicated voice-output communication devices can use switch-activated ones instead. A single switch device, such as a Big Mac, can have a message recorded in it by an adult or a peer, and the student can use it to answer yes/no questions, ask for a turn, indicate when they are finished, etc. Multi-switch devices, such as Go Talks, give students a wider range of voice output options, allowing for range of expression to open-ended questions. For example, students can use this type of device to indicate how they are feeling or select an option from a list of choices.
Recreational Play in the Classroom
Many lower grade classrooms might have a variety of battery operated toys with an on/off function. These can be difficult to access for students with physical impairments. Teachers can connect these types of toys to switches that can activate them instead. Because switches can be used with many cause and effect toys (e.g., animated toy animals, peek-a-boo toys, etc.), teachers can also use play as an engaging opportunity to teach students life skills such as persistence. For example, teachers can use certain switches with a time delay that requires students to hold switches for longer periods of time before it will activate the toy.
Operating Appliances
Many students who use switches are also learning daily living skills (e.g., cooking, cleaning) and participate in community-based instruction. Switches can be attached to many devices including kitchen appliances, televisions, air conditioning, fans, and telephones. For example, students can push a large flat button instead of turning a knob on a blender or washing machine. By doing so, students who require significant support with completing fine and gross motor tasks can experience increased independence. Switches can be used in a variety of settings; skills learned in the classroom using switches can easily be transferred to the student's home and community.
Power wheelchairs can be operated with many different types of switches. Using switch-activated wheelchairs allow students to be independently mobile. For example, students can use a joystick rather than have a staff member push their wheelchairs. Students with limited hand mobility can sip or blow on a tube that activates a wheelchair instead.

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