Students with disabilities and special needs face limitations and challenges that require assistance in both educational programming and school support. Part of that support includes determining whether a student could benefit from the use of assistive technology.
Assistive Technology (AT) Defined
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines AT as "any item, piece of equipment or product system … that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities."
AT devices are considered items or pieces of equipment that can help students maintain, increase or improve their functional capabilities, like a wheelchair.
AT services include services related to obtaining and using devices, training and therapy and other assistance that helps students with disabilities achieve their maximum potential, like physical therapy.
AT devices do not always have to be high-tech either. AT includes many simple adaptive tools, such as highlighters, organizers and pencil grips. High-tech AT tools might range anywhere from computers and mobile devices to software. [email protected] offers a helpful list of some of the different types of assistive technologies for students with learning disabilities.
Including AT in IEPs
When putting together a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IEP team must consider the student's need for any AT. Educational diagnosticians are particularly well suited to assess student needs and identify useful technology devices and/or services. Each student's IEP must state exactly what types of AT his or her school should provide and how it will be used.
Diagnosticians also provide the necessary training and evaluation associated with AT. They are responsible for communicating with other assessment professionals (such as speech therapists, occupational therapists and psychologists), and connecting students, parents and teachers with the necessary resources to best use selected AT for a student.
For example, if the IEP team determines that a student would benefit from the use of a voice-activated computer, the school should provide training for both the student and the teachers who will use it. The same IEP plan might also include AT services, such as speech therapy and speech services related to the use of the computer.
Matching AT With Student Strengths and Needs
AT devices and services ideally enable students to use their strengths, regardless of their disabilities. Diagnosticians make use of assessment, observation, conversations with parents and teachers and other forms of data collection to determine students' limitations and strengths. Then, they can best determine what AT would be most helpful.
Students with dyslexia, for example, might benefit from text-to-speech technology because it plays to their strength of processing spoken words to compensate for their limitations in processing written language.
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