Assistive Technology at Easter Seals Hawaii

Most of us feel completely lost if we misplace our smartphone or tablet. Somehow, over the years, it has become just as essential as the other items on our mental checklist when we leave the house – Car keys? Check. House keys? Check. Smartphone? Check. While there was a time in the not-too distant past when smartphones and tablets did not even exist, they have now become the items that keep us connected to our friends and colleagues, keep track of where we are supposed to be and when, store humorous “selfies” that we cannot bring ourselves to delete, and so much more.

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For anyone with a developmental disability it is much more critical, and different forms of technology can be used to overcome the barriers that have been a hindrance to meaningful engagement with his or her community in many different ways. Fortunately, Easter Seals Hawaii offers an invaluable service called assistive technology.

Specialists in assistive technology work directly with the Easter Seals Hawaii participants to provide equipment and services that empower the individual to minimize their challenges at home, at work, at school, or in their daily lives. For instance, people who have difficulties with hearing, vision, or mobility could potentially use modified touch screens, communication devices, adaptive software, and/or alternative keyboards. These technologies are designed to maximize the skills of each individual and could potentially be used to help job-seekers perform essential skills.

At school, tablets, iPads, computers, and other devices could be used to help the students comprehend and keep up with the curriculum. Since there are hundreds of potential options available, the assistive technology specialists serve as an essential resource and help identify the most useful and targeted application, depending on the exact needs of the participant.

How can you help? It’s easy. If you or anyone you know is upgrading to a new computer, laptop, or handheld device, consider donating your used equipment to Easter Seals Hawaii. It could help shape someone’s life, help them succeed at school or work, and will guarantee to make them smile.  

Please contact Kelly Ikeda Ellis, Development Office, with donations at (808) 529-1709 x1163

In Hawaii, Easter Seals Hawaii is one of the largest organization that provides services from birth which (if needed) continues throughout their life. Initially, behavior services are provided to help the recipient overcome the challenges they face. Early intervention by the assistive technology specialist is extremely helpful for both the individual and the families, and it is never too early to engage with a specialist. Once the technology has been identified or modified to fit the needs of the individual, the assistive technology device grows and evolves as the persons become more familiar with how to use it. This is a critical step in Easter Seal Hawaii’s overarching goal of helping to empower every individual to move from dependence to independence, and realize their full potential.


Creative uses of technology present new ways for children with disabilities to communicate


[Photo credit: Eric Arveson]

Linda Burkhart shows the many technology gadgets used to help children with disabilities or special needs to communicate

By Eric Arveson, Assistive Technology Manager

Linda Burkhart, an international speaker on communication and assistive technology, addressed a packed house at the Pagoda Hotel for two days in Honolulu, April 4th and 5th, 2013. The workshop was a collaborative effort between the UH Deaf-Blind Project, Department of Health- Early Intervention Program and Easter Seals Hawaii.

Burkhart brought with her 39 years of experience as a classroom teacher, trainer, private consultant, and an augmentative communication and assistive technology specialist in a project operated by the John Hopkins University and the Maryland Department of Education. Physically, she brought along creative low tech and communication devices and materials for display, enough to fill four tables. Much of the technology Linda created when working directly with children with significant challenges. Her topic was for the workshop (catch your breath) was “Multi-Modal Communication and Learning Strategies for Children with Significant Challenges and Complex Communication Needs.”


With humor and professional experiences, Burkhart explained the brain functioning of children with Autism, deaf-blindness, cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment, RETT syndrome, intellectual disabilities and other neurological disabilities and how communication development can be affected. She explained that the neural networks and cognition are learned through patterns and these patterns are best learned through experience. Communication systematically arranges vocabulary through patterns and, starting early, those patterns become “wired” into our brains.

Burkhart contends that speech is abstract and can be learned very early if presented “in natural contexts with consistent, meaningful patterns.” The multi-modal approach provides input in more than one area, building on the strengths of the child. Burkhart believes that repetition is needed, but must be modified so that the child remains actively engaged in the learning process.


Burkhart reviewed a number of communication devices and systems and described a method by which the child chooses the language through an interaction between the child and the adult. This system was developed by Gayle Porter (Melbourne, Australia), and is called PODD, Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display. PODD uses picture symbols, representing a full range of communicative functions based upon the child’s communicative intents and is taught through strategies that parallel typical speech and language development.

Linda Burkhart’s website is loaded with handouts, “Make It Take It” ideas and more information about PODD. You can find her at: