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The Assistive Technology Planner: From Research to Implementation

By: National Center for Technology Innovation and Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd)

What's really happening with the implementation of assistive technology for students in special education in the country? The National Assistive Technology Research Institute (NATRI) wanted to find out. They surveyed state department of education leaders, district personnel, building administrators, special education teachers, parents, and students. They conducted phone interviews, online surveys, case studies of state practices, and collected student demographic information. The work has resulted in a "top ten list" of findings and a toolkit for schools, the Assistive Technology Planner:From IEP Consideration to Classroom Implementation . Both are described in this Tech Works Info Brief.

The top ten findings from the NATRI data, collected between 2001 and 2004 on how Assistive Technology is being planned for, developed, implemented, and evaluated in schools includes:

  1. Assistive Technology (AT) policies, guidelines, and technical assistance documents are circulated in the majority of states in the nation, however, teachers reported having little or no knowledge of those state guidelines and 54% of teachers did not have any Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) with AT-specific guidelines.
  2. Assistive Technology was most often reported in use for students in grades 3 – 6 and most often (20% or more of the students in the category) for students diagnosed with mental retardation, orthopedic impairments, learning disabilities, or speech/language impairments. The AT was used most often in the schools for communication and education assistance.
  3. A variety of service delivery models were found across the country, from trained AT teams to building or district representatives to regional AT centers. No single service delivery model was found to be most prevalent.
  4. Professionals providing AT services most often described their primary responsibilities as assessing and evaluating students on AT and training students, teachers, and families. AT professionals rarely identified their responsibilities as including evaluating classroom implementation, collaborating with the IEP team, or ordering equipment.
  5. In IEP meetings, AT was most often considered as a modification or accommodation. When AT was recommended, in over 70% of the meetings the acquisition of the equipment was assigned to one of the team members and student training on the equipment was recommended. At the IEP meetings, occupational therapists were seen by other collaborating professionals as having the highest level of AT expertise, second only to AT specialists.
  6. Teachers and parents in individual interviews reported that the school or district was supportive in their efforts to get AT for their students and that they had access to the technology that they needed.
  7. Teachers and parents also reported that they valued AT expertise being available in the school or district to help with providing information, troubleshooting, training, implementation support, and acquiring equipment.
  8. Positive effects and powerful anecdotes of AT use were reported throughout the interviews with teachers, parents, and students. Students most often cited increased independence as a direct function of their work with AT.
  9. Teachers continue to request more training on general awareness of AT and help staying current with available technologies.
  10. Across the country, teachers also reported that they did not use or have AT implementation plans or guidelines to guide and monitor implementation once AT is recommended in an IEP.

Taken together, the data from this multi-year research project shows an uneven profile of expertise, training, and monitoring of AT use across the country. Positive effects were associated with AT use, and parents and teachers felt that they had the technology and support they needed. And while there is expertise available in schools and districts, teachers and parents continue to feel that they need additional training on basic awareness and options. Left out of this database, however, are the reflections of students, parents, and teachers who are not working with an IEP; it is unclear what those stakeholders' reports on satisfaction would reveal. You can find out more about NATRI and the research on the National Assistive Technology Research Institute website.

The NATRI research team responded to their findings by creating the Assistive Technology Planner, a toolkit to guide the implementation and monitoring of AT once it has been recommended on the IEP. The Planner includes booklets for teachers, families, and administrators. The booklets provide background information and models on the implementation of AT plus lists of related resources for finding equipment, checking regulations, and other research on AT. There is a reproducible AT Implementation Plan form that is also available to download from the NATRI site. Also on the Web site is a Spanish translation of the family booklet. This toolkit is designed to help parents, teachers, and schools follow-through on well-planned implementation and monitoring of AT in order that the student receives the anticipated benefit and experiences improved academic outcomes. The Planner is available for sale through the Council for Exceptional Children's Technology and Media Division online store.

NATRI was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and housed at the University of Kentucky. Drs. Ted Hasselbring and Margaret Bausch were Co-Project Directors of the project.