What is Assistive Technology
There are many factors that can impact how a student learns within the school environment. Some students require special tools in order to access the curriculum. The tools used by students to help them access the curriculum are considered assistive technology. Students already have access to many tools through their Chromebooks. Some may require extra instruction in how to access certain functions of their Chromebooks (i.e. select to speak, highlighting tools, speech to text functions, etc.). Others may need some support in finding a tool that fits their needs. The right tool for a student varies from student to student. Technology is great, but its use must be taught and applied like other skills. Our young adults are very tech savvy but don't always know how to use technology to their advantage in the classroom. With the increased use of Chromebooks in our district, more students are benefiting from the increased use of digital tools.
Assistive technology is considered for all students and implemented when typical classroom supports are not working for a student the way those supports work for most of the other students. This student may need extra support or a more specialized program. The role of assistive technology is to make the student more independent while still allowing them to access the least restrictive environment.
When determining which assistive technology tool would be best for a student, there are 3 classifications of technology to consider - low-tech, mid-tech and high-tech. The team determines which type of tool is most universally accepted in the student's environment and what tool the student will continue using after he/she graduates from high school.
Low Tech - Something that does not require a power source, is easily transportable and does not require a lot of student or staff training. This is something that cannot fail. Examples: Paper and pen, calendars, special paper, slant boards, magnifiers, laminated communication boards, plastic line readers.
Mid Tech - These supports often require battery, and sometimes a computer. They also may require some maintenance or programming to work. This type of device typically requires some training for the student to implement its use. Usually these supports are ready to go "out of the box." Examples: A tape recorder, alarm clock, talking watches, switches with recorded messages, Google Docs, a keyboard or laptop to type responses.
High Tech - This class of AT is the most complex and almost always requires electricity to function. It also requires a higher level of training/programming, individualization and support. If considered for a student, this level of technology will need commitment for consistent use from the student, staff and family to be most effective. Examples: Dynamic display AAC devices, speech to text programs, text to speech programs, coded note taking software, specialized equipment for mobility, vision and hearing.
While technology is available in classrooms and specialized programs for accessibility are available, assistive technology cannot solve every problem. Difficulties with executive functioning (memory, attention, problem solving, organization) are not traditionally "fixed" with technology. A student who can write but cannot use a paper graphic organizer, or dictate for help with that organizer, may not be the best candidate for added technology. That said, every student is an individual, and the assistive technology team in our district is willing and ready to collaborate with staff to find good supports for every student who needs support. A collaboration or evaluation for assistive technology does not mean we will find the perfect fit immediately but we will work together to find a tool that works.