Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?
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by Ike Presley on 3/31/2009 2:20:45 PM
Hi, my name is Ike Presley. Yes, I am kin to Elvis, but not close enough to count...ninth or tenth cousins. Wait till you hear me sing! No, maybe you don't want to do that. Anyway, I would like to have a discussion with you about the use of technology by youths and adults who are blind or visually impaired. This topic is referred to as assistive technology (AT) and is one of the subjects in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) that is essential to the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.
I am currently a National Project Manager for the American Foundation for the Blind in our Atlanta office and have just completed a book for AFB Press titled, Assistive Technology for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment, with my co-author Frances Mary D'Andrea.
I was born into a family with a history of congenital cataracts. Somehow Elvis missed this part. Anyway, it's all over my family: brother, cousin, uncle, niece, grandfather, and several of his brothers and sisters. I received very few services during school, but I'll go into that in another post.
After completing my Masters at Florida State University I moved to Atlanta, GA, and began my career as a teacher of the visually impaired. I taught as an itinerant teacher for four years in one school district and then two more years in a neighboring district.
Then I finally got my dream job, a high school resource room for students who are blind or visually impaired. I taught at this school for 7 years where all my students took vision as one of their classes. I loved getting to have the students for several years and getting to work with classroom teachers who were learning how to meet the needs of our students.
I left education in the late '80s and became a technology instructor at a rehabilitation center for adults who are blind of visually impaired. I did this for about 4 years and then went back to education as an assistive technology specialist for the Georgia State Department of Education. On this job I traveled around the state of Georgia and conducted assistive technology assessments of students who are blind or visually impaired. I also had the pleasure of training many of the teachers on various technologies and how they could teach them to their students.
In 1999, I started working for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Since then I have learned many more things about technology and have had many opportunities to present on AT at various conferences in the US, Canada, and the UK.
Please don't get me wrong. I'm not telling you all this in an attempt to sound important, but to let you know that I have been very fortunate in my life to have many opportunities to not only use a good deal of technology, but also many opportunities to learn about how others are using AT for educational and employment purposes. That's why I think the good folks at FamilyConnect asked me to be a guest blogger.
There are so many great technologies currently available that it is very difficult to know which one is the right technology tool for your child. I am often asked, "What technology should my child be learning?" I usually ask if their child has had an assistive technology assessment. An AT assessment is designed to provide you and your child's IEP team with recommendations for technology tools that can assist the child in completing educational tasks. The AT assessment is where you want to start in trying to answer that question.
I will be happy to answer questions in this area during the next few weeks. I'm hoping that this will become an ongoing discussion. In my upcoming posts I'll talk about the process of conducting an AT assessment. This will not only cover information about the assessment process, but an introduction to the various types of technology used by people who are blind or visually impaired, and some suggestions on how to teach your child about using technology.
In the meantime, you might want to suggest to your child's teacher that they acquire the AT Assessment book mentioned above. (I know it's a shameless plug, but I promise I won't do it all the time, so come back every week or so to see what we're talking about next.)
There are currently 12 comments
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Jacob's Mom on 4/1/2009 12:22:19 PM
How does this affect homeschoolers, are the same devices available for use in a homeschool setting and how do we go about getting them?
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Ike Presley on 4/2/2009 10:11:54 AM
Hi Jacobís Mom,
You pose a very interesting question. There is not a short, simple answer so please read on. I will start by saying that I am not a legal expert so I can not give you a definitive answer. However, from my experience with the educational system I can shed some light on the subject.
The technology tools that are used by students who are blind or visually impaired to access printed information, access electronic information, communicate through writing, and produce materials in alternate formats (braille, large print, auditory) can be just as effective for students being home schooled or who are attending private schools as they are for students in the public schools. This I feel confident about as an educator.
Where it gets a bit tricky is in how one acquires these devices and services for children who are home schooled or attend private schools. From my understanding, it varies from state to state. You will need to check with your state and local school system to see what types of AT services, including training and devices, are available to you if you are home schooling.
Your question brings up a larger issue that parents must consider. If a parent chooses to home school a child who is blind or visually impaired or send a child to a private school, then the issue of what services will be available for the studentís special needs must be considered. It is my understanding that while the public school may have some legal responsibility to provide services, in most cases the student will not receive the same level of AT services that they would if they were attending the public school. Consequently, each family will want to weigh carefully the advantages and disadvantages of any considered educational environment for their child.
When I was teaching in a high school resource room setting for students who are blind or visually impaired, I had one student who came to the school her senior year. She had been home schooled previously, but her parents had realized that there were skills their daughter needed that they could not provide. This student was extremely intelligent and learned many of the compensatory skills of the expanded core curriculum that she needed during this one year. I have known other students who were not as talented as this young woman and would not be able to acquire the necessary skills in just one year.
As I said before, each family must weigh the pros and cons of each educational environment and determine which they feel will be most beneficial to their child. This is one of those questions where there is no absolute right or wrong answer.
