2001 Conference Proceedings

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Infusing Technology Throughout The District Strategies Assistive Technology Specialists Use to Get Other Professionals On Board

Mary Sagstetter, M.A.Ed
AbleNet, Inc.

Patricia Wright, M.A.
AbleNet, Inc.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) consider if assistive technology is a service that needs to be provided. As parents and educators become more aware of the power that assistive technology can have in a child’s educational program more children’s IEPs are containing assistive technology equipment and services. Many school districts are meeting the response of this service demand through designating Assistive Technology Specialists. Assistive Technology Specialists can have a myriad of roles. Roles and responsibilities for the Specialist might include assessment and equipment recommendations, ongoing direct support to a student, staff development and the development of district-wide assistive technology standards are just a few of the daily tasks that an Assistive Technology Specialist might encounter. However, an Assistive Technology Specialist can not be omnipresent nor omniscient, support for students using assistive technology additional support must come from other professionals involved in the student’s education. This is particularly important for students with severe and profound disabilities. Often students with severe disabilities have multiple service providers who are responsible for facilitating their education. Service providers might include: general education teachers, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, vision specialists to name just a few. Meyer (1987) and her colleagues noted that many of the indicators of a quality program for students with severe disabilities concern collaboration and interaction between the multiple service providers.

Decentralization of service delivery is not a new concept to special education. There is great clarity in the understanding that there is little value in setting a goal for a child to learn how to operate a computer and then providing instruction one-time per week when the Assistive Technology Specialist is in the classroom. Service delivery needs to be augmented by having all the educators that provide support to a student be responsible for implementing all of the educational objectives. Augmentative and Alternative Communication services provided to students in schools has long been a multidisciplinary activity in which speech-language pathologists have had active roles as the communication specialist (Buekelman & Mirenda, 1992). In Scotland, Speech and Language Pathologists felt that in order to increase user success the professionals supporting the equipment needed training in more than device features. In order to have device users achieve success training needed to include communication strategies, social interaction skills, training others, changing other’s attitudes and support users in every day environments (McCall & Moodie, 1998). In a previous survey regarding Augmentative and Alternative Communication users, special educators identified: administrative support, availability of teaching aides, time, training, support from parents and support from speech and language pathologists as critical areas in need of attention for augmentative and alternative communication students to succeed (Soto, 1997). It is interesting to note that speech and language pathologists and special educators felt that critical to the success of a user with their device was the professionals ability to train others and the ability to change other’s attitudes. Development of other professionals skills are clearly pivotal to the success of augmentative and alternative communication.

Ferguson et.al (1992) determined that one of the components that led to the success of students with severe disabilities included in general education settings required teachers, regardless of their official labels, to provide students with supports by flexibly working together through the development of relationships. The release of categorical roles is one strategy that can lead to collaborative transdisciplinary teaming and fluid service delivery in special education. Collaborative transdisciplinary team members work together to solve problems and make decisions. Problem solving involves defining the problem, diagnosing the problem, generating alternative strategies to address the problem, deciding on and implementing one strategy and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy selected, all of these combined lead to a fluid service delivery for students receiving special education services.

Empowerment of teachers is another strategy that has led to success of students with severe disabilities being included in general education settings. When teachers are empowered they have input in restructuring school communities in respect to policy and procedure, thereby reflecting their perspective including the needs of individuals with severe disabilities. Teachers who are committed to the management of school-based changes are able to more accurately meet the needs of students with severe disabilities, parents and the community (Cosden, 1990). It is reasonable to assume that the information gathered from Speech and Language Pathologists and Special Education Teachers regarding decentralization of service delivery would be a valid starting point for Assistive Technology Specialists.

In order to address individual and district needs Assistive Technology Specialists have developed strategies in an attempt to insure quality service delivery to students receiving the service of Assistive Technology. Strategies include developing systemic Assistive Technology teams in each school building or region with whom the Assistive Technology Specialists directly interacts and then those teams carryout the direct service needs. Providing an inventory of assistive technology needs for both teachers and students provides an additional method to insure quality service implementation. Other Assistive Technology Specialists have determined an appropriate starting point for teachers who are hesitant to incorporate assistive technology in their instruction, thus providing an excellent jumping-off point for those teachers to garner success, feel empowered and move forward. Blackman (1990) states that once teachers become personally invested in strategy implementation they provide both simple and innovative classroom interventions that are geared toward success for individuals with severe disabilities.

This session will focus on the strategies developed by Assistive Technology Specialists that are leading the infusion of technology throughout their district. It is all about real people and how they make it work.

Blackman, H. (1990). Typically Asked Questions About Inclusion. LaGrange Area Department of Special Education.

Buekelman, D.R. & Mirenda, P. (1992) Augmentative and Alternative communication: management of severe communication disorders in children and adults. Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks.

Cosden, M.A. (1990). Expanding the Role of Special Education. Teaching Exceptional Children.

Winter 1990, pp. 4-8.

Ferguson, D.L., Meyer, G, Jeanchild, L., Juniper, L. & Zingo, J. (1992). Figuring Out What To Do with The Grownups: How Teachers Make Inclusion "Work" for Students with Disabilities. The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, Vol. 17, No. 4 pp. 218-226.

McCall, F & Moodie, E. (1998). Training Staff to Support AAC Users in Scotland: Current Status and Needs. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vo. 14, No. 4, pp. 228-238.

Meyer, L.H., Eichineger, J. & Park-Lee, S. (1987). A Validation of Program Quality Indicators in Educational Services for Students with Severe Disabilities. The Journal of the Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps, Vol12, No. 4, pp. 251-263.

Soto, G. (1997). Teacher Attitudes Towards Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 13(3), 186-197.

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