A blind woman using phone as assistive technology

Introducing the Assistive Technology Blog Series

Author: Nicholas Jay Hoekstra; info@ciddl.org

Two major aims of the Center for Innovation, Design and Digital Learning (CIDDL) include: 

  • Increasing the knowledge, adoption, and use of educational technologies within education, related service, and leadership preparation programs, and 
  • Increasing faculty capacity to use educational technologies in these programs. 

Assistive technology, or AT, is an important aspect of our work. In a new blog series, we will present readers with multiple types of AT, provide an overview of research and practices associated with AT, and discuss how to support teacher candidates in applying AT in the classroom.

AT! It’s Where It’s At

In Section 300.5 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), AT is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. AT is more than just useful technology, however; it’s also a requirement. IDEA goes on in Section 300.324 to mandate that AT and related services be considered during the development of a student’s individualized education program (IEP).

This or ThAT

The term AT can refer to a wide range of devices and software, including Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, adaptive furniture, and text-to-speech devices Within each category of AT, there are several different softwares or types of tools that professionals need to choose from. This means that the choice of AT may be a process of trial and error. As De Witte and colleagues explain in a 2018 paper, the choice of the correct AT solution for a student depends on the goals and individual characteristics of that student. What works for one student may not work for another. AT HIVE provides rich resources for 12 categories of AT, such as Note Taking, Reading, Communication, and Magnification technologies.  

The wide range of potential AT solutions also presents a challenge to researchers. In a review of over 900 articles, Dave Edyburn highlights both the complexity of the topic and the difficulty it can be to stay up-to-date with new information. The report provides some interesting findings. Despite wide recognition of the importance of AT, there is a large gap in the number of students who could benefit from AT and those who receive it. This means that many students needlessly struggle. 

The same report found that AT and related services are most often provided in a reactive fashion, the tool is only provided when a parent, teacher, or other staff member has advocated on behalf of the student. This can lead to the inequitable distribution of AT to students depending on whether their parents or educators are knowledgeable about AT. Both of these findings underscore the importance of better preparing leaders, educators, and related service providers for increased awareness around the use of AT. Edyburn has also shared his insights into past lessons and future opportunities about AT in our previous research brief.

AT School and AT Work!

According to experts, AT is not the sole responsibility of the special education teacher, but other educational stakeholders such as general education teachers should also be familiar with AT. This is because the general education teacher may spend the most time with a student, know them best, and be able to speak on their behalf or support student self-advocacy during IEP meetings. Yet, a study by Okolo and Diedrich found that general educators report having significantly lower confidence in incorporating AT into their classroom than other service providers. 

Hope remains! Studies have consistently shown that even having a short AT orientation in their preservice training can better prepare teachers to implement AT in the classroom. Teachers who report having had a course on AT during college are more aware of federal legislation policies, funding sources, and incorporating AT into the curriculum.

Share Your Experience with AT!

Over the course of several blogs, we will introduce a wide range of AT as well as strategies to support the incorporation of AT in teacher preparation. Of course, for any questions or suggestions – or to share your own experiences, tips, and tools – please join the conversation at the CIDDL Community.