2001 Conference Proceedings

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Assistive Technology Support for Secondary Students Who Have Learning Disabilities:
A Collaborative Approach

Mark-Raymond, MS, Program Specialist
Sonoma County Special Education Local Plan Area
Santa Rosa, CA. 95403

Debra Wilcox, MS, CCC-SLP, AAC and Assistive Technology Specialist
Sonoma County SELPA Adaptive Technology Center
Sebastopol, CA. 95472

For over ten years the Adaptive Technology Center has been responsible to provide adaptive technology support to mainly low incidence eligible (blind, visually impaired and orthopedically impaired) students and students with augmentative communication needs in Sonoma County, California. The Center developed a collaborative team approach that centers around the student, parents and educational staff to problem solve, decide on next steps, trial teach with equipment from a loan pool, and support students and staff with ongoing support and training. During this time, there has been less support for students with learning disabilities. With the enactment of IDEA in 1997 and the provision for assistive technology support consideration for any child with an Individualized Education Program, school districts need information, support and training to meet the mandates of the law to provide a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities.

The Adaptive Technology Center and the Sonoma County SELPA are jointly providing support to county school districts to address the assistive technology needs of students with learning disabilities. An even more challenging subgroup of students are secondary aged students with learning disabilities who attend several classes each day, each class with a different teacher and each class with substantial content to read and respond to. The following information describes a collaborative site team approach to support secondary aged students that involves the regular education teachers as well as specialists.

General Approach

As previously stated this process starts with the identification of the collaborative team that usually includes the student, parent(s), resource specialist, assistive technology specialist and classroom teachers. The processes and forms provided by the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative and Georgia's Technology Assistance Project have been especially helpful. As recommended by WATI, the focus of the team is on the learning tasks required in the student's classes, rather than on merely using the available technology. From the beginning the group needs to consider technology supports within the context of curriculum scaffolding and accommodations already being used successfully by the student.

Background information is gathered either by way of a written referral by the resource teacher or a review of the student's records by the assistive technology specialist. WATI includes a detailed Student Information Guide that can be used to collect this initial information. The specialist can use this information to form a list of potential assistive technology tools the team may want to consider. Next, the collaborative team needs to meet as a group to jointly consider assistive technology supports within the context of the educational tasks the student is required to perform. Georgia's Technology Assistance Project Resource Packet provides an excellent chart of modifications, standard tools, and assistive technology solutions by instructional area. It is critical that the team understands that support will usually comprise a blend of already useful accommodations or supports with appropriate technology. Again, WATI includes a useful process on the Consideration Guide that focuses the group on the learning task, preserving successful accommodations, and then considering technology that increases the student's independence, participation in the least restrictive environment, or increases the student's efficiency. During this meeting, it may be helpful to demonstrate technology being considered and even allow the teachers to try the technology to see how the student can use the support.

The end result of this initial process is the development of a trial teaching plan that directly relates to the student's curriculum activities or tasks, not just to learning how to use the proposed technology tools. Included in this plan are trial use of equipment and software, training for the staff, and training for the student. The collaborative team is encouraged to have the student start using assistive technology with a regularly occurring assignment and not to be tempted to "over assign" technology as an initial support. Then as the student learns how to use the technology more efficiently and gains more independence, the technology can be expanded to include more learning activities. Another area that will need to be discussed is how technology will be addressed within the context of homework and assignments that need to be completed at home.

When local schools get the opportunity to see assistive technology successfully support secondary aged students, they are reassured that equipment they purchase will not be abandoned at some later date. A loan pool of equipment is available for trial teaching to schools on a short-term basis to allow for initial implementation, training and ordering. An initial loan pool should include portable battery operated word processors (AlphaSmart), electronic spellcheckers and dictionaries, text to speech word processing programs (Write OutLoud, IntelliTalk), word prediction programs (CoWriter), speech recognition software, math tools, electronic organizers (Inspiration, using Computer-Based Study Strategies), and optical character recognition software and scanning equipment (WYNN, Kurzweil).

Once an initial plan has been incorporated, it is important that the collaborative team continue to evaluate the instructional considerations: the task accommodations, materials, and technology solutions. The team can evaluate through observations (WATI provides a form), a hard copy or electronic portfolio of student work, and the student's and teachers' evaluation of the assistive technology support and its effectiveness. When this component of the support plan is ignored, there is a high potential that the technology will be abandoned within a short time period.

In addition, technical support needs to be available to the collaborative team on an as needed basis. The collaborative team should have a designated case manager for communication purposes, and this is usually the resource specialist at the school. A local technology support person should also be appointed; this can often be the technology support person who helps maintain the computers for the school in general. Specific trouble shooting support is available in Sonoma County by the Adaptive Technology Center specialists and a program specialist with our Special Education Local Plan Area. As other schools become aware of the success of assistive technology support for students with learning disabilities, the Adaptive Technology Center will provide specific training on a more regional basis.


* Anderson-Inman, Knox-Quinn, Horney (1996). Computer-Based Study Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities: Individual Differences Associated with Adoption Level. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29,5, 461-484.

* Resource Packet, An Assistive Technology Publication of Tools for Life, Georgia's Technology Assistance Project, 2 Peachtree Street, 35th floor, Atlanta, Georgia, 3030

* Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative, 1998.

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