Assistive Technology in the Classroom: What Parents Need to Know
The term assistive technology (AT) refers to any device that helps a person with a disability complete an everyday task, whether in the classroom or in life. For someone unable to hear, a telephone with amplification is AT. For someone with poor eyesight, a magnifier is AT. Anything that provides access to those things an individual otherwise would be unable to do is AT.
Such technology can be critical for the person using it. If you wear glasses, imagine how hard it would be to get through the day without them. In the classroom, AT can be an equalizer, allowing children to demonstrate their knowledge in a way they couldn’t before. Think of a keyboard for a child who is unable to write but can type, an electronic voice for a child with complex communication skills, or an alternative mouse for a child with fine motor challenges.
AT can be low-tech (something very simple and low-cost, like a pencil grip) or high-tech (something sophisticated, like a computer or tablet). It includes specialized devices like typing telephones for people who are deaf and motorized wheelchairs for people who cannot walk. AT includes both the devices and the services needed to use the devices effectively. AT services might include assessing a child’s need for AT and training the child and his teacher, aide, and family on how to use it.
Assistive Technology and IDEA
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that school districts must consider assistive technology for any child in special education. That means that for any child receiving special education services, the educational team must ask if there is equipment that will “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities” of that child. The team needs to ask: Does this child have complete access to the curriculum or are there tools available that might provide better access?
Assistive technology devices are identified in the IDEA 2004 as: “Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” An AT service is defined as: “Any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, and use of an assistive technology device.”
Evaluation and the IEP
The process of choosing assistive technology usually starts with an evaluation of the child’s needs. The evaluation can be conducted by the school, an independent agency, or an individual consultant. An AT evaluation conducted by the school is directly related to achieving educational goals and outcomes.
The AT evaluation should address what the child is having difficulty doing; what the child needs to do; and what types of tools are required for the child to accomplish the task. The assessment should be conducted by a team of people with knowledge appropriate to the needs of the child.
The need for AT is decided based on an individual child’s needs. It is never a one-size-fits-all, as every child is completely different in personal attributes. An AT evaluation will result in possible recommendations for specific devices and/or services.
Long-term success with AT involves an ongoing look at need, equipment trial, and evaluation, followed by maintenance and growing expertise by the user, family, and professionals. It is important to remember that AT needs usually change with time, circumstances, and goals; therefore, AT should continue to be considered and reconsidered during every IEP.
For more information on assistive technology, read a longer version of this post on the blog Glenda’s Assistive Technology Information and More, plus posts on AT for early childhood, learning disabilities, dyslexia, executive functioning, and organization; as well as tutorials/quick guides and free AT and support programs.