1999 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 1999 Conference Table of Contents


Helen Canfield, M.A.,CCC/SLP
AbleNet, Inc.

Public Law 101-476, "The 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)," was passed in recognition that many children with disabilities did not have access to technology.

This law requires that school districts take responsibility for identifying children's technology needs. According to IDEA, a child's Individualized Education Program Plan (IEP) must include the nature of needed technology support and the kind and amount of support services to be provided in school. Implementation of IDEA has improved access to technology for individuals with disabilities in schools. However, there seems to be a gap between what children have access to in school versus what they have access to at home. When children do not have access to similar technology in the home generalization of newly acquired skills becomes difficult.

Why does this gap exist? One is likely to get a very different answer to the question from parents and care givers than from school personnel. Parents indicated a "lack of communication or collaboration between home and school regarding technology use" as the biggest deterrent to using technology at home, according to a survey reported in Exceptional Parent magazine (Schwartz, 1993).

School staff on the other hand, reported a lack of time and [the staff's] lack of information about how to use technology as obstacles in their ability to assist parents. When asked what services they found most helpful when using technology at home, parents cited technology literacy training, modeling how to assist children, and availability of an "expert" consultant.

This presentation will present a simple process for parents to use to identify and carry out activities in their home with their child with both severe physical and cognitive disabilities to accomplish daily tasks with the use of simple technology. Technology including voice output communication aids, battery operated devices, basic environmental control systems and a variety of switches is an integral part of the process. The tool was created as a way to give the child with disabilities as many opportunities at home to use assistive technology as they have at school.

The entire process is based upon several underlying assumptions. The first of these assumptions is the concept of partial participation. It is not necessary to wait for a child to master all the steps to an activity before he or she is included in the activity. Anyone who has ever had experience with a five year old knows the pride they feel when the child announces "I made cookies today!" when all they really did was crack the eggs into the bowl. This fact does not make the experience any less valuable to the child even though they played only a small part in the entire task. Perhaps the concept of partial participation is best summed up by the following expression "no on can do everything, but everyone can do something!"

Another underlying assumption upon which this guide is built is the premise that everyone can communicate and meaningfully interact with the environment and there are no prerequisites to begin training in the use of assistive technology (Kangas & Lloyd, 1988). When a child is physicaly challenged the "do" piece becomes more difficult for parents as they try to provide opportunities for fun, play and participation in the widest family activities. One solution to this challenge comes in the form of simple-to-use technology. Even though a child does not show understanding of the concept of cause/effect or intentional behavior, he or she can learn those things by interacting with the environment with the aid of assistive technology.

The inventory begins with general guidelines the family should consider when planning ways to implement assistive technology in the home. Careful consideration of these guidelines will optimize the success of using the technology for both the child and the family. One of the most important of these is the parent/care giver's priorities for the child. Another guideline the family will want to consider is the setting and activity in which the family is interested in increasing the child's participation and/or independence.

Identifying what assistive devices the family is familiar with, if any, is also important. Perhaps the child is currently using assistive technology successfully at school, if so, what is it and can it be incorporated into the home setting? Additional suggestions are included such as keeping the activities simple and being successful at one activity before moving on to new ones.

Following the general guidelines the user is lead through a simple step-by-step process to help identify opportunities for including the use of technology in family activities. The process includes four steps, they are: first, choose a general activity area in which to start; second, select general application ideas that look appealing; third, identify assistive technology tools that have the most universal applications; and fourth, follow detailed directions for carrying out the ideas.


The family is first presented with five general activity areas from which to choose the one or two areas of greatest interest to them. The five areas along with a brief definition follow.


At step two the parent or care giver chooses from several listed activities within the category that look interesting or "doable" keeping in mind the parameters outlined earlier. Examples of applications include things such as turning on an appliance with a switch and control unit, giving congratulations at a graduation party with an AAC device, or assigning clean-up activities with the use of a random, switch-activated spinner.


Step three quickly analyzes the chosen activities to determine which assistive technology most effectively lends itself to opening up opportunities for participation. This will direct the parent to the specific device to start with and upon which to build other activities to make them switch accessible.


Step four gives a more detailed description of the ideas and specifies step by step directions on how to implement the ideas including hooking up and operating the equipment.

Some of the suggested activity ideas for use of simple technology at home will be presented and illustrated for the attendees with the use of slide examples. Those attending the presentation will have an opportunity to see Iggy as she engages in a variety of activities in her home from vacuuming her van to watering plants to laying a game of Hangman to calling her real pet bear with a voice output communication aid. Time will be left for questions by the participants.


Kangas, K. & Lloyd, L. (1988). Early cognitive skills as prerequisites to augmentative and alternative communication use: What are we waiting for?" Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 211-221.

Schwartz, Adele. (1993). "Technology Use At Home," Exceptional Parent, 23(9), 36-38.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 1999 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.