2001 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents


Lynn Gitlow
Husson College, Bangor Maine
E-mail: gitlowl@husson.edu

Teri Sanford, OTR/L
Creighton University
Omaha, Nebraska

According to a report from the Census Bureau there are 54 million people with disabilities in the United States (McNeil, 1997). This represents a significant percentage of the total population of the people in the United States who report having a disability which is defined by the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps (ICIDH)-2 as any impairment which interferes with a persons ability to function within their environment (Bickenbach, 1999; WHO, 1999). Although people with disabilities are becoming increasingly involved in daily activities of work and leisure utilizing assistive technology (AT), barriers to their full inclusion remain. One of the obstacles to inclusion which is consistently identified in the literature is the lack of access to AT. Although there are many reasons which influence access to AT, the need for practitioners who are competent in the evaluation, ordering, and teaching that comes with the various issues surrounding assistive technology is one that is cited (O’Day,2000). Even though there are a growing number of AT educational programs available nation wide, the lack of higher education in AT was identified as a pressing need for practitioners in the state of Maine.

Current Situation in the State of Maine

During the past year 1999-2000, an AT higher education consortium was formed by Maine Cite to address the lack of AT education statewide for health care providers, other rehabilitation providers, and educators. The consortium discovered that there are only five courses dealing with AT embedded within specific training programs in higher education institutions in Maine, such as special education and occupational therapy. Additionally, practitioners cannot enroll in the existing courses unless they are matriculated in the specific program. Finally, there is no formalized network of AT practitioners that can provide collaboration and support to those who are in the field.

Having established the need for and the benefit of using A.T. we are faced with the problem of finding ways to train more professionals in its appropriate use so applications can be effectively applied. The additional challenge of the rural nature of Maine and the demanding schedules of clinicians who can not take off large periods of time to travel to university settings for additional training makes this problem even more daunting.

One potential answer to this dilemma is some form of long distance learning. While correspondence courses have long been around, the availability of computers and the Internet has taken long distance learning into a new era. Computer technology has made course offerings, and even degrees, available from many colleges throughout the nation. This has made higher education available to more of the population, non-disabled as well as disabled. Computer technology makes it possible to offer courses through a web site, with e-mails, video presentations, audio presentations, and online discussions. Clearly the use of one or more types of long distance learning coupled with a limited onsite exposure for specific skill development could be a means to offering further training in A.T. to make it available to thousands of people.

However, even though distance education and the use of computer technology in delivering professional and continuing education is growing, a survey of special educators in Illinois regarding their preference in five training formats for receiving AT education revealed that they preferred to receive onsite, nontraditional or traditional course training to distance course education (Thompson, Siegal, Kouzoukas, 2000). Additionally a report commissioned by the National Educators Association ( NEA) revealed that over 50 percent of distance learning faculty report that their students live within one hour of campus and another third report that most of their students live in the same state (Abacus Associates, 2000).

Finally, professional education literature and adult education literature advise program developers to include stakeholders or potential participants in program development (Mott & Daley, 2000). Given that advice from the literature and the clearly established need for AT education in the state of Maine, a questionnaire was developed to survey potential students regarding the how they would like to have AT education delivered.

Research Questions

A review of the literature regarding the delivery of AT education was considered in developing a survey (Thompson, Siegal,, Kouzoukas, 2000; Lenker,1998;) to answer the following research questions.

  1. How many practitioners are interested in attending an AT certificate program?
  2. What are the characteristics of the practitioners who would like to receive AT education?
  3. How would practitioners in the state of Maine like to have AT education provided ?

Method and Sample

A single stage sampling survey design using a mailed questionnaire will be used to answer the research questions stated above. The population for this study will be healthcare and rehabilitation practitioners throughout Maine. Lists of licensed occupational and physical therapy practitioners, speech and language pathologists, physicians, rehabilitation specialists, nurses, case managers, and social workers will be obtained from the state boards. A random stratified sample of people will be chosen from these lists. Once the lists are received we will determine an appropriate sample size.

Descriptive statistics will be use to summarize the survey results. The results of this research, reported during this session, will be used to develop a theory based curriculum at Husson College to provide AT instruction to professionals throughout the State of Maine.


Abacus Associates, (2000) A Survey of Traditional and Distance Higher Education Members. [On –line] http://www.nea.org/he/abouthe/dlstudy.pdf

Bickenbach, J. (1999). ICIDH-2 and the role of environmental factors in the creation of disability. In C. Buhler & H. Knops (Eds.), Assistive Technology on the Threshold of the New Millennium (pp. 7-12). Washington, DC: IOS Press.

Lenker, J. (1998). Professional education programs in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. Technology & Disability 9(1/2): 37-48.)

McNeil, J. (1997). Current population reports: American with disabilities: 1994-95. Census Bureau [On-line]. Available: http://www.census.gov/prod/3/97pubs/p70-61.pdf.

Mott,V.& Daley, B. (Eds.) (2000). Charting a course for continuing professional education: Reframing professional practice. San Francisco: Josey- Bass.

O’Day, B., Brewer, J., Cook, D., King, C., Mendelsohn, S., Pierce, K.,& Vanderheiden, G. (2000) Federal policy barriers to assistive technology. National Council on Disability: Washington, DC [On-line]. Available: http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/assisttechnology.html

Thompson, J., Seigal, J., Kouzoulkas, S. (2000). Assistive technology at the dawn of the 21st Century: teachers perceptions. Special Education and Technology Practice. May/June Issue 2.3, 12-21

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2001 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

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