Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?

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Ike PresleyHi, 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.

cover of Assistive Technology for Students book 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.)


Assistive Technology
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There are currently 6 comments

Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?

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?

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?

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?

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:

Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?

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 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
Thank you, Betty

Re: Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?

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?

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