2002 Conference Proceedings

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WHAT EVERY ADMINISTRATOR NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Presenters:
Gayl Bowser, Coordinator
Oregon Technology Access Program
1871 NE Stephens
Roseburg, OR 97470 USA
541-440-4791 (phone)
541-957-4808 (fax)
gayl.bowser@douglasesd.k12.or.us 

Penny Reed, Director
Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative
357 N Main
Amherst, WI 54406
USA
715-824-6415 (phone)
715-824-3523
preed@wi-net.com

Administrators have many special skills and responsibilities that contribute to the success of individual student teams considering assistive technology (AT). Their contributions are also essential in determining the overall success of Assistive Technology efforts from an agency-wide perspective. Directors of special education programs, principals and supervisors may sometimes hesitate to take an active role in the development and provision of assistive technology services because of a lack of extensive knowledge about the technology itself. However, it is not knowledge of technology but vision and knowledge of program operation that the school administrator must contribute to an effective AT team.

Administrators generally supervise a variety of programs and functions. Most administrators engage in three types of activities as a part of that supervision. They manage the programs they are responsible for. They supervise the staff employed in these programs. Finally, they lead program development efforts.

All three of the administrative roles come in to play in the development of effective assistive technology programs. Administrators are managers when they sign purchase orders for new equipment and talk with parents about their hopes for the technology their children use. They are supervisors as they review the Assistive Technology recommendations of an AT team and participate in IEP decisions to provide Assistive Technology. They are program developers as they help to identify a vision and operating procedures for the provision of Assistive Technology services. Each aspect of the administrators role in the development and provision of assistive technology services is discussed in greater detail below.

Management of Assistive Technology Services

Most school administrators find that day to day program management takes up an enormous amount of time. Management tasks making sure the furnace is working, signing purchase orders and arranging for fire drills with the fire marshal. What are the management tasks an administrator needs to attend to that have to do with Assistive Technology? In general, the management tasks related to assistive technology fall into three categories. They include:

* planing for funding of Assistive Technology.
* ensureing that AT services are cost effective and efficient.
* ensureing that AT services are responsive to the school's constituency (students and parents)

Administrators answer a lot of management questions every day. As assistive technology becomes an integral part of the program's services, new issues arise and new questions are asked. Some examples of such questions are listed below. Following the questions, we have offered our thoughts regarding factors to consider in developing answers which are responsive to the individual needs of each program.

1. How should a team determine if Assistive Technology is really needed by the student? What actions should be taken if team members disagree?

Administrative Considerations
* Teams need a process that can apply to each student. If each team considering the AT needs of an individual uses a different decision making process, the program's Assistive Technology services will be inconsistent. Inconsistency can create problems of equity. A process which is implemented agency-wide helps teams to make decisions in a consistent and ethical way.
* Teams need a framework that helps them to apply the process. While an Assistive Technology process gives allows teams to know what steps to take, a framework helps them to understand how to take those steps. One framework that may be helpful is the Assessment Process outlined by the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI, 2000)

2. What Assistive Technology resources are available to program staff?

Administrative Considerations:
* Most programs have a variety of Assistive Technology tools available. Many individuals with disabilities will use things like calculators but to use them in a different way than their non-disabled peers. It is important that all staff know which AT tools are available in the program?
* It is essential that programs plan for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by identifying the budget line from which those devices may be purchased. The level of funding needed for such a line can be identified by reviewing past practice and anticipated needs of students.
* The administrator can provide answers to questions like these: "What should the team do when more information about Assistive Technology is needed?" "What help is available to program staff?" "How can teams use expert resources?"

Supervision and Assistive Technology Services

Supervision tasks revolve around the people employed in the program. Supervisors complete staff evaluations, respond to requests for assistance and ensure that the students receive safe and effective services. Some supervision activities are done on a daily basis. Others, like staff evaluation, are completed infrequently but with mandated timelines. Assistive Technology services add some supervision issues to the ones which have traditionally been addressed. In general, the supervision responsibilities related to assistive technology fall into two categories. Administrators are responsible to:

* Foster a school environment that has a low level of conflict and aid in conflict resolution around Assistive Technology issues when it does occur.
* Ensure that IEP's which include Assistive Technology are implemented in a legal and ethical manner.

Examples of supervision questions frequently asked of administrators are listed below. Following each question we have offered our thoughts regarding factors to consider in developing answers.

1. Under what circumstances do you want to be notified that an IEP team is considering AT?

Administrative Considerations;
* Each administrator will desire a different level of involvement in the AT decision making process. Some will want to be involved in every AT decision that is made. Others will leave much of the decision making to staff members with expertise in the subject. Even when this is the case, administrators may need to be involved when there is conflict. When the administrative role in the AT process is well defined for team members, the process will operate more smoothly for all concerned.
* While teams cannot consider cost when determining a student's need for a particular Assistive Technology device, some advanced notice may help an administrator to plan for the timely acquisition of an Assistive Technology device. Many administrators wish to be informed when a high cost item is being considered for an individual.

2. What should the team do if members experience differences of opinion or conflict?

Administrative Considerations:
* All programs experience staff conflict at some time. If a process is in place for dealing with conflict it may be applied to the provision of assistive technology services as well.
* Teams need to know who should be notified when conflict threatens to get out of hand and additional resources are needed for dispute resolution. Administrators can provide guidance in this area

3. What are the due process requirements regarding assistive technology?

Administrative considerations:
* The documentation of the need for assistive technology should, as closely as possible mirror the documentation of other needs in the IEP. What is the agencies overall approach to documentation? How can it be applied? What factors need to be described which are specific to assistive technology?
* There are a variety of ancillary factors which teams many need to consider. How does the agency deal with assistive technology which is used in the child's home or other environments? Is assistive technology provided to students in private schools?

Program Development for Assistive Technology Services

The administrator is generally the leader of efforts to improve existing assistive technology services and to develop new services. Some of the important aspects of program development include planning for professional development, allocating resources and assigning staff to specific AT duties. Effective systems change always has a dual focus on 1) increasing the service providers skills and 2) expanding the organization's capacity to provide services.

In the case of Assistive Technology, this means that some attention must be paid to developing highly visible, easily understood, readily accessed procedures and processes. To be effective all educators on the campus need to know
* how to recognize when a student might need Assistive Technology
* who to contact to find out about Assistive Technology
* how to make a referral for Assistive Technology
* how to operate the Assistive Technology once it is obtained, and
* how to determine whether the Assistive Technology is effective.

For this to happen, staff members need more than training. They need a set of procedures that are clearly defined and well supported by forms and resource materials to guide them through the process. They also need a vision of the agency's goals for improvement of assistive technology services.

The school administrator has vital roles to play in the management, supervision and program development of assistive technology services. When each of these roles is addressed directly, individuals with disabilities can be assured of legal, ethical and cost effective assistive technology services.

References

Bowser, G., & Reed, P. (1995). Education TECH points for assistive technology planning. Journal of Special Education Technology, 12 (4), 325-338.

Bowser, G, Assistive Technology Questions for Administrators, 2000, http://www.douglasesd.k12.or.us/otap

TSSA Collaborative: Technology Standards for School Administrator ( 2001) http://cnets.iste.org/tssa/view_standards.html

Reed, P. Assessing Students' Need for Assistive Technology (2000) Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative, Amherst, WI

Zabala, J. et al,. Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Services (2001), http://www.qiat.org


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