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Switch Users
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Overview and Purpose

Selecting a Switch

Mounting Systems

Switch Interfaces

Classroom Ideas


Overview & Purpose

This module provides an overview of the different types of switches and interfaces that can be used by students with disabilities. The module includes information on characteristics of switches and switch interfaces, mounting systems and suggestions for classroom switch activities.

Purpose of Switch Use

Switches offer access to anything electronic for persons with disabilities. They are a great way to begin experiencing independent control. Through a variety of interfaces, switches are connected to electronic devices. They work to turn things on and off or indicate choices when used with scanning software or interfaces.

For children with physical disabilities, a single, reliable movement can cause a toy to move or turn a radio on. Those with sensory impairments learn that they can be the controlling source of sound, light and vibration. Children with cognitive impairments are able to interact with toys and computers with a single "button," limiting the need for more complex directions. Switches provide new opportunities to learn and participate.

For example, a simple battery interface can
assist a student in creating a 'Spin Art' picture
with friends.

Children often begin by using switches with toys. This develops skills that can include:

  • Turning them on and off,
  • Moving them for social and communicative purposes, and
  • Making choices to indicate preferences.

These skills provide a foundation for learning and for more complex technology use such as multiple switch use, computer interactions and more extensive environmental control.

Types of Switch Use

Young girl using a blender controlled by a switch.Environmental Control of appliances such as radios, fans, blenders, and televisions found in homes and schools.


Play & Exploration are expanded through using switches to independently participate in games and other recreation activities. Battery-operated toys or games such as Light Brite and Spin Art can be easily adapted for switch use.


Movement can be experienced with motorized mobility items such as powered wheelchairs and motorized cars (Jeeps, Big Foot cars) that are driven with single and multiple switches.




Young boy in powered wheelchair.

Computer Access is achieved through single and multiple switch access. Switches can be used in combination with other input devices such as head pointers and voice dictation software. A single switch user can use scanning systems, giving full access to any commercial software program. (For more information, see our module on switch and scanning systems.)

Young girl pressing switch on computer monitor






Communication is encouraged through early switch use. Single switch devices with recorded messages provide a way to relate language to the activity at hand and to initiate and participate in a variety of activities. More complex systems use multiple switches or internal scanning methods to access multi-layered designs.



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