Assistive technology locks in life lessons

By Dory Chamas

Gompers Board Member Billie Enz examines the AT classroom car seat designed by teacher Dory Chamas.

Gompers Board Member Billie Enz examines the AT classroom car seat designed by Mrs. Chamas.

In my classroom, assistive technology turns doing into learning.

It has been exciting to see assistive technology, or AT, make its way through Gompers and truly create changes in people’s lives. Some of the AT items are high-tech — like the augmentative communication devices that give a voice to those without speech, or iPads with access to a variety of educational apps.

There also are AT devices that staff at Gompers have conceptualized and made themselves, like the car seat/seatbelt setup and other gadgets now being used in my classroom.

Danica practices tying shoelaces.

Danica practices tying shoelaces.

The idea for an AT seatbelt device came to mind because my class had been going on field trips regularly, and none of my students knew how to fasten their seatbelts. Because society is in a hurry all the time, sometimes it’s easier for someone to say, “Here, let me help you” — but that isn’t always the best answer.

I went to our Facilities Director, Steve Tolle, and told him what I had in mind. Using part of a discarded chair, a sturdy wooden base with locking wheels, a seatbelt and a metal post, Steve got to work. The finished product sits at the same height as a regular car or van seat. The seatbelt is linked to the post (slightly behind and above a passenger’s left shoulder) and to the box — much as the double straps on a car seatbelt are positioned — and my students can take turns sitting down, drawing the strap across their laps and clicking the latch into place.

Nate can show anyone how to zip!

Nate knows how to zip!

Being able to practice in class without the imminent excitement of a trip allows the students to take their time and really focus on what they’re learning.

AT doesn’t stop at the seatbelt, because there are other everyday tasks my students need to master. Through the use of other AT aids designed in my classroom and the repurposing of items originally intended for other uses, students are learning to fold shirts, tie their shoes and operate zippers.

Not everyone works at the same level, and that is okay. Each of my students has room to grow, and all of them are capable of learning and proud of what they can do.


Dory Chamas, who earned her master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University, teaches our high-school classroom at Gompers Private School.