SC Curriculum Access through AT

How can assistive technology be integrated into the curriculum?

To access any curriculum, students need to be able to interact with the information and material provided. For any student, the motivation and ability to interact depends on a number of factors. A student with cognitive, sensory or physical disabilities faces barriers to interaction that require special supports. The effective use of assistive technology can be the key to overcoming barriers that are beyond a student’s control. When assistive technology is functionally integrated into the classroom, a student’s motivation can be fully realized and he or she can be challenged by the curriculum in a positive way.

Ideally, the use of assistive technology must be applied to real-life problems and challenges and be part of the everyday classroom experience as a natural part of learning. The No Child Left Behind legislation recognizes the principle that the integrated use of technology in instruction is crucial for increasing student achievement. The more fully integrated assistive technology is into the methods and materials used by a classroom teacher, the more it helps a student learn, rather than merely “perform” with the assistive technology.

Lexington One Student Timothy uses an augmentative communication device in class, among other assistive technology devices. Randi Cogswell, OT, describes his challenges.

“Timothy was a third grader in regular education. Prior to the referral to the assistive technology team, Timothy was using a communication device and was taking Accelerated Reading Tests on the classroom computer. He has great difficulty using pencil and paper, so his shadow was interpreting his answers and putting them on paper for him.” His OT and parents were interested in seeing him become more independent with his classroom work. Requests included assistance in finding software that would allow the teachers to scan worksheets into the computer, so that Timothy could work on the same assignments as his peers.

Grammar rules were programmed into his device so that, during class discussion, Timothy can give the correct grammar rule when asked.

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Timothy uses an augmentative communication device to tell his class which grammar rule he is using to determine how to correct a sentence. Caption within the video segment: Use of a computer program for forms helps Timothy complete class work. Word prediction helps reduce the number of keystrokes he needs to answer questions. Description of video segment: Timothy is shown using the computer and an “Omniform” to complete a homework questionnaire. Caption for still picture within the video segment: A computer software program scans class test sheets so that Timothy can complete them independently, without using a classroom aide to write his responses.

At Washington Center School in Greenville County School District, Michelle works with teacher Katie Winburn to write a thank you letter to someone who visited the classroom. She uses an enlarged and simplified keyboard to help her focus on what she wants to write.

Michelle starts with knowing what she wants to say in her letter. She uses the enlarged keyboard to write it herself on the computer. Michelle has four methods of reinforcing her language development – the written document, the picture symbols on the screen, her enlarged keyboard, and the auditory feedback provided by the computer.

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Michele uses the enlarged keyboard to write it herself on the computer. As she types a letter, the computer gives her the letter sound and Michele repeats it. Her teacher works with Michele to help her type, spell and sound out the words.

Helping a student use assistive technology to learn can be a tremendous challenge. Computer technology has great potential for learning because it is so flexible; it can be customized to meet many diverse needs and provide multiple means of access. It has the potential to take students way beyond the limits of standard worksheets, teacher lectures and paper-pencil tests. Computer technology can make the difference in whether or not a student with a disability can actually participate in a class or merely watch while other class members interact with the teacher and each other.

Computer technology is by no means the only option for teachers of students with disabilities. Assistive technology that supports students in accessing the curriculum doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated to make a difference in learning.

Universal Design in learning is a concept that emphasizes the importance of embedding technology into instruction, not just making it available.

Some basic principles help teachers and therapists as they strive to embed various types of assistive technology into a student’s learning experience.

Principles for Effective Integration of Assistive Technology into the Classroom back to top

Principle 1: A student-centered team should develop a plan for the assistive technology implementation.

Principle 2: Teachers and therapists must have time to plan instruction using the assistive technology in the classroom.

Principle 3: The assistive technology and supporting materials should be age-appropriate and motivating to the individual student.

Principle 4: Students and staff should have time to learn to use the assistive technology before it is introduced into the daily classroom routine.

Principle 5: Assistive technology should be easily accessible within the classroom.

Principle 6: School staff must have time to create materials that are specific to the curriculum.

Principle 7: Training and technical support must be easily available.

Principle 8: Students need support from their classmates.

Principle 9: Students, teachers, therapists and parents need access to others who are using the assistive technology successfully.

Principle 10: The value of support from parents or caregivers cannot be overestimated.

Principle 11: Regular education staff must have special education support for student expectations, accommodations guidance and material preparation.

Principle 12: Administrative support makes all the difference.