For additional information on this topic see www.familyconnect.org/parentsite.asp?SectionID=72&DocumentID=4007
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by bkberigan [http://firstname.lastname@example.org] on 5/11/2009 1:55:13 PM
My husband and I have a 2 year old daughter with albinism. We have been told by our O & M that by next year we should try to make a decision about the use of a cane outside. She only wants us to explore the pros/cons, etc. and we have no idea how to weigh those. Any suggestions...or is that something your book covers? Any input is appreciated. Thank you.
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Ike Presley on 5/11/2009 2:49:02 PM
Hi Mother of 2 yr-old Daughter,
This is an O&M issue and not one for assistive technology (AT). I do not cover it in the book. Personally I strongly support providing young children with a variety of tools. I see nothing wrong with your daughter (under the supervision of an O&M instructor) exploring the possible benefits of using a white cane. It could be very helpful at night and in low light conditions.
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by nurseconover on 6/6/2009 5:42:05 PM
Who/what type of person is best to do an AT assessment, and how do you find such a person? Is it best to find someone with expertise working with children whom are visually impaired, or is a general AT person adequate? My boys will be 5 in July and have some sight, which is great, but can also make it difficult to identify what they really can and can't see so clearly. Thanks! Brenda :)
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Ike Presley on 6/8/2009 2:53:34 PM
You've asked a very good question. Like many of the issues related to people who are blind or visually impaired there is not a "sweet and simple" answer. Please pardon the length of this post Ė- I am actually going to break it into two posts -- but I feel like it is necessary to provide you with an appropriate answer.
I'm excited to hear that you want to get your boys involved with assistive technology (AT) as soon as possible. Having an AT assessment is a critical part of this process, but there are several other things that need to be done first to help determine which technologies might be most beneficial to them. The first step is to make sure that they have had a clinical low vision evaluation and a functional vision evaluation. The next thing they'll need is a Learning Media Assessment. Let me explain.
The clinical low vision evaluation will allow an experienced low vision specialist to determine that the boys have the appropriate optical system for seeing. This might be in the form of glasses, contact lens, and optical devices such as magnifiers and telescopes. The functional vision evaluation will help determine how well they are able to use their remaining vision for specific tasks, not just reading off an eye chart. The Learning Media Assessment is extremely important because it helps us understand the student's primary and secondary learning modality: visual, tactile, auditory.
Many individuals with low vision find that a combination of two or all three of these is very useful. We have had numerous cases of students who have some residual vision being provide instruction exclusively through visual media such as large print and enlarged displays for electronic information (computers, etc.). In many of these cases the student's ability to efficiently access this visual information is inadequate for him to keep up with the demands of the educational program and maximize his potential.
For example; a student who needs print at a size of 30 point or greater, and the computer to display things at greater than 5 times magnification, may find that accessing information with these tools to be very inefficient. Reading text at this size can be inefficient for two reasons. 1) When viewing extremely large text, either printed on paper or displayed on a computer screen, most people can only see a few letters at one time. In many cases, particularly as the student moves into higher grades, he may not be able to see the entire word without having to move his eyes/head. This will slow his reading speed and at times require him to even look back at letters in a longer word. 2) Reading sentences in this way may be extremely slow and result in poor comprehension. Because of the amount of time it takes for him to read all the way to the end of the sentence he may forget some of the words in the beginning of the sentence.
(More to come...)
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Ike Presley on 6/8/2009 3:10:13 PM
Now you might say, "Ike, heís only in Kindergarten. How long are the sentences going to be?" Well, it's not just Kindergarten that we're concerned about. It's later on that we are also concerned about when speed and efficiency become critical for him to keep up with the pace of the instruction and his peers. The Learning Media Assessment will help determine which modality, and combination of modalities will best meet his current and future needs. A student may be fine using visual access in Kindergarten and 1st grade, but find that they can not keep up visually with the demands of longer assignments in 3rd and 4th grade. It might be that tactile access to information will eventually be a more efficient access method for many students with low vision.
If we wait to investigate this until the student is in 4th grade and has already been struggling we may find that they've lost their interest in reading and literacy. Acquiring the skills necessary to access information tactilely can not be achieved overnight. The student may find it difficult at this age to give up dependence on visual access and begin accessing information tactilely. Therefore it is essential that we provide the student with opportunities to acquire these tactile skills early in their educational program. If the student learns to access information both tactilely and visually then he has more tools to choose from to accomplish various tasks. The Learning Media Assessment helps us make these determinations and provides us with the information needed to plan appropriate instruction.
Once the information from the clinical low vision evaluation, the functional vision evaluation, and the Learning Media Assessment has been reviewed the student's IEP team can begin to consider the student's need for assistive technology (AT).
Selecting the best person to conduct an AT assessment can be tricky. The best option is to have the student's IEP team establish an AT assessment team, particularly if your child has any additional disabilities. The teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) can be the coordinator of the team because they will know the most about the student and about the implications of the student's eye condition. However, they may not be familiar with all the technology that is available for the student. That's where the AT specialist comes in. In general, you would expect the AT specialist to be able to fill in what the TVI does not know. Unfortunately in most cases, this is not true. The vast majority of AT specialists know very little about the specialized technologies that can assist students who are blind or visually impaired. They usually have their hands full trying to keep up with the AT designed for students with other disabilities, and since students with visual impairments are such a low incidence disability they usually do not have the time to learn about our technology.
