The Reading, Writing and Arithmetic of Assistive Technology

By Michael Cruse

Let’s face it; you spend countless hours on the computer. In today’s society, it’s not uncommon to spend an hour in paying bills, catching up with family and friends, and shopping for great vacation deals, all from your computer. No matter what your initial resistance to new technology, you have probably grown to see it as indispensable to your everyday life. Now, imagine what this technology means to a child who has grown up with its ever changing pace? Imagine how much of your child’s life will be impacted by his ability to adapt to new technology. The truth is that today much of classroom success depends on access to technology that will support academic development. For students with learning difficulties, this technology is commonly referred to as Assistive Technology (AT). As it becomes more widely used, it is simply being seen as a means to help people with different learning styles meet their fullest potential.

For students with problems keeping themselves organized, there are countless technologies out there to help them get better organized and help them stay on task. The problem is that in our advertising-saturated society, it can sometimes be harder to figure out what we need than it is to find out where to buy it. Many schools offer a one size fits all approach to assistive technology. However, students with more defined needs must be able to customize the technology to provide better solutions for their particular challenges. One of the better resources for finding out about new technology solutions is Closing the Gap. This company offers online forums for discussing assistive technology with other users, an online guide to over 2,000 products, and a subscription database that offers a 30-day free trial to help answer some of the more frequent concerns of parents and educators. To access this free trial, go to Closing the Gap’s website athttp://www.closingthegap.com .

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that schools keep a record of any AT devices or services that a child uses to perform in the classroom. As well, evaluating the need for AT services is a requirement during the development of every child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP). Despite this requirement, there is no shared definition for providing quality AT services. To meet this need, an independent consortium at the University of Kentucky have developed the Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), which focuses on defining descriptors that serve as guidelines for quality AT services. The QIAT consortium has been used by school districts in the development and provision of quality AT services that are aligned to federal, state and local standards, as well as by consumers in the selection of AT services, and by leaders in the development of policies governing the use of AT in public education. You can learn more about the consortium’s research online at http://sweb.uky.edu/jszaba0/QIAT.html .

Another consideration in all this talk of new technology is how to pay for it. Schools provide AT for children to use in the classroom, but this does not always guarantee that a child can take it off school grounds to work on homework, or other projects. Cost is a significant consideration in the purchase of many types of AT. One resource for financial information on low-interest loans that can help make this technology more affordable is right here in our area. The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), located in Rosslyn, VA, has a comprehensive website with links to Alternative Financing Programs, funded under Title III of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. RESNA recently received a grant award from the U.S. Department of Education, in part, to help support 33 alternative financing programs funded under the AT Act. The Alternative Finance Technical Assistance Project can be accessed online athttp://www.resna.org/AFTAP/index.html .

Assistive technology is offering students at all ages and ability levels, the opportunity to excel in classroom, and beyond. While AT offers many possible solutions for students with different learning needs, the consideration of how to best implement this technology into a child’s whole learning environment is something that must be carefully considered. As with most important decisions, it pays to be an educated consumer and to utilize the professionals and resources that will help to make the best decision for your family. In doing so, you will be providing your child with the chance to develop the confidence and skills needed to succeed in our increasingly technology-oriented world.

Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources (WISER) members work to improve educational services and promote child advocacy by providing resources to children and parents. Please visit www.wiserdc.com  or call 301-816-0432 to find a specialist to work with your child and family.. Michael Cruse, ED.S, a member of the WISER group, is a learning consultant focusing on educational technology and the transition from high school to college for students with learning disabilities. He can be contacted via email at[email protected]

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