2003 Conference Proceedings

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Empowering IEP teams for Assistive Technology Consideration and Assessment

Penny Reed, Director
Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative
Amherst, WI
Email: preed@wi-net.com

IDEA '97 clearly raised the bar for IEP teams when it specifically required that each IEP team "consider" the need for Assistive Technology. Prior to that requirement, many school districts only provided assistive technology for a small subcategory of students with disabilities, primarily those with obvious physical challenges or a need for augmentative communication.

In the last five years many school districts have made tremendous progress in training and supporting IEP teams so that they are able to effectively consider the student's need for assistive technology. Unfortunately other school districts have not made this progress. Now there are several tools available to assist and support IEP teams. This session will demonstrate and provide to each participant a copy of the Resource Guide for Teachers and Administrators on Assistive Technology and the Assistive Technology Consideration Quick Wheel. The Resource Guide is a free publication from the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative, available to download from www.wati.org. Here is an excerpt.

Overview of Assistive Technology

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology is any tool or device that a student with a disability uses to do a task that he or she could not otherwise do without it or any tool the student uses to do a task more easily, faster, or in a better way. It can be a commercial product or something someone makes. It can be a simple "low tech" device such as a pencil grip or an expensive "high tech" device such as a computer.

The legal definition of assistive technology is, ".. any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability." (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1401(1))

Why is it important for all educators to be aware of assistive technology? Assistive technology has the powerful potential of impacting significantly upon a student with disabilities by contributing to his or her learning, independence, self esteem, and quality of life.

Who benefits from assistive technology?

Any student with a disability from mild to severe may benefit from the use of assistive technology. There is assistive technology to help an individual with reading, writing, remembering, walking, sitting, seeing, hearing, and communicating. Any student who needs help with any of these life functions may benefit significantly from the use of assistive technology.

What are some of the things assistive technology can do for students?

How does a student receive assistive technology?

The need for assistive technology must be considered at every student's IEP meeting.

That means that at least one person on the IEP team needs to know something about assistive technology. Ideally, all members of the team would have at least general knowledge about assistive technology and how it can benefit a student with a disability.

Many school districts have written procedures that include assistive technology and outline specific steps to follow to obtain it for a student with disabilities. If the IEP team decides to try assistive technology with a student, they will need to borrow it first to make sure that the assistive technology works as intended, before they purchase it. Larger districts typically have a pool of assistive technology for trial purposes, smaller districts may need to borrow assistive technology from regional or state lending libraries where possible.

If the IEP team isn't sure about the child's need for assistive technology or feels that they do not have the necessary knowledge to makea decision, then they need to bring in a consultant to help them or refer the child for an AT assessment. In some districts there is a system in place for someone from the district level to provide technical assistance to the IEP team. In other districts there is not. Generally, when an AT assessment is deemed necessary, the procedure is to assess the student's abilities and needs, determine goals, identify assistive technology devices to try, obtain loaned equipment, and document the effectiveness of the trial use. WATI has created forms to guide a team successfully through all of these steps. They are available at no charge and can be downloaded from the WATI web site at www.wati.org

We recommend that any AT assessment be completed by a team, not an individual. The team should include individuals from different disciplines with different perspectives and should always include the parent or parents. When the student is able to understand and contribute to the assessment, he or she should also be an active participant in the decision making. Assessing Student's Need for Assistive Technology (WATI, 2000) is a large resource manual to help school district teams with the AT assessment process.

The Law Regarding Assistive Technology

What is the school district's responsibility in regard to assistive technology?

The school district is mandated by state and federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to provide assistive technology to all students with disabilities if it is required for them to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Each IEP team must determine if assistive technology is needed by that student. If assistive technology is deemed necessary, it will be written into the student's Individualized Educational Program. The law says, Each public agency shall ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in 300.5-300.6, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child's

  1. Special education;
  2. Related services; or
  3. Supplementary aids and services.

How does the IEP team know if assistive technology is "needed" or "required"? The only way to truly know whether assistive technology will make a significant difference for a student is try it out. For instance if a student is struggling with getting meaning from printed text, the IEP team may think that the student will benefit from having text scanned into a computer and spoken. The only way to determine if this will work is to try it. If the student has never tried the assistive technology, the IEP team should write the trial use of the technology into the IEP, rather than the purchase or permanent acquisition of the assistive technology.

What are assistive technology services?

They are any service that is needed to help the student acquire or use the assistive technology. Assistive technology services include:

Does the school district have to buy the assistive technology?

The school district is required to "provide" the assistive technology. They may borrow or rent a device or seek donated funds to purchase it, in addition to school district funds. Some children receive Medical Assistance (MA). MA may approve the purchase of some assistive technology. When MA purchases the technology, it is the property of the family.

Does the district have to send the assistive technology home?

The IEP team must decide if the assistive technology is needed at home. The law states: "On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child's home or in other settings is required if the child's IEP team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE. (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(12)(B)(i))

Types of Assistive Technology

What kinds of assistive technology are there?

There are thousands of items that can be classified as assistive technology and many ways to think about assistive technology. The one we find the most helpful is to categorize the assistive technology according to the task for which it is helpful.

We use the following categories to help us think about assistive technology.

On the following pages you will find an explanation of each of these categories as well as examples of assistive technology for each of them.

Where could I find out more about assistive technology?

Near the end of this handbook you will find many print, disk, video, and online resources about assistive technology. In addition, throughout this section, you will find several web sites relating to the specific technology described.

If you would like to see a very thorough listing of assistive technology devices, visit www.abledata.com. This web site is a searchable database of over 23,000 devices. If you are specifically interested in computer related assistive devices, try the searchable data base found at www.closingthegap.com.

For information on assistive technology services, check out www.qiat.org.

In addition to useful archives and links, you can sign up for a list serve about providing effective assistive technology services. Finally for information about best practices and a free, downloadable set of forms to be used in assistive technology assessment, visit the WATI web site at www.wati.org.

The Resource Guide continues with a series of continuums of assistive technology for each of the tasks listed above.

Another brand new resource, the Assistive Technology Consideration Quick Wheel will also be disseminated at the session. It is the result of a collaboration between the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the Technology and Media (TAM) Division of CEC and the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI). The AT Quick Wheel takes each of the continuums mentioned and places them on a handy, easy to use wheel that can be taken to the IEP meeting to help the IEP team consider the need for assistive technology. Here are two examples of the continuums that are found both in the Resource Guide and on the AT Quick Wheel.


In addition, WATI teaches a simple three component process for assistive technology assessment. The components are: Information Gathering, Team Decision Making, and Trial Use. WATI has created a set of forms to guide the team through each of these steps. They are available free of charge and can be downloaded from www.wati.org. The forms will be distributed and the purpose of each explained. The steps of the AT assessment process taught by WATI are supported by the following forms:

Overall Process:
Directions/Procedure Guide

Information Gathering
Referral/Task Identification Guide
AT Consideration Guide
Student Information Guide
Environmental Observation Guide

Decision Making
AT Planning Guide
AT Checklist

Trial Use
AT Trial Use Guide
AT Trial Use Summary

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