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
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
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
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
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.)
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.