Okay, now that I've given you the bad news, let's look at what can be done. First, I would strongly suggest that the TVI and other members of the AT assessment team consult resources such as the AT assessment book mentioned in earlier posts. The members of the assessment team can determine which parts of the assessment they feel comfortable conducting and then locate other entities to assist with other sections. There may be other service providers in the school system that have the knowledge to assist with the assessment or you may want to contact neighboring school districts to determine if they can assist. There may also be regional and state entities that can provide assistance with technology for students who are blind or visually impaired. One additional option that the AT assessment team may consider is the use of vendors, particularly for some of the more specialized pieces of technology. If vendors are to be used the team will need to make sure that they explain to the vendor that this is an assessment situation, not an opportunity to demonstrate all the wonderful things the technology can do. The team can offer another occasion for the vendor to come back and demonstrate all of the great "bells & whistles" of the technology for the student, parent, teachers, administrators, etc.
The bottom line is that the sooner we can get appropriate technology tools into the hands of our students the better their chances will be to maximize their educational potential. The AT assessment will not always determine the best tools for current and future needs. Working with students who are blind or visually impaired is not an exact science. Continuous evaluation of the effectiveness of the tools will help the TVI monitor their value to the studentís educational program. Theses observations can assist in making decisions about which tools are meeting the student's need to accomplish certain tasks and which need to be changed. The ultimate goal is to make sure that the student has the appropriate tools, and training in the use of these tools, to accomplish specific educational tasks. It will take a "toolbox full of tools" for students to be successful.
I hope youíve been able to make it through this lengthy answer and that the information will be useful for you in planning for your boys.
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Elnura on 7/9/2009 1:10:33 AM
Hi, Ike! I am a teacher from Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. I teach English to visually impaired and blind children. I am very interested in assistive technologies and how to adapt them to the society where English is the foreign language for the learners. I going to do my Master's degree in Georgia Southern University. I will be in Georgia in a month. I would love to meet you there and talk to you. If you don't mind and have time. My personal e-mail: email@example.com
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by bishopmommy on 9/2/2009 4:38:50 PM
Ike, I am currently in the process of "teaching" the AT coordinator for my son's school district. I am running into the brick wall you described in your earlier post
"A student may be fine using visual access in Kindergarten and 1st grade, but find that they cannot keep up visually with the demands of longer assignments in 3rd and 4th grade. It might be that tactile access to information will eventually be a more efficient access method for many students with low vision."
She has told me that the school is not required to solve for future problems...only problems they can "see" now. I explained to the AT...by the time they decide he is not functioning at the same level as his peers...he will already be frustrated and less inclined to try anything new. My son is in a regular pre-school class and everything for now is large print so he is using his limited vision for the 3 hours of school and then he comes home and shuts down. He has x-linked OA and his photophobia is severe (headache, vomiting, irritability...ECT). When he looks at regular print he ask me to pull the words apart, he is only 4 so he can't explain to me what that means, so having a twin with OA I asked him and he thinks that the words may be "blending" with each other (possibly from the nystagmus?), and he is too tired to focus, so he wants me to "pull" the words apart for him. I explained this to the AT and she said that using technology could not fix that; however, when I put the book on the large screen he is happier and will actually point out images and ask questions. Again, I am at a loss on what to do next. I cannot put the technology in the school because the AT said they do not believe he needs it now. I live in the only state in the union "Texas" that makes the school district by "law" responsible for equipment in the classroom, even if provided by the student. I need help knocking down this wall preventing my son from getting the education he deserves. Can you please point me in the right direction? FYI: Dr Richard Lewis of Baylor college of Medicine, a leading expert on X-linked OA is my son's doctor, so I asked the AT if a letter from him would help explain his needs, and she did not feel that it would make a difference in her decisions. If you have any suggestions please feel free to contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, Betty
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Ike Presley on 9/3/2009 10:29:27 AM
In general Texas has good services for students who are blind or visually impaired. The regional education services centers can help with assistive technology and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually impaired has an excellent outreach program that may also be of assistance. To get you pointed in the right direction I will need some additional information so I will e-mail you. However, I would like to say to you and anone else who might be reading this that the use of AT is not restricted by age. There are so many tech tools available today, both low tech and high tech, that in most cases there will be some that can assist most students in accomplishing educational tasks.
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by pfink47 on 11/16/2011 7:19:37 PM
I have a visually impaired 11th grader who has an Apple Mac home computer, however the equipment the school has transfers what is on the blackboard to PC..... It is cumbersome equipement and has to be packed up and taken from class to class. Is there any lightweight technology that could transfer what is on the board to a MAC?
Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?Posted by Ike Presley on 11/17/2011 3:54:06 PM
The answer to your question is dependent onwhhat type of equipment the school is using to pick up what's on the board. You will need to contact the IT person at the school and ask if there is a MAC solution. To my knowledge this is a basic Windows or MAC issue. I don't think it has anything to do with the student's vision. Regardless, it is most liketly that the equipment will need to be transported from class to class.
Sorry I can't be of more help, Ike
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