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Discovering the Potential and Confronting the Problems in the use of Assistive Technology in Educating Students with Disabilities

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Karen Kusiak

The following were my summer goals for this project:

I have completed nearly all of these activities although the first goal - to find out what is available in local schools - remains to be done. The following is a summary of where the project stands in respect to each of the "summer" goals:

  1. Research the availability of assistive devices that are used in schools with students who have disabilities
  2. I have identified people in two different central Maine schools districts who can demonstrate assistive devices in their schools and discuss options concerning their use. One person teaches and makes use of voice recognition software in her classroom. Another resource is a computer coordinator who oversees all computer purchases for the district, provides on the job teacher training related to computing, and sets up technology equipment and installs peripheral devices in an effort to adapt technology to individual students who have disabilities.

    I have contacted a consultant from Alpha One, an Independent Living Center, in South Portland. Occupational and physical therapists at Alpha One have a broad knowledge of assistive and adapted equipment and are skilled at assessing a client’s need for special equipment. Professionals from Alpha One also willingly make presentations to college classes and other interested groups; I expect to set a date with one of their speakers for my course in the spring. I plan to visit the Technical Exploration Center in Bangor, a site supported by United Cerebral Palsy (UPC), to actually use some technology tools and software this fall.

  3. Locate organizations that develop or provide technology for individuals with disabilities
  4. Alpha One, noted above, will be a resource for this goal, too. Another organization that disseminates information about assistive technology is the National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education through Technology, Media, and Materials (NCIP.) Among other things, NCIP lists a great number of commercially available products; my students and I will be able to readily locate descriptions of these products. NCIP also describes and provides previews of reasonably priced videotapes that demonstrate the use of specific assistive devices. A video presentation in class followed by a discussion might be a useful way to model how I want students to evaluate a product, carefully examine its promotional material, and consider how to use the product with a student with a particular disability.

  5. Develop a bank of resources for students in ED 374 to use for their research projects
  6. I’ve been able to locate protocols and checklists that special educators have created to match students’ needs to "no tech," "low tech," and "high tech" interventions or adaptations. I can easily use these resources when I develop evaluative criteria with my students. As noted above, I’ve located extensive lists of products. I was even able to find an on-line course that used the same line of reasoning I used when I initially developed my idea for how to "teach" this assistive technology aspect of ED 374. I had envisioned creating a bank of hypothetical students who were in need of assistive devices. I found an online course that used that same case study/problem solving approach. I was reassured that the general method I have in mind for this strand of the course is workable.

  7. Locate Internet-based articles that are suitable for course readings

I have located several articles that are just what I want for the

course. The articles clearly address issues such as who advocates for the user of the technology, and in what way does the learning environment play a role in the selection of technology. Titles of Internet based readings I am strongly considering for the course are Critical Areas to Consider When Making Informed Assistive Technology Decisions and Selecting Assistive Technology. A published article I’m considering is Calculator, S. & Jorgenson, C. M. (1991). "Integrating AAC instruction into regular education settings: Expounding on best practices." Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 204-214.

In summary, during the summer I was able to locate readings for ED 374, identify organizations and school personal who can provide me with training and hands-on experience with assistive technology, confirm that the case study approach I plan to use for the student research project is indeed possible, and locate sources of information about available products.

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