Principle 13: An assistive technology team coordinator saves time, effort and discouragement.

Principle 14: Procedures should be set in place for ongoing evaluation and documentation of assistive technology effectiveness.

Principle 15: Using assistive technology in settings other than the classroom is a powerful way to provide continuity of learning.

Principle 1: A student-centered team should develop a plan for the assistive technology implementation back to top

A student-centered team should develop a plan for the assistive technology implementation, with specific strategies, individual responsibilities, and proposed timelines. The implementation plan is integrated into the student’s IEP. The assistive technology implementation team may include friends, classroom aides, therapists, librarians, or other support people. A team plan insures that everyone has the same goals and expectations for the student’s use of the assistive technology. It helps keep the student, teachers, parents, therapists and administration “on the same page.”

Caption for still picture: Erica’s mother has been an integral part of her assistive technology team at Ballentine Elementary in Lexington 5. (left to right), Emily Vestal, OT, mother Helen with Erica, classroom teacher Regina Montoya and fellow student Allison.

Principle 2: Teachers and therapists must have time to plan instruction using the assistive technology in the classroom. back to top

With team planning for instruction, better decisions can be made about, for example, whether the assistive technology is best suited for practice of a concept or as the best way to present new information to students.

The Kershaw County team that works with Jessica and Meredith designed an interactive activity for them to use in learning money, math and to use their different augmentative communication devices. Each device has been set up with the appropriate vocabulary and picture symbols, but teacher Barbara Partin and speech therapist Monica Lloyd use actual money in the exercise to make it a real-life experience.

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The girls are encouraged to practice using different methods of expression on their communication devices. Using real money and having the girls face each other (unable to see each other’s screens) helps them focus on meaningful communication for real goals.

Principle 3: The assistive technology and supporting materials should be age-appropriate and motivating to the individual student.
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A teenager is unlikely to be motivated by the same subject matter as a young child, even though his or her cognitive level may be low. Programs that incorporate a student’s favorite cartoon character, musician or rock star will be more motivating than generic material.

At Washington Center in Greenville, Jason needs to practice computer access with an enlarged keyboard.

Caption for still picture: Jason’s keyboard needs only one touch to “click” and is easier for him to use than a mouse.

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As a teenager, Jason uses switch/scanning to access a program that is motivating to him, morphing one picture into another. In a Sumter District Two pre-K classroom, a touch screen is a good way for Trey to access a computer. The software keeps him motivated as animals disappear or “hide.” Washington Center in Greenville uses many different types of age-appropriate software. Some software uses motivating catch phrases such as, “Hit me with your best shot!” Beech is able to access the computer by using a flat panel touch screen on a radial arm for optimum positioning and access. The program reinforces Beech by using his own name when it provides feedback. At the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, Brian uses a math program with enlarged text that provides positive auditory feedback, using appropriate vocabulary for his age.

Principle 4: Students and staff should have time to learn to use the assistive technology before it is introduced into the daily classroom routine. back to top

The role of the therapist cannot be overemphasized in this process. Practice using the device with therapists and family members makes a critical difference by reducing the learning curve in the more stressful classroom environment.

By working individually with Jesse, Celeste Ranson in Kershaw County helps prepare him for class experience. She practices eye gaze with him.

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Celeste practices with Jesse, who uses a clear acrylic mount for eye gazing animal pictures. Celeste then reinforces his practice with picture symbols with puzzle pieces that identify the same animal. Celeste also works with Jesse so that he can use a foot switch to activate a blender. He can help make milkshakes in the regular classroom using this simple technology. Margaret Vaughn at the SC School for the Deaf and Blind works with Jamie to practice his use of a head switch and scanning for computer access. Practice scanning will help Jamie use many other computer programs as his skills develop.  Tyler is a fifth grade student at Satchelford Elementary in Richland District One. He practices with a mouth stick and touch screen to access a computer program. The mouth stick holder is located close to the computer so he can work more independently. Tyler’s goal is to practice with the computer so that eventually he will be able to use it to access an augmentative communication device. His program gives him auditory reinforcement to help keep him motivated.

Principle 5: Assistive Technology should be easily accessible within the classroom. back to top

It should be reliable, easy to set up and easy to use. It should be available wherever everyday instruction is taking place, just like any other classroom/school equipment. For example, overlays could be stored in an expandable folder on the back of the device. Assistive technology equipment should be placed on desktops so they are ready for the student to use.

