Section 1: Guidelines for Ages 3-22
The intent of section 1 is to enable school districts to make informed decisions about AT considerations, implementation, and evaluation for their students, factoring in administrative support and professional development. It includes 13 chapters, a list of abbreviations and acronyms, frequently asked questions, resources for devices and services, several case studies, a glossary, and supportive documents and information in 12 appendixes.
AT supports and services are integral components of the Common Core State Standards. The standards recognize the significance of AT as supports and services for students with disabilities in meeting high academic standards to demonstrate their conceptual and procedural knowledge and skills in mathematics and language arts.
To ensure that AT services and devices are provided according to mandates and standards, the QIAT (section 1, appendix 1) are embedded and used throughout the document to help districts and AT service-providers:
- improve AT services to increase educational access, participation and progress;
- improve the quality and increase the consistency of services; and
- support the implementation of IDEA and other legal mandates.
The QIAT were developed, revised and validated by professionals representing various perspectives and roles within the AT field due to concerns about the provisions of AT to students and to improve the educational achievement of students with disabilities by enabling districts to evaluate and develop AT services. The QIAT address eight areas of service delivery:
- consideration of the need for assistive technology during the individualized education program (IEP) meeting;
- evaluating the need for assistive technology;
- including assistive technology in the IEP;
- implementing the use of assistive technology;
- evaluating the effectiveness of assistive technology use;
- transitioning with assistive technology;
- administrative support for assistive technology services; and
- professional development and training in assistive technology (QIAT, 2005).
Consideration of AT
The guidelines offer resources to address if a child has barriers or student has trouble accessing the curriculum, participating in and progressing toward completing educational goals. When the student cannot accomplish the required tasks within the relevant instructional system or access areas with accommodations and/or modifications that are currently in place, then the consideration process for AT should be completed (section 1, figure 1 and appendix 5).
The consideration process (section 1, appendix 7) includes a review of information about the skills and/or issues of access affecting performance, such as the environment(s) where the child or student completes the goals and activities, the task(s) that needs to be accomplished, and the present level of performance on that task. It reviews all accommodations and/or modifications and other strategies (technology or non-technology strategies) that are already in use. If potential AT solutions or adaptation strategies are known, a trial use of the identified AT solution and documentation of the solution should occur. If potential AT solutions are unknown to the planning and placement team (PPT)/IEP team, they may choose to consult with district personnel, recruit consultants who can assist the team in addressing AT, or refer the student for an AT evaluation/assessment with a documented action plan (section 1, appendix 8 and appendix 9).
Assessment/Evaluation of AT
Once the consideration process has determined that the student requires further assessment, an evaluation to determine the potential AT tools required to meet the identified student need may be necessary. The PPT/IEP team should not complete an AT evaluation as a component of an initial evaluation to determine student eligibility for special education; rather, once the PPT/IEP team has determined a student’s eligibility, it should consider AT and may recommend an AT evaluation when necessary.
A multidisciplined team (including the student, parents and professionals) with the collective knowledge and skills needed to determine possible solutions that address the needs and abilities of the child should conduct assessments. The child’s developmental performance in his or her customary environment such as the school, home and/or community is the basis for the assessment, and the focus is on what the child needs to do that he or she is not currently able to do, with reflection as to the success or failure of attempts already made within that environment.
Implementation of AT
Once the PPT/IEP team has considered AT during the IEP process, the team should establish an implementation plan. AT implementation encompasses the ways that the IEP includes AT devices and services and integrates them into the student’s educational program. The entire PPT/IEP team, including staff with AT expertise, helps support the student using AT. The PPT/IEP team’s focus should be to ensure that the AT helps the student complete tasks necessary for progress toward IEP goals and objectives. A student’s implementation plan should include statements of training necessary for the student, providers, and family as needed. The use of the AT in each environment and its implementation as part of an ongoing process based on the changing needs of the student and environment should determine training.
