2004 Conference Proceedings

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ENHANCING THE ROLE OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY SPECIALISTS FOR STUDENTS WHO USE BRAILLE

Presenters
Larry L. Lewis, Jr.
Vice President of Sales, Blindness Division
Pulse Data HumanWare, Inc.
175 Mason Circle
Concord, CA 94520
Phone: 216-381-8106
Fax: 216-381-8107
Email: dmcnear@ecenet.com

Jim Halliday
President Emeritus
Pulse Data HumanWare
175 Mason Circle
Concord, CA 94520
Phone: 925-566-9222
Email: jhalliday@humanware.com

Effective service delivery models designed to meet the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities include educational teams that can evaluate together, plan together, and team together. These teams typically include people from a variety of perspectives, such as parents, the student, classroom teachers, special education teachers, related services personnel, and assistive technology specialists who bring their individual knowledge and skills to the team. These individuals work together as a team to reach consensus on what assistive technology services should be delivered to the student.

Unfortunately, this teaming process is not necessarily commonplace when planning for the assistive technology services for visually impaired students who read and write in braille. Frequently, decision-making regarding the assistive technology needs of students who read and write in braille is not conducted by a team, but left to the knowledge and skills of one person…the teacher of students with visual impairments. This results in mixed outcomes for the student, depending on the knowledge and skills in assistive technology of the teacher of students with visual impairments. If the teacher of students with visual impairments understands and is knowledgeable about the variety of braille assistive technology tools available, the many ways to access print information, and the evaluation process to determine the student's needs in assistive technology then the students are likely to have their needs met. However, it is not unusual for teachers of students with visual impairments to not have the expertise in these areas, because of the broad scope of knowledge and skills teachers must have to teach students in many areas of the core and expanded core curriculum. Therefore, it is critical that the team process and the involvement of a variety of team members is implemented to ensure students who read and write in braille have the opportunities to have their need for assistive technology services evaluated appropriately.

The team process has been difficult to implement for a variety of reasons, which may include the following: (1) an assistive technology specialist may not be available to assist in the decision-making process; (2) the assistive technology specialist may not feel they have the knowledge and skills in the area of braille assistive technology tools to be an effective team member; (3) adequate evaluation was not conducted by appropriate personnel; and (4) team members are intimidated by the braille assistive technology.

Blind students who read and write in braille have many unique needs in the area of literacy skills, and assistive technology is integral to blind students achieving literacy outcomes at the same level as their sighted peers. It is critical that all educators and all team members increase their knowledge in the area of braille assistive technology tools and braille literacy in order to participate in appropriate decisions to meet the assistive technology needs of blind students.

Because of the increasing availability of assistive technology specialists in local educational agencies and the increasing need to deliver effective assistive technology services to blind students, it is critical to provide information to assistive technology specialists that will allow them to be effective team members. Seldom has information been designed to provide assistive technology specialists with specific information about braille literacy and braille electronic tools that takes the mystery out of "this special equipment" and unique way of reading and writing.

This presentation will offer assistive technology specialists a body of knowledge to increase their ability to be effective team members for students who read and write in braille. The information is based on A Framework for Braille Literacy: Integrating Assistive Technology Tools in the Literacy Curriculum. This is a results-driven framework that focuses on what students should know and be able to do. A Framework for Braille Literacy is based on a continuum of 56 braille literacy tasks that students need to perform in school, home, and community environments in emergent, academic, and functional levels of literacy. Teaching strategies include how to complete literacy tasks with tools such as tactile image makers, electronic braillewriters, electronic braille/audible notetakers, refreshable braille displays, translation software, and associated computer applications.

Ideas and strategies will be shared about the role of the assistive technology specialist in evaluation, planning, and assistive technology services for visually impaired students who read and write in braille. Assistive technology specialists will be informed about the importance of their participation on the team and how they can support the team process increasing the probability that the right assistive technology decisions will be made for children who are blind.

McNear, D. (2001). A framework for braille literacy: Integrating assistive technology tools in the literacy curriculum. Concord, CA: Pulse Data HumanWare, Inc.

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