In Lexington School District Five, Brandon was an excellent writer but his handwriting was so illegible that it interfered with his written expression. Carrie Hutto, his OT, writes, “I started evaluating him and did several timed tests with his resource teacher. We saw that his written expression improved significantly when typing even though his speed was not that much faster. The AlphaSmart is wonderful for Brandon. It is durable even when dropped from the desk, portable from class to class and lightweight. The teachers like it since they can now read what Brandon has to say.”

Caption for still picture: Here is a sample of Brandon’s handwriting.

Caption for still picture: Brandon types about 20 words per minute.

During a lesson on the book “The War with Grandpa,” Brandon takes notes in class using his AlphaSmart.

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Brandon is shown typing on his AlphaSmart as the teacher is talking in class.

Caption within video segment: As needed, Brandon independently downloads his text onto the classroom computer. It only takes a few seconds for his notes to transfer to the computer. The computer prints his notes with a minimum of classroom disruption. He then has his notes in print, for his own use or to turn in to the teacher.

Brandon's notes from class (Word) are legible and were produced in the classroom as he needed it.

Text of Word document with text of the notes Brandon took during class:

The War with Grandpa Flipbook

1) Grandpa moves in and takes Peter's room and Peter declares war on Grandpa.

2) Peter sets Grandpa's clock for 3:00

3) Peter steals Grandpa's slippers.

4) Grandpa steals Peter's Monopoly pieces.

5) Peter steals Grandpa's wristwatch.

6) Grandpa plays nine tricks on Peter to make him late for school.

7) Peter steals Grandpa's false teeth.

Solution: Grandpa convinces Dad to let Grandpa move in to Dad's basement office.

Setting: The Stokes house.

Time: The late 1900's

Character traits of Peter: determined, stubborn, sneaky. Motive: wants to get is room back.

Character traits of Grandpa: kind, fun-loving, funny. Motive: trying to get Peter to settle  the war peacefully.

Caption for next still picture: Lexington One student Timothy has his communication device easily accessible on his desk so that he can move easily between the device and his written work.

Caption for still picture: Attached to his desk with Velcro is a cup holder so Timothy can have independent access of writing tools.

In Lexington District Five, Erica’s motor and visual challenges made it hard for her to complete class work. Using a portable word processor didn’t work for Erica because the print was too small for her to read. Her vision teacher Nancy Nelson describes the solution:

“Erica’s laptop and printer are on a small table in front of the class which she uses as her desk. She is competent in the use of her computer. When her teacher asks the other students to get out their notebooks to take notes, Erica immediately turns on her laptop and accesses a word processing program. She sets the font large enough to enable her to sit back at least 12-16 inches away from the screen to read anything she types. The laptop makes her more independent. She doesn't have to rely on her peers to assist her in finishing her notes or having to get her notes later from the teacher because her writing is so slow. She is proficient in accessing and using the entire keyboard. When writing stories, she always spell checks her work and can proofread everything on the screen. Her teacher allows her to proofread and make corrections as she is writing. Once she is satisfied with what she has written, she can print it out immediately and turn it in to her teacher. This makes the writing process much faster and simpler for her. She is a very fast reader and having a larger screen on the laptop enables her to look at more material and make any changes necessary in a shorter amount of time. In one of her latest stories for her writing class, she talks about what a fast typist she is and that she would one day like to be a writer of children's books.”

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Erica’s speed in note taking is shown during a social studies class.

Principle 6: School staff must have time to create class materials.
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Materials should be specific to the curriculum, such as overlays for augmentative communication devices and adapted books. assistive technology can be used to reinforce skills taught by the teacher in guided practice activities, monitoring student responses, and providing students with immediate feedback. The Internet provides a huge array of materials that support a device or curriculum, but it still takes time to search, download and prepare these materials for an individual student’s learning needs. Teachers and therapists need time to adapt the assistive technology to the specific curriculum.

In Sumter District Two, a pre-K class of developmentally delayed students uses a balanced literacy approach. Teachers and therapists have developed materials for adapted books and classroom activities so that assistive technology is integrated and used by all students.

Captions for first still picture: A class schedule using visual supports allows students and teachers to choose what activity they would like to do next.

Caption for next still picture: Books are adapted for the class by adding picture symbols and Velcro so that the symbols can be moved by students and teachers.

In circle time, all students use picture symbols along with the book being read.

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The teacher points to visual supports on the book being read. Individual students practice with the book and visual supports. After the book and picture symbols are read, students can then make the transition to applying vocabulary to other communication devices with related pictures or visual supports. Students can practice individually with the book using different augmentative communication devices.