Since consideration and/or assessment data should be the initial basis for the AT implementation plan, the PPT/IEP team should monitor the plan and record data to determine student progress. The team’s focus should be to ensure that the student is making progress. Implementation is effective when data show that student achievement and performance meet criteria (for an example of a data collection form, refer to section 1, appendix 10 and appendix 11). The PPT/IEP team should base decisions about change on data review and analysis (TATN, 2009).
Effectiveness of AT
The impact AT has on the user’s quality of life, such as fostering participation, independence, and self-confidence, determines its effectiveness. To consider the impact and effectiveness of AT, it is important to examine the device in terms of its efficiency, usefulness, and availability for the student (section 1, appendix 6).
Regular evaluation of efficiency, usefulness, and availability will enable service providers to consider the continuum of AT devices (from low-tech through high-tech) and cater to the needs of students with disabilities as well as meet changing academic and social demands (section 1, appendix 9). When AT is used across environments as it should be, the entire team is responsible for providing AT devices and services. The responsibility should not and does not remain only with the special educator or the AT specialist. A shared responsibility relates to all educators knowing what technology is being used; how the student is using it; when it should be made available; and responsibilities of the team members (i.e., programming, setting up, providing relevant information as necessary to program or set up the AT, backup plan, identifying responsibilities of the team members, and carrying them through).
The IEP should include AT documentation in multiple areas, such as in meeting minutes, special factors, present level of performances, recommendations, areas of strength when AT is already in place and helping a student to be successful, describing AT in goals and objectives, and/or any transition planning.
Clear documentation of AT devices and services is necessary in order that all PPT/IEP team members, including parents, fully understand how the AT devices and services will be provided. At the minimum, AT should be listed on the Accommodations and Modifications section on page 8 of the IEP and correspond with the services the PPT/ IEP team recommends, which appear on page 11 of the IEP. The team should explain the AT devices and services as they relate to the student’s active participation in educational activities, assessments, extracurricular activities, and typical routines.
The guidelines address the layers of responsibility related to the district for AT services (in the selection, acquisition, or use of an AT device). If a child eligible under IDEA requires AT to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), the school district must provide the appropriate AT device(s) and services to ensure the child can access, participate in, and progress in the general education curriculum to the fullest extent possible. If the educational team recommends an AT evaluation, the school district is responsible for paying for the evaluation and is prohibited from excluding AT devices and/or services from a child’s IEP based solely on expense. The district cannot require that a parent’s health insurance pay for AT device(s) and/or services (although a parent may elect to do so).
If a parent requests an independent AT evaluation at public expense (because the parent does not agree with the school district’s AT evaluation), the school district may either choose to fund an independent AT evaluation, or initiate a due process hearing to have a hearing officer decide whether the school district’s AT evaluation is appropriate. The school district should choose one of these actions immediately. When the school district agrees to pay for the independent AT evaluation, the criteria under which the independent AT evaluation is obtained (including the location and the qualifications of the examiner) should be the same as the criteria that the school district would use when it does its own evaluation. When the school district initiates due process procedures and the hearing officer decides in favor of the school district, the parent may still obtain an independent AT evaluation but has to pay the costs associated with it.
The IDEA Improvement Act of 2004 allows a few exceptions for a school district’s responsibility to pay for AT devices and/or services. As stated above, IDEA provides an exception to its definition of an AT device regarding medical devices that are surgically implanted or the replacement of such devices. If the device is part of the IEP or meets the requirements set forth under Section 504 (section 1, appendix 4), the school district is responsible for providing the AT device(s) and/or services. On “a limited basis and under unique circumstances” (Sec. 602[A]; 34 CFR §300.5) based on a child’s individual needs, devices such as hearing aids or eyeglasses may be considered AT devices. The consideration is the educational need of the device as opposed to the medical need, and the school district is responsible for providing the device or service if the PPT/IEP team determines that the child needs it to benefit from the educational program.
The party that pays for the majority of a child’s assistive technology device owns the device. If the school district fully funds the purchase of an AT device or equipment, the school district owns it; if the child’s private insurance or other third party purchases the device in whole or in part, then the device belongs to the child and only that child may use it.
