Assistive technology offers the promise to ensure that all students who have a learning disability can access the regular curriculum. Assistive technology is any technology that allows a student to circumvent an area of weakness. The difficulty is, even though we know that the technology should be able to support students, the implementation of technology has not been very successful. Across Canadian schools we see the abandonment of assistive technology on a day-to-day basis. Through the lab we are investigating the variables that predict the abandonment of the technology. One of the key factors we have found this year is that training the teachers directly predicts the increased use of assistive technology in a classroom. This makes sense, because if a teacher does not understand how a technology integrates into the lesson that they're teaching, it's going to be hard for them to be able to support a student who requires it.

Evaluation of Assistive Technology

Dr. Todd Cunningham

Progress: Many Ongoing Studies

An ongoing project of our lab, which consists of many smaller studies, is the empirical evaluation of assistive technology on the market. Commercial products are developed faster than they can be tested, so we are working hard to prove the effectiveness of the many tools out there and show that they work!

We are currently testing some popular Word Prediction, OCR, Text To Speech, Annotation, Audiobook, and Calculator technologies using systematic protocols.

Dr. Todd Cunningham

Progress: Optimization

With over 400 different assistive technology products on the market, it can be incredibly difficult for consumers to make decisions about what AT is right for the individual who is using it. provides a decision-making protocol to guide clinicians, teachers or parents to the most appropriate AT for the individual’s needs. This protocol is adapted from research on the SETT framework by Zabala and colleagues (1994). On the website, users will find summaries of the available research literature on each AT tool as well as product recommendations based on our research, clinical experience, and what is available on the market.

Check out the site

Student & Teacher Perceptions of Assistive Technology

Bronwyn Lamond

Progress: Data Collection

This project investigates the variables that predict students’ and teachers’ perceived usefulness of AT, the barriers to student use of AT, and how teacher perceptions of AT affect student use of AT in classrooms using survey and interview methods. It will provide more comprehensive data on the state of AT use within classrooms and will identify how teacher practices and/or attitudes are related to greater use of AT by students within the classroom environment. Additionally, it will provide data that allows researchers to predict students for whom AT implementation will be the most successful based on individual, classroom, and teacher characteristics. 

Hypothesis Driven Integrated Psychological Assessment (HDIPA) Model
Harrison McNaughtan

Progress: Theoretical Conceptualization

The Hypothesis Driven Integrated Psychological Assessment (HDIPA) model, currently being developed and validated in our lab, seeks to provide a comprehensive and complete psychological assessment with significantly reduced testing time compared to other models, such as the Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses model. Rather than focusing on creating an exhaustive profile of strengths and weaknesses, we use our assessment tools to differentiate between diagnoses and explore the direct underlying causes of impairment, which is essential for intervention planning. This project includes three studies: building the theoretical model, validating the model on past assessments, and finally an evaluation of implementing the model. We are currently completing the first study.

Using Transdermal Optic Imaging To Measure Cognitive Load
Francis Ben Wall

Progress: Data Collection

Cognitive load is the amount of mental resources we expend completing a task. The use of assistive technology is thought to reduce cognitive load in students and thereby make schoolwork more manageable. However, learning how to use these tools may actually increase cognitive load. This means new aids can make things worse before they get better. This project looks to measure cognitive load in students using transdermal optic imaging technology with a cellphone camera. Through this we are studying how students with disabilities react to using different assistive technologies and how these technologies impact the mental workload of students.  

Typing Skill Acquisition in School-Aged Children

Emily Staffiere

Progress: Study Design

Based on preliminary pilot work examining the impact of language complexity on typing speeds among school-aged children, this project will be extending its scope to examine differences in typing speeds between typical students and those with learning disabilities. Utilizing a novel typing measure designed in the lab to obtain progress monitoring benchmarks, this study will explore the impact of a short typing intervention on subsequent outcome measures for both groups of students. I will also examine the relationship between typing speed and other academic skills that have been implicated as affecting a student's typing performance: motor coordination, handwriting fluency, and spelling. 

Increasing Reading Pens in the Testing Centre

Andrea Zians

Progress: Manuscript Preparation

This project looked at the effects of enhanced training on assistive technology usage in an Ontario college's alternative testing centre.  Students with disabilities registered with Accessible Learning Services at Mohawk College located in Hamilton, Ontario were offered an opportunity to learn to use a Reading Pen for testing.  Students were randomly assigned to receive training in a regular appointment or in a workshop with enhanced training opportunities.  The workshop group reported more skills learned, used the pen more frequently in the testing centre, and booked more tests in the testing centre after the intervention.    

Teacher Identification of Emerging Mental Health Disorders

Damian Page

Progress: Data Collection

There is a substantial body of research pointing to the pervasive unmet need of Canadian students experiencing mental health disorders. This study is exploring the role teachers play in the early identification of emerging mental health disorders in elementary school student. Of primary interest is the construct of mental health literacy (MHL), which refers to beliefs and knowledge about mental health disorders that aid in their identification, prevention and management. By examining this construct as a predictor of teachers’ ability to accurately rate the behavioural severity of presented case studies, we hope to elucidate the variables that influence accurate identification of emerging mental health disorders in educational contexts.

Conscientização; Discerning Otherness: A Critical Lens on Educational Achievement, Perceptions of Belonging and Policy

Lisa Phyllis

Note: Conscientização refers to a rise in our collective consciousness to provide liberation from oppressive power structures reproduced through education (Andrews & Leonard, 2018, Freire, 1970). 

Progress: Study Design

A critical lens examines implications of "othering" students labelled with a behavioural exceptionality in Ontario, Canada.  Three distinct methodologies investigate issues raised by the 2018 Ontario Human Rights Commission Report.  The following research investigates othering of the aforementioned student population to inform a path forward regarding achievement, belonging and policy; (1) A Longitudinal Study of EQAO Math Self-Concept and Achievement for Students with a Behavioural Exceptionality Label (2) Exploring School Engagement: Perceptions of Families of Children with and without a Behavioural Exceptionality Label, and (3) Fitting In Isn’t Belonging- Critical Policy Analysis: Constructions of Family Engagement, Special Education and Student Discipline.

School Engagement in Refugee Youth

Kunio Hessel

Progress: Study Design

This study will use student, teacher, and parent reports to determine the level of school engagement among refugee youth. The project will investigate the key factors that lead to disengagement, such as lack of a sense of belonging in school, low education prioritization, and family circumstances, as well as the types of disengagement behaviours shown by this population. Finally, the present study will consider strategies that can be employed by parents, teachers, and schools in order to promote school engagement in refugee youth.

Family Factors and Substance Use Treatment in Youth with and without Learning Disabilities

Shona Mistry

Progress: Study Design

Youth with learning disabilities experience difficulties in areas outside of academia. Some difficulties include mental health problems and risk-taking behaviours such as illicit substance use. This study examines if differences in family factors (e.g., parenting style, family functioning, and parent engagement during treatment) affect treatment outcomes between youth with and without learning disabilities. This project is in collaboration with the Pine River Institute, a unique residential care centre for youth with addictive behaviours and mental health concerns. By identifying key differences in these family factors, we hope to identify stronger evidence for specific family-specific treatment strategies for youth with learning disabilities struggling with substance use problems.