What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


BYOD = Bring Your Own Device

 Image by Tait Coles
The times they are a changin’. Technology is absolutely booming. If we ignore it, are we doing our students justice? Shouldn’t we have students use what they are already using everyday and allow it to become a part of our educational system? We can’t afford to provide it to all of our students BUT, what if we were to start allowing them to BYOD?

Food for thought…
  • 1.9 billion wireless devices by 2014
  • 675M smart phones in 2012
  • 119M tablets in 2012      

Our students are savvy! They have rich tools at their fingertips. Why not use them to their and our advantage? Businesses have figured this out. It is time for schools to. Is it an easy process? Policies will need to be developed. Thought will have to be put into it but don't the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Let's start exploring. 
Cell Phones:
Many administrators and teachers are fearful that kids become distracted if allowed to have their phones at school. We are finding that students use their phones anyway. Parents are wanting to stay connected with their kids. Research is now finding that when students are not allowed to use their phone, the use is higher than when they are allowed. When phones are allowed, teachers are finding wonderful approaches to using them as part of their teaching tools.
(Interesting short article worth reading: Smartphones over Tablets, stating, "I have numerous reasons why I prefer Smartphones over Tablets for students.") For more research, check out Kathy Schrock's resources about cell phone use in the classroom. 
Kids Want to Go Mobile

According to a recent report from Blackboard and Project Tomorrow, unsurprisingly kids are big proponents of using their cell phones for educational purposes.

  • 60% of students in grades 6-12 think using their own phones would improve technology at their school
  • 78% of students with smartphones think using those devices would improve tech at their school
  • 31% of students in grades 9-12 already own a smartphone
  • 67% of students in grades 9-12 have access to an Internet-enabled phone
  • 62% of parents would buy a mobile device for their child's educational use
Source: Learning in the 21st Century: Taking It Mobile! (2010)

The Learning Network asks students to provide their ideas for how cell phones could be used in school.
Curious about how to use cell phones in the classroom? A little Google search will provide you will many links such as How to Use Cell Phones as Learning Tools.

Interested in how schools are dealing with policy? merunetworks.com has some good policies to explore. 

Let's Consider Other Devices/Technology, including AT and AAC:
For special needs students- Isn’t it best if we can help the students/parents to buy the appropriate tool/device for their particular needs? Staying with the SETT Process by: Looking at the Student’s needs, Looking at the Environment they are in where they have the needs, considering the Tasks that need to be completed and supported then looking at the best Tool to fill that need. This process is best when considering AT and BYOD. Maybe we should even make it part of the IEP discussion. Example: if the student (or parent) wants the student to bring an iPad to school, be sure to discuss what apps are appropriate and not appropriate in the school setting.

Once it goes into the IEP, if it breaks, remember- the schools could be responsible for it. Look at the goal. If we support the goal, the schools should support the device. If the device doesn't support the goals, the schools might not want to support the tool. Evaluate it first. Is this what we would recommend? Maybe a trial period is needed?

If it is not in the IEP, the schools are not responsible for it.

So much to think about... but well worth the thought!

What if the parents buy a device but the team doesn't feel it is the right device for the student? Then again - What if the student starts using something and we find it is beneficial for the student? Maybe it should be added to the IEP.

We need to really think this through and develop some workable policies, thinking about such things as:

  • If it is in the IEP, how are we going to handle it if it doesn't make it to school? 
  • What are we going to do if it comes to school and isn't charged?
  • Is it supporting the student’s goals and objectives?
  • What if they lose it?
  • What kind of peripherals are needed and who is going to provide them?
  • Who is going to do the training: for the student, for the teacher, for the para-pro, for the parent? (Remember: If the teacher is not comfortable with the technology, or is not a user themselves, the least likely the student is going to use it in the classroom.

iPads…. Develop an App consideration Form (There are many samples on-line. Look at my blog for links.) Take into consideration:

Was there an AT Evaluation?    
  • If yes, what were the recommendations?
  • If no, is help needed from the AT Speciaslist?  
What are the:
  • Tasks/Skills to be considered?
  • IEP goals to be addressed?
  • Exact names of Apps?
  • Features of App?
  • Features needed by student?
  • Is wireless needed? Does the school have it available?
  • Subjects where student can use the App?
How will student submit their work?
How will work be stored (iCloud, Network)?
Who will program/personalize the App?
What data needs to be collected?
Who will collect the data?
Where will the device be backed up and whose responsibility is it?
Think about:

  • A timeline for next meeting date to evaluate app and process being used.
  • Designating the committee members and their roles.

The school should also explore the charts that are available that provide features of the apps and compare it to the needs of the student and/or talk to the AT Specialist and watch YouTube videos of the app being used to help guide which app is appropriate. Make this part of your policy.

It is an exciting time but a time that is really making us stop and question the policies that we have in place now and remembering, we are here to do what is best for our students. We are here to help to prepare them for the future. We are here to teach them skills that will help to carry them through life in the most successful way possible. Doesn’t this mean it is our responsibility to stay as current as possible?