Captions for still pictures: Also in Sumter Two, communication books created for individual students have helped them practice outside the classroom. Brendan has made significant progress using his communication book. Picture symbol sheets are created especially for Brendan’s environment. Inserts in Brendan’s book can be moved, for him to tell people what he wants or what he needs.

Principle 7: Training and technical support must be easily available.
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Teachers need training and support to learn how to use equipment and materials creatively and effectively in the classroom. Students must have support available to learn how to use the assistive technology. Help with troubleshooting should be available when needed. Often technical support comes from other agencies, from vendors who sell the technology or from people outside the school district who are familiar with the assistive technology. Keeping assistive technology materials and equipment in good condition plays a major role in the student’s success. Significant delay in the use of a device affects more than the student’s academic progress. When a device sits on the shelf for months at a time, it is discouraging to everyone involved. Attitudes about the effectiveness of assistive technology in general are negatively impacted for the student, teachers, therapists, parents and school administrators.

At the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, Robert Hair (Principal of the School for the Blind) has a computer lab for his students enabling them to access the computer to work with documents and spreadsheets and even the Internet using special access software and hardware. Robert describes the impact of this lab:

“These programs allow students who have low vision or are totally blind to access the computer as efficiently as their sighted peers. As they work in the lab each day, they prepare for post-secondary education and career opportunities that require computer competency. To make their activities meaningful, they complete real class work at their individual work stations.”

Caption for still picture: Students in this computer lab use different types of assistive technology based on their visual needs.

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Joy uses a refreshable Braille display. This device translates text into raised Braille dots. She can create and access documents, move easily between documents, use e-mail, and even access the Internet independently.  JAWS, the screen reader that Takala uses, communicates all text on the computer audibly with synthesized speech and relies heavily on specialized keyboard commands so that the visually impaired can access the computer as easily as a sighted person. Brian, a low vision student, uses technology that enlarges the entire screen, allowing him to access all aspects of the computer independently.

Students in this class are highly interactive, respect and help each other. They have fun and are excited about using assistive technology. When Takala, who is blind, asked to have her screen turned off, teacher Robert Hair responded, “I’m sorry. I can’t do that. I have to see the screen. I don’t have the same talents you do!”

Principle 8: Students need support from their classmates. back to top

At first, devices may seem to exaggerate differences between a child or young adult and the rest of the world. Teachers and therapists should take the time to show friends and classmates that assistive technology is a difference equalizer, not a difference maker. For example, classmates are uniquely qualified to help identify vocabulary for an augmentative communication device that motivates a student with disabilities to interact with peers and express thoughts and feelings. Classmates need help to learn how to interact with a student who uses assistive technology, such as allowing ample time for the student to respond using assistive technology. Few people like to do all their learning in isolation; assistive technology allows students with disabilities to learn in a collaborative manner with their peers. This interaction in itself is a powerful motivator for the student using assistive technology.

Caption for still picture: Students in this computer class at the SC School for the Deaf and Blind motivate each other to work with different technologies. (back row, left to right, Takala, Tyler, Principal Rob Hair, Joy. (front row, left to right), Brandon, Brian, Dalia.

Celeste Ranson from Kershaw County Schools emphasizes the difference that peer support has meant to ten-year-old Jesse.

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The kids all know Jesse. Even if they are not in the classroom with him, they recognize him from being in the lunchroom or being on the play ground and they have just been very accepting and everybody’s fighting to find out who can help him that day. So it’s really been a good situation.

Principle 9: Students, teachers, therapists and parents need access to others who are using the assistive technology successfully. back to top

Marty McKenzie, Access Technology Coordinator at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, emphasizes:

“In the world of access technology, having access to other users or ‘gurus’ who use the same or similar technology is vital to long-term success with the product. As I work with other professionals, I learn that many of them have in-depth knowledge of particular aspects of specific software packages, but no one has all the answers. Thus, I draw on the knowledge of others freely and I share what knowledge I have with them.  In South Carolina, JAWS for Windows is the screen reader typically used by those of us who are blind. I regularly call on a few “power users” for assistance with the Internet setup for JAWS and help with accessing spreadsheets. Another popular program is Open Book Scanning Software is another popular application. I am often able to help others with specific scanning challenges. Sharing information through our relatively small network of “users” has made a powerful impact on the end-user’s success. Networking is vital in disability fields and particularly in the assistive technology field.”

