For this Blog post, I chose to discuss the rationale for using adaptive/assistive technologies. First, I discuss the law, and second speak about one Mom’s journey in obtaining equipment for her children.
Judy Heuman (as cited in Roblyer, 2015, p. 404) states that “for most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes things possible.” I love this quote because it is at the heart of what we as teachers are called upon to do, help each student learn and reach their potential, and if using assistive technology is part of the puzzle, we must use it! Roblyer continues that there are “five essential variables associated with educational technology: (1) the person, (2) the task, (3) the context/environment, (4) the technology tool, (5) the outcome. In order to determine the best solution for an individual, educators are challenged to optimize the complex interplay between the variables” (Roblyer, p.404). In fact, educators are not only challenged to do so, but are required by law. “The 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) included a requirement that students with special needs must have an Individual Education Plan (IEP), or a written plan for how their needs will be addressed, and the IEP teams tasked with creating and carrying out the IEP must consider assistive technology in their planning” (Roblyer, 2016, p. 405). In addition, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a “set of principles that underlie how to develop technology to give all individuals equal opportunity to learn. UDL is intended to offer students multiple ways to access, engage, and demonstrate mastery of their learning outcomes.” (Roblyer, 2016, p.405). Web accessibility, the process of making websites more accessible for all users by using color coding and underlining, enlarging images,etc. , like UDL is meant to help all people access information. [(As an aside)Ironically, high stakes tests, along with funding tied to high stakes test scores seems to go against UDL. At the heart of UDL is multiple ways to access, engage, and demonstrate knowledge. High Stakes testing is only one way of demonstrating mastery.]
As educators, and in particular educators with an expertise in technology, our job is to help all students access curriculum. While the cost of some of the technologies might seem high, I argue that the cost of not doing so is higher. By including all students we not only follow the law, but also increase the students’ knowledge, confidence, and ability to fully integrate into society.
For this blog, I spoke with a friend of mine, Cindy. Cindy’s son Jake has both autism and Down Syndrome, and using technology has greatly increased his communication skills. She also has a son, Cal with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and he relies heavily on technology to help him navigate the physical world. I see first hand how technology has helped both Jake and Cal. First, using technology has increased Jake’s ability to communicate with the world. As Jake has grown so has the technology. Starting with PECS when he was young, moving to Dynavox in elementary school, and now an IPAD in middle school, Jake has made significant gains in his communication. The Dynavox was paid for by medical insurance, but once the warranty ran out, Cindy decided that it was too cumbersome and expensive of a process to repair, and Jake moved on to an IPad purchased by Cindy, with apps also purchased by Cindy.
On the other hand, Cal requires assistance in navigating the world. Starting simply as grips for his pencil in elementary school, to learning to keyboard, to his scooter, and ultimately his power wheelchair, the adaptive/assistive technologies that Cal uses help him to navigate the world. Cindy says that it is important to plan for future needs while helping with the current need. For example, all of Cal’s classroom must be able to accommodate his power chair in terms of table height, and general accessibility to teacher and peers. Another example might be planning for the future when Cal might require using a joy stick to control the mouse on the computer or using touch free phone such as Sesame-Enable.
According to Cindy, obtaining the right equipment involves a lot of planning by an entire team including educators, physicians, therapists, and manufacturers of equipment. Luckily, for both Cal and Jake, medical insurance is able to cover the cost of some of the adaptive technologies. It is NOT an easy process, and involves the team. The moral question arises, what if insurance does not cover the equipment? This is where schools need to get creative working with parents, foundations, and governmental agencies to find other sources of revenue. As educators, it is our job to educate all students, and if some of those students require adaptive/assistive technologies, we must work to find ways to help the student.
Quitzau, C. personal communication (interview), August, 2015.
Roblyer, M.D. (2016). Integrating technology into teaching. New York: Pearson.