1999 Conference Proceedings

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Providing Assistive Technology in a Rural Setting: Steps to Success

Sue Murn, Assistive Technology Teacher
ONC BOCES-Innovative Programs
Cyr Center
Stamford, NY 12167
Email: Smurn@aol.com

David Mitchell
Director, Innovative Programs
ONC BOCES
Cyr Center
Stamford, NY 12167
Email: dmitchell@mail.oncboces.org

Otsego-Northern Catskill BOCES, or Board of Cooperative Educational Services, is part of a co-op that provides shared services in public schools throughout New York State. Located about 2 hours southeast of Syracuse, and three hours north of Manhattan, ONC BOCES serves 19 school districts with a total population of approximately 12,000 students with a geographical area of 1500 square miles. Of the 12,000 students, over 1500 are students with disabilities which represents 13% of the total population.

Our BOCES region includes most of Otsego County, northern Delaware County, southern Schoharie County and western Greene County in New York State, an area larger than Rhode Island. Predominantly rural, with many pockets of poverty, 17 of the 19 schools are K-12 with total populations of approximately 500 students per district. All of our schools face financial constraints and have to make difficult decisions in program offerings to their students. Although financial resources are limited, we are still able to convince schools of the importance of Assistive Technology

Evolution

Prior to our Assistive Technology (AT) services, any student for whom AT was a consideration had to make the trip to Utica, NY where our state's Alliance for Technology Access center, Techspress was located. For some students, that trip was 3 hours each way. It also involved sending teachers and therapists so coverage had to be provided for these people while they participated in the technology consultation. In some cases, the district would send everyone on a school bus. This took the student and the team out of their familiar environment and put them into a strange setting at great cost.

The Assistive Technology program began in 1993 when a small grant was written by our Special Education Training and Resource Center Director. This grant provided for a group of four volunteers to receive training at our state Alliance for Technology Access Center for a week. The team then had $10,000 to spend to begin developing a library of hardware and software to be used in evaluation of technology tools for learning by students and their educational teams.

New administration was very supportive of the program beginnings and worked with the SETRC Director to offer to the component school districts free evaluations for the remainder of the school year by the recently trained team members. A referral process was developed and the team handled 25 evaluations in the first three months. Team members were still volunteers as there was no formal program at this time.

Evaluations resulted in reports; recommendations included equipment, setup, training, and direct support for students over a period of time. School districts were billed for setup, training and student support. Consultants were able to guide districts in finding funding, when possible.

Fees for service and writing grants at the local and state level enabled the program to continue to grow. A full time Assistive Technology Teacher was hired in January of 1996. This teacher was responsible for doing all evaluations, setup, training, and student support as well as maintaining and updating equipment. 10 students from 5 districts made up the original caseload; there are presently 40 students receiving direct services, 25 who are seen on an "as-needed" basis only, and 10 evaluations pending.

A half-time Assistive Technology teacher was hired in September of 1997. Another full time person will be added in September of 1999 as we now service all of the districts, cross-contract with the neighboring BOCES and with an adult agency as well. Services include:

Setting up a local program enabled us to reach students in their own environments and allowed us to take more time in recommending appropriate tools for each individual with the likelihood of more input from team members and more ownership. The Alliance for Technology Access has been instrumental in success of this program; the original Assistive Technology Teacher was trained at the ATA center, Techspress. Continued support has come in loans of equipment, advice and direction, vendor support, and ongoing AT education through conferences and a daily conversation through the ATA listserve in which technology questions and answers are offered. In an isolated, rural region, this brainstorming is invaluable.

Barriers

Steps to Success

Evolution for Continued Success

The model is evolutionary based on the needs of the individuals served. As the 1998-99 school year progresses, the emphasis has turned to teacher training within the component school districts.

Rationale: If teachers are aware of the tools that exist at their fingertips, have the opportunity not only to help select the technology but also to have the time to try it and use it, they will be more likely to use it. If they understand what a student is using and why, they are more likely to make sure it is being used. If they understand law and funding sources the team becomes stronger in advocating for a student.

Providing training on site means that teachers do not have to travel, are in their own environments, their own tools are used, training is entirely hands-on, and often the students they work with are involved in the training. As the teachers work through the training they are required to develop lessons and instruction using the tools and become invested in using these under supervision. Gradually this supervision is reduced and teachers have become very invested and independent in making sure the tools are used.

Finally, AT is applied in the schools by the school teaching staff on a regular basis. This leads to a stronger support overall of each student and is not reliant upon a sporadic visit by the AT provider. The AT teacher is then able to provide services and training as needed and waiting periods for evaluations are shorter.

Summary

Our AT program is evolutionary in nature and the evolution is determined by the needs of the individuals we serve.

Each student is different and unique and we need to have the means to allow the student to grow through the technology.

With the barriers still in place, we manage to have a very successful program. With Alliance support, and with growing awareness of the power of AT by the districts and agencies, we are making it happen in a deprived rural setting.


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