Caption after still picture: Marty with Janet Jendron of the South Carolina Assistive Technology Program.

Sharon Bellwood, Coordinator of Student Disability Services at Greenville Tech, tells how they link students together for optimum use of assistive technology:

“There is an old quote, ‘Each one teach one’ that applies to use of assistive technology. One student will start off with a piece of assistive technology that helps him or her in English class. We then find it works in another subject class, and we try it with a student in, for example, Science. And ‘the beat goes on.’ I find I am doing less and less training. Students help each other. More of my time is spent looking and digging for the new products that make life and learning better and better.”

Jim Little, Director of Health and Related Services at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, describes how access to people who have successfully integrated assistive technology into their environments impacts their program.

“When we start to set up assistive technology in the classroom or anywhere at our school, we need someone who understands the idiosyncrasies of our classroom and school environments. We need help building the best scenario to fit the technology to the student and his or her surroundings, taking into consideration that student’s lifestyle and developmental level. These things need to be in place ahead of time. The most realistic and effective support comes from another person who’s had similar ‘real life’ experiences, whether it’s another student, a therapist, a teacher, or a parent. We need someone to help us ‘troubleshoot’ when things aren’t working. Without this kind of specific support, people get frustrated and may quit trying. This is one of the main reasons technology gets stuck in a corner and is unused.”

Kirk Garrett Jr. currently uses an enlarged keyboard for his computer. For the mouse function he currently uses a joystick, soon to be replaced with a wireless infrared mouse configuration that will allow him to use his power chair joystick as his primary mouse. He also uses an electronic augmentative communication device for communication. He speaks openly about the value of having others help him with technical issues:

“Networking with peers has helped me access people who are using the assistive technology I’m adapting into my life and my job.  It works both ways; they help me with practical issues and I give them help when they need it. It’s also a great way to find out about the latest products that might help me make decisions based on people’s actual experiences.”

Caption after picture: Kirk Garrett, Jr., at his computer.

The South Carolina Assistive Technology Program provides a list serve for students, parents and professionals to ask questions about the use and integration of assistive technology into daily environments. The SCATP web page provides a link to join the list serve at ../join.htm. The staff at SCATP also helps connect parents, students, teachers and therapists to those in other school districts who are familiar with specific technology. Vendors who sell assistive technology are good sources of information about who else is successful in using the specific technology. There are other list serves for specific products and assistive technology areas. These can be found by searching the Internet for “assistive technology listservs.” 

Some South Carolina school districts, such as Sumter Two, Lexington Five and Richland One, make a concerted effort for outreach to other school districts by sharing training, providing demonstrations and loaning equipment.

Principle 10: The value of support from parents or caregivers cannot be overestimated. back to top

Parents have unique insight into the student’s strengths and weaknesses. While it may be unrealistic to expect that parents become “experts” in the use of the assistive technology, reinforcement at home speeds up progress in the classroom.

The results of home support are obvious for Jason as he works with his therapist to use an augmentative communication device in a writing class at Dutch Fork High School in District 5 of Lexington and Richland Counties.

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To the right of his head is a toggle switch that Jason uses to access the device. Speech therapist Robin Vance uses every opportunity to help Jason appreciate the progress he’s made because of his work at home.

Caption for picture: Kirk Garrett Sr. and Kirk Garrett Jr.

Kirk Garrett, Sr. has worked with his son Kirk Garrett, Jr., for years to find the right assistive technology and to help it work for him in the classroom. He writes:

“Integration of assistive technology into the curriculum must be addressed in the IEP.  The IEP team must fully understand the goals and objectives as well as their expectations in making this venture a success. 

“In the 10th grade, Kirk, Jr., was taking geometry. The root problem was always the same. Kirk, Jr. cannot write with a pencil and paper, so he uses an enlarged keyboard that functions as his keyboard and mouse input. How was Kirk, Jr. going to work geometry problems out on paper if he couldn’t use traditional paper and pencil? I went on a search to find any available tutorial geometry software programs or applications available on the market. I purchased a program for less than $100 that taught 4 levels of geometry. I took it to Kirk’s geometry teacher and asked her to review the software for content and to also see if it met her requirements for teaching Kirk the principles she expected him to learn in her class.  She reviewed and approved the software and agreed to allow Kirk, Jr. to use it.

