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Sandra Hopfengardner Warren, Ph.D.
Melissa Darrow Engleman, Ed.D.
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Special Education Program Area
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27848
For the vast majority of children with disabilities, location makes all the difference in the world. A difference that will determine whether they have access to assistive technology (AT) to facilitate their educational experiences....and access to school professionals who are knowledgeable about AT potential, assessments, selection, training, and maintenance. Both the Assistive Technology Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA 97) were designed to provide children with disabilities greater access to AT....and the intent of both Acts was clear: children will have access only when they are supported by a cadre of school professionals who have received adequate and appropriate training.
Who are these professionals? Behrman (1995, p. 213) suggests there are "few, if any, individuals who work or interact with individuals with disabilities, whether in schools, at work, in the community, or in the other agencies, who do not need at least some training." While the specific (AT) roles of each of these individuals will vary by the student's age, complexity of disability, intended purpose of AT, environment of AT use, it is clear these school professionals require training commensurate with their role in supporting the student using the AT.
IDEA 97 specifically charges Individualized Educational Program (IEP) Teams to consider a student's AT needs by identifying 3 questions for consideration:
1.) What is any, AT devices and/or services does the student need to achieve her/his annual goals, including benchmarks, or short-term objectives?
2.) Does the student need to learn new and/or increase skills to use assistive technology devices and/or services?
3.) What assistive technology skills do school staff need to support the student in achieving her/his annual goals or increasing her/his skills in use of assistive devices and/or services?
Clearly, the US Congress envisioned school professionals having a critical role in a child's access to and use of AT. Yet, these school professional need access to training that will prepare them for these new roles. The nature and extent of training ranges from formal preparation in academic settings, to less systematic training through seminars, conferences, and self-instruction. For example, direct rehabilitation service providers, such as speech, occupational, and physical therapists, may receive formal education in AT/IT. Other practitioners, such as school psychologists and educators, typically acquire their knowledge through on-the-job experiences and professional development opportunities (Interagency Committee on Disability Research, December 2000; NIDRR, 1998).
School psychologists and special educators have inherited a crucial place in the AT continuum as it relates to the education of children and youth; each year they evaluate the AT needs of as many as 5.6 million school children with IEPs. However, it is thought that most professional training programs in these two areas have not incorporated AT into their curricula, beyond the minimal amount required in the national program accreditation process (Lahm and Nickels, 1999).
Recognizing the need for education service providers to have access to more formal education experiences in AT awareness as well as in the range of devices and services that may support the educational experiences of children with disabilities (NIDRR, 1998), East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, NC is developing a collaborative program involving disciplines from special education, school psychology, occupational therapy, communication sciences, and adaptive recreation.
Two major activities are guiding the preliminary efforts of ECU to develop this program. First, a review of special education and school psychology graduate programs is being conducted. This review involves all graduate programs accredited by their respective professional organizations (i.e., Council for Exceptional Children, 200; National Association of School Psychologists; National Accreditation Council for Teacher Education, 2000). Questions posed to each of the program coordinators via an electronic survey are based on the standards raised by the respective national organizations as well as the priority training needs identified by Gruner and colleagues (2000) in their discussion of critical training issues for providers working with children with disabilities. The results of this study will be presented during the 2002 CSUN Conference. Following presentation of these findings, presenters will facilitate a discussion to identify the competencies critical to each of these disciplines as they relate to provider training to support children with disabilities who can benefit from access to AT in school settings.
Provider training is consistently identified as a critical factor in improving access to appropriate AT, reducing AT abandonment, enhancing user satisfaction (Phillips and Zhao, 1993; Schlosser, et al., 2000). Discussions during this 2002 CSUN Conference session will be used to inform the national understanding of key considerations in preparing special educators and school psychologists in their evolving roles as AT facilitators to children with disabilities.
Behrman, M. (1995). Assistive technology training. In K. Flippo, K. Inge, & J.M. Barcus (Eds.), Assistive Technology: A Resource for School, Work, and Community. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.
Gruner, A., Fleming, E., Carl. B, Diamond, C., Ruedel, K, Saunders, J., Paulsen, C., & McInerney, M. (2000). Synthesis on the Selection and Use of Assistive Technology. (Final Report for Contract No. HS07017002, Task Order 12). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research
Interagency Committee on Disability Research. (December 2000). "Strategy for the Development and Transfer of Assistive Technology and Universal Design." Washington, DC: Author.
Lahm, E. & Nickels, B. (1999). Assistive technology competencies for special educators. Teaching Exceptional Children, 32, 56-63.
National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education. (2000). Technology and the New Professional Teacher: Preparing for the 21st Century Classroom. [On-line]. Available: http://www.ncate.org/accred/projects/tech/tech-21.htm
National Association of State Directors of Special Education (1998, April 25). Recommended competencies for professional staff members in the area of assistive technology. [On-line]. Available: http://www.cde.ca.gov/spbranch/sed/atstaff.htm
National Institute on Disability and Rahabilitation Research (NIDRR). (1998). Blueprint for the Millennium: An Analysis of Regional Hearings on Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities. Washington, DC: Author.
Phillips, V. & Zhao. H. (1993). Predictors of assistive technology abandonment. Applied Research, 5 (36-45).
Schlosser, R., McGhie-Richmond, D., Blackstein-Adler, S., Mirenda, P., Antonius, K., & Janzen, P. (2000) Training a school team to integrate technology meaningfully into the curriculum: Effects on student participation. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15, 31-44.
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