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What is an Assistive Technology Assessment?

By Diana Petschauer

What is an Assistive Technology Assessment?

Diana Petschauer is founder of Assistive Technology for Education and is New Hampshire's AIM (Accessible Instructional Materials) service provider.

Assistive Technology for Education
Question: What is an Assistive Technology Assessment?
Answer:

A. An Assistive Technology Assessment is a collaborative process through which an IEP team or education team -- one that may also include certified technology specialists and other related services professionals -- identifies technologies that can improve a student's performance, access, participation, and independence. It's an ongoing process -- not a one-time event -- designed to match students with assistive technology, as well as implement and measure the most effective solutions for academic and career success.

Q. Why is an Assistive Technology Assessment Important?
A.
Assessing a student's needs, strengths, abilities, and challenges increases the likelihood of specifying solutions that will improve performance. Finding the right tool for the job is crucial. Studies show that over half the time -- and possibly as much as 80% -- students stop using assistive devices procured for them, because they were a poor match. Assessments create more effective matches. They also foster compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which requires school districts to determine whether a student needs assistive devices or services to achieve their goals, receive FAPE, and equally access the curriculum. It also enables teachers to better assist students with disabilities to achieve the new Common Core State Standards, a focus of increasing concern among educators. This can lead to school districts meeting AYP.

Q. What Are the Guiding Principals of an Assistive Technology Assessment?
A.
To match a student with the most effective technology solutions, an assessment team asks and answers the "SETT" framework questions about the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools.

  • Student: What are the student's main strengths, challenges, and learning style?
  • Environment: In what context does the student perform learning tasks?
  • Tasks: What tasks does the student's disability hinder?
  • Tools: What equipment, program, or service might enable the student to accomplish tasks that result in learning?

The more a team understands about the interaction between student, task, and environment, the better equipped they will be in finding solutions that produce desired outcomes. Lastly, assessments consider support services such as an implementation plan, training (for both student and staff), technical support, and integration of the solution into school and home life. It also provides a plan for evaluating student progress.

Q. Can You Provide an Example of this Approach in Action?
A.
Sure. Let's say the student has a print disability that makes reading difficult. The assessment team believes she might benefit from literacy software. Knowing the cause of her reading difficulty (e.g. decoding problems, visual processing, weak vocabulary) and what ancillary tools may be required can help the team find an application with the necessary features. These might include: built-in reference tools, magnification, scanning, text highlighting, text-to-speech, and word prediction.

The student's social circumstances and preferences (e.g., not wanting to appear different) might suggest a less conspicuous solution, such as an iOS app for playing DAISY books on her iPhone or iPad while following along in the print version. Assessments can thus yield solutions the student is more likely to use.

Q. Can You Provide a Brief Overview of How You Conduct Assessments?
A.
Generally, an initial assistive technology assessment has five phases:

  1. Defining the Problem or Challenge: What task does a student struggle with due to a disability or learning difference? If the student cannot adequately perform these tasks with mainstream solutions, consider whether assistive technology might help.
  2. Gather Relevant Data: Using existing documentation/testing, classroom observation, and interviews with teachers, professionals, and family members, I gauge a student strengths, necessary skills, barriers to task completion, learning environment, and current level of performance.
  3. Generate Potential Solutions: Based on the information collected, I identify tools, strategies, and supporting services which hold promise to improve performance and increase participation and independence.
  4. Conduct AT Trials: I next develop and implement -- in collaboration with school district staff and others -- an AT Trial Plan that includes criteria and timelines for determining success and the collection of measurable data on the impact to student performance.
  5. Integrate Successful Tools & Strategies: Analyze results, determine most appropriate tools and strategies based on trials (or whether additional trials are needed), and develop a plan to implement the recommended technology.

All assessments, associated research, trials, and results should be documented in the student's IEP, if he or she has one.

As I mentioned earlier, an assistive technology assessment isn't a one-time event, but an ongoing, collaborative process. You should plan to revisit results and conduct further assessments as a student's needs, environment, and performance change, or if current technology no longer meets the student's needs.

Diana Petschauer is a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional and owner of Assistive Technology for Education, LLC. She also serves as New Hampshire's AIM (Accessible, Instructional Materials) Service Provider, working with the New Hampshire Department of Education to acquire and distribute books in accessible formats -- including audio, braille, electronic, and large print -- to students in all NH school districts.

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