When an individual is identified with a disability and assistive technology is recommended, where do you begin?1 An AT specialist and teacher might advise the use of specific tools. Families might be excited by the range of AT and ready to move forward. But should they? A key step in the process of linking individuals to assistive technology is sometimes overlooked: evaluation.
While AT tools are enhancing the field of special education, the specific recommendations need to be tailored to the particular individual. An evaluation process can help determine which technologies, if any, will be the most appropriate and effective for the individual to meet the demands of specific tasks in specific contexts.2 Evaluations should be comprehensive in order to identify all of an individual’s skills, needs, and routines; however, often evaluations can be varied. For any given individual, an evaluation process could change each year with new counselors, teachers, and AT specialists.
AT tool kits help alleviate the inconsistencies in evaluations by presenting specialists and instructors with processes to screen individuals and determine needs. Tool kits include procedural guides, checklists, comparisons of technology, questions for consideration, software, purchase advice, etc. Tool kits also suggest accommodations for specific technologies, though further evaluations and considerations are often necessary. An evaluation that might complement the use of an AT tool kit is a keyboarding evaluation, which provides comprehensive evaluation of a user’s alternate input methods for typing and text entry.
Although AT tool kits aim to standardize the process of AT evaluation, there are many alternatives amongst the components. Tool kits may emphasize procedural aspects of evaluation and supply flow-charts for clarification or list assistive technologies by function in a checklist. In the article, Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Contributions to Understanding Special Education Technology, 3 researcher Dave L. Edyburn investigates four models of assistive technology evaluations:
- The SETT Framework (Joy Zabala)
- Education Tech Points (Gayl Bowser and Penny Reed)
- Has Technology been Considered? (Antonette C. Chambers)
- The AT CoPlanner Model (Leonard P. Haines, Gladene Robertson, Robert Sanche, and colleagues)
Each of the four models though distinct in approach and format has had “significant impact on the design and delivery of assistive technology devices and services in schools.” 4
The SETT Framework model proposes four conceptual areas for consideration during an evaluation process: the student, the environment, the tasks, and the tools. The interdependency of the four areas is what should be of interest to the evaluation team: How does the environment affect the student? How is the task supported by the environment? Questions like these help to direct progressive and productive thinking about an individual’s potential relationship with assistive technology.
Additionally, Edyburn examines pragmatic models outlining clear steps for successful communication, collaboration, and decision-making in the evaluation process. Systematic use of both conceptual and pragmatic frameworks provides schools, parents, and assistive technology specialists with opportunities for consistency and accountability in evaluations.4
Parents, teachers, and AT specialists implement AT evaluations with people of all ages (i.e., elementary school students through postsecondary adults). AT tool kits may differ in price and time required for completion, though the involvement of AT experts remains critical. Effective matches between individuals with disabilities and assistive technology require familiarity and proficiency with the features of technology tools. The field of special education technology is reliant not only upon technology innovation; it is reliant upon effective technology integration, which requires comprehensive and systematic evaluations—elements advanced and advocated in AT evaluation tool kits.