Responsible, reasonable care for the AT device requires the PPT/IEP team to identify methods for periodic checks of the AT equipment, reporting problems, completing repairs, and how jointly responsible parties will address an acceptable substitute for the student’s device during these times. If the school district owns the AT device, it is responsible for ensuring proper safeguards and for replacement if the device is damaged or breaks. If a family purchases a device included in the IEP, the PPT/IEP team should decide who is responsible for repairing, replacing, and updating the device. If the school district or outside agency purchases the device, that agency is responsible for repairing, replacing, and updating it.
Training others to understand and use technology tools is an essential part of the provision of AT services. Some training sessions are for large groups while others are for a single person or the members of a team for an individual who uses AT. Regardless of the size and purpose of the group, a professional development plan should clearly define outcomes that focus on determining student needs, the consideration process, funding AT, integrating technology into the curriculum, and training on AT devices and software.
Training in AT should occur frequently enough to address new and emerging technologies and practices, and be available on a repetitive and continuous schedule with ongoing opportunities tailored to the specific needs and skill levels addressed. It should follow research-based models for adult learning that include multiple formats and delivery at multiple skill levels of universal design.
Educational teams, including the possible development of an AT team, need clear leadership, direction, and support. Ideally, an AT team can comprise general and special educators, related service professionals, IT professionals, certified AT personnel, paraprofessionals, and administrators. The administrator’s responsibility is to keep the team focused, to understand the nature of change, to facilitate teams and their relationships, to help build knowledge, and to develop a clear message in terms of AT services and delivery (Fullan, 2001).
While AT service providers should evaluate the training’s effectiveness by measuring changes in practice that result in improved student performance, they should have competencies in a variety of areas. Best practices suggest that service providers have the following competencies:
- knowledge of the law and AT;
- knowledge of AT basics;
- AT assessment;
- AT implementation;
- collaboration and communication between team members; and
- resources and their appropriate use.
- (Adopted from California Department of Education and Florida Department of Education. For more information, refer to the Wisconsin AT Initiative.)
Transition and AT
AT is a significant aspect of planning for transitions throughout life, such as moving from one place or service to another, grade to grade, and school to postsecondary activities. When students with disabilities transition from one service to another, the AT they use in one setting should be provided in the next. To ensure this, when developing a statement of needed transition services consider include the following AT-specific information: a statement of the AT requirements in the receiving environment; information concerning equipment transfer, including user manuals and support documents; identification of key personnel involved in training, accessing funding options, and providing ongoing support; steps for using and maintaining the AT; an outline of team members’ roles and training; follow-up activities, including assessment and evaluation; and an individualized implementation timeline (adapted from the QIAT Consortium’s Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Services and fctd.org).
AT elements are critical components to consider as a bridge to the next phases that the student may encounter to increase opportunities for success, while ensuring that transition needs are aligned with current and future skill sets. The law requires AT to be part of the postsecondary transition planning to include completing transition assessments, accomplishing functional tasks in community and employment settings, filling out applications, independent living skills, and accessing and participating in training and higher education settings. Even if a student has been using AT within the school setting, the tools that he or she will need upon graduation will not necessarily be the same. Therefore, determining specific needs based on the tasks and settings in which the student will work, train, learn, and/or live is important.
Identifying key agencies that may need to conduct further assessments or help purchase equipment that the individual has had success with or can train with is critical in ensuring that the supports remain seamless and address both generic and specific needs. This is especially important in cases where the student uses school-purchased devices that he or she will need to return upon graduation, unless the individual has arranged to buy the device from the school.
Teaching correct terms, safety skills around social networking (such as not to give out personal information unless you are confident of the person’s role in their life), and access to legitimate support networks will increase the chances for a successful and healthy transition into the next phases of the individual’s life. As knowledge grows with successful utilization of the AT, individuals become more confident in abilities and gain greater awareness of identifying and achieving personal goals.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Decisions about communal technology purchases should consider the needs and abilities of all students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act explains universal design as “a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are interoperable with assistive technologies” (34 CFR§ 300.44). When educators incorporate a UDL model, students with disabilities will likely have greater access to a wider range of tools and materials and their individual technology will be integrated into the school day.