Although there is no assistive technology team in the district, a protocol for providing assistive technology (AT) for students is followed. The process has strengths, as well as some weaknesses.
Through interviews with a classroom teacher, school psychologist, and the speech language pathologist, the process for AT decisions and implementations was similar to that described in Lenker, et. al. (2012, p. 63). For students who do not use AT or whose needs have changed, it begins with referral and intake. Those who might contribute to the recommendation regarding student’s use of assistive technology include special education teachers, classroom teachers, parents, students themselves, and others, such as the nurse and school psychologist who might interact and work with the student. Based on these recommendations, a student will then moves to the initial evaluation. During the initial evaluation, the student is evaluated by the Occupational Therapist (OT) from the district, during which the OT will identify the student’s needs, see what skills the student possesses – often in terms of computer use abilities, writing abilities, and motor coordination- and have the student try various devices that are on hand to seeing which programs and tools the district has that may be compatible for meeting the student’s needs. If the OT feels that the student has more extensive needs than the district can meet through their evaluation, then the OT will schedule an evaluation outside the district through a RESC (Regional Educational Service Centers), usually CREC. This step is taken when the district does not have the proper type or level of AT on hand to test with the student.
After the evaluations, the OT or outside evaluator will create a report with recommendations for the student. This report will be shared during a PPT, 504, or STAT meeting. The recommendations are usually implemented with little or no conflict, as recommendations seek to ensure they are feasible in the specific classroom and students’ environment. After the final decision is made, AT is ordered and setup, and any training that needs to occur happens. After this, basic maintenance, and as needed replacement, of the AT occurs. Additionally, teachers provide feedback on the effectiveness of the AT in the classroom. The OT or CREC will re-evaluate the student as needed from there on out. At each PPT, 504 or STAT meeting, the AT will be discussed and any changes for future use will be made.
Strengths of the assistive technology process include that it is simple and straightforward, collaborative, and the district has many resources to draw from. The process is fairly simple and straightforward as it follows the same trajectory for each student, with the OT organizing most of the process. Additionally, it is collaborative. The classroom teacher, special education teacher, other resource specialist, parents, and the OT all work together to make the best choice for the student. Lastly, the district has a large selection of AT which has accumulated over the years for student use. This means it has a variety of AT to try out in evaluations and that many pieces of AT are available for student use for little cost.
Some weakness of the AT process include limited finances and disagreements over what is best for the child. The district wants the best for their students but has to make do with what fulfills the students’ needs within a limited budget for the purpose of longevity and being able to meet multiple student’s needs. Connected to the limited finances, is that once an AT is in an IEP or 504, it must be provided at all times. If the AT breaks (through the students fault or not), it must be replaced by the school at the cost of the school, at the districts cost. Sometimes however, a person will disagree with the district’s decision on which AT is implemented, usually the parents. Some parents feel certain AT best meets their student’s needs. To ensure this is implemented they will seek additional outside evaluations of the student and present these evaluations to the school with the expectation of implementation of the recommendations. When parents have outside evaluations done separate from the school district, the school is generally obliged to heed the evaluator’s recommendations. Parents in the know will fight for AT listed on outside evaluations to be paid for by the district. Additionally some parents are more involved in their students’ academic careers than others. When they work at the school itself or keep in frequent contact with staff, these parents are more likely to have more detailed and extensive AT implemented due the fact that the parent’s involvement. For example, a teacher who is a parent of a child in the school can ensure more readily than a parent not in the school system that the IEP is being met and has more clout when providing suggestions for AT use. This might include allowing a student with handwriting problems to use a laptop for note-taking and requiring math teachers to provide typed notes for the student. Additionally, on tests, when the student answers a question wrong, the teacher is required to have the student read their answer to the teacher to ensure it is not just the teacher misreading the students answer due to their hand-writing issue. Teachers feel more pressure to follow the AT because they know the parent will be closely monitoring its implementation.
The main role of teachers in the AT process is to implement the AT in the classroom as it is supposed 8877to be implemented. If the AT is not working with that student or not working with that class, the teacher is responsible for talking to the case manager. Teachers also provide feedback at PPTs and provide recommendations on the IEP form.
The district AT processes strengths outweigh the weaknesses, as parents in disagreement are usually an outlier to the process and not have the finances to purchase what is desired is inevitable in any district. The districts fidelity to its process and its straightforward, collaborative nature make recommendations, evaluations and implementation of AT a fair and effective process. Overall, despite not having an AT team, the district is successful in meeting and fulfilling its students AT needs.
Interviews. October 2013. Classroom teacher, school psychologist, speech language pathologist.
Lenker, J., Shoemaker, L., Fuhrer, M., Jutai, J., Demers, L., Tan, C.H , & DeRuyter, F. (2012). Classification of assistive technology services: implications for outcomes research. Technology and disabilities. (24), 59 – 70.