“Now that we had a solution how would we implement it?  We sat down with the teacher, Kirk, Jr. and his aid and we came up with this plan. Kirk and his aid would spend part of the class time in her classroom for lectures then go to a private room and work on the lessons in the software application corresponding with the lecture.  This application was designed so that Kirk would watch a video of the instructor within the software as he was lecturing and writing out the problems on the blackboard and then he would explain each step.  There were also unit assignments that Kirk would work within the software. He was then tested after each unit. This was monitored by the teacher, who tested him at established intervals to monitor his progress. Kirk’s aid prepared a notebook which contained his notes, unit problems he worked within the software, along with the software generated quizzes and their results. This plan worked very well and Kirk, Jr. was very successful and maintained high grades in this class.

“We worked to help the school staff overcome some hesitation about using the computer program. There is a solution for every challenge. You must have the desire to overcome and succeed. When we hear, ‘Oh, you can’t do that…’ or ‘That probably won’t work,’ we are motivated to meet the challenge!” 

Principle 11: Regular education staff must have special education support for student expectations, accommodations guidance and material preparation. back to top

The Bedford Central School District in New York provides a detailed discussion of the specific supporting roles of school professionals such as therapists, nurses, social workers and psychologists at

Victoria Osborne, SLP in Richland District One, spends time with Tiffany to help her with her new augmentative communication device, talking about Thanksgiving dinner. Her approach to Tiffany shows the potential for students to engage in real, interactive conversation with others.

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Victoria asks Tiffany what she ate. Using her device, Tiffany tells her that she ate turkey and macaroni.

Valerie Kroesen, SLP and assistive technology Coordinator from Berkeley County School District, describes a program they have implemented to help teachers in regular education.

“Students at Goose Creek Primary benefit from technology designed to increase language and literacy skills. Shari Kaple, SLP uses a programmable keyboard combined with a balanced literacy program to increase the expressive language, written language and literacy skills of a group of speech/language disabled students within a first grade regular education classroom.”

The following classroom pictures show how many different materials allow students to use the keyboard to practice literacy skills.

Description of still pictures in slide show: Shari Kaple uses a program called “Balanced Literacy,” a theme-based program incorporating software and hardware for guided reading, phonics, writing, auditory support. After showing visual supports from a book to students, she uses other picture symbols and an enlarged keyboard to help students to identify the same concepts.

Valerie Kroesen describes the overall impact of the program by emphasizing,

“Since this technology has been incorporated, students have benefited from speech-language intervention within the regular education classroom. Having this software available to speech students on the classroom computer allows them to practice and improve language skills on their specific academic level independently or with the classroom teacher. In this way, their language and literacy skills are targeted more often than during scheduled therapy sessions. Other students in the regular education classroom benefit from use of this technology as well.”

Principle 12: Support from school and district administrators makes all the difference. back to top

The initial expense of fiscal and people resources in the selection, purchase, and preparation of assistive technology is an investment for a student’s future years. Administrators who have had the opportunity to understand this principle are more likely to provide workday time for assistive technology staff to plan, get outside training and integrate assistive technology effectively in the classroom. Sometimes it takes the success of one student to convince administrators of the potential of assistive technology. In the world of assistive technology, systems change is made one student, one teacher, one administrator at a time.

In Sumter District Two, Dr. Sulyn Elliott, Director of Special Services, has supported the development of an assistive technology team of committed professionals.

Sulyn describes how their team works:

“Our main strength is the people who are on the team. Our team coordinator is an occupational therapist. We have a speech language pathologist and a physical therapist assistant who is invaluable. Another strength is the fact that they go into the classroom and work with teachers, with the devices, and with the children. That “hands-on” training component is critical to our program.

“Another crucial component is staff development in assistive technology. I rely on our team to find the most appropriate trainings (in state or out of state) and I support their travel and time to attend conferences and workshops. Then they come back and immediately start working with teachers in the classroom with the technology, the devices, with the students.

“Our approach also includes an awareness of the importance of linking the use of assistive technology to state standards. Use of the devices is parallel with the use or implementation of the state standards. State standards are written into the individualized education plans for the students. Whatever assistive technology is used, high tech or low tech, is used relative to those state standards.

“This approach has profoundly affected the quality of education for our students. A prime example is found in students who were totally non-verbal. After working with a device (augmentative communication or any kind of assistive technology) they often move to being verbal, becoming more and more independent. They do not have to rely so much on the adults around them, but become independent in their communication skills. The rate of progress, of course, depends on the individual student. But it also depends on the team’s input and their interventions, the teacher working with the student, the teacher assistants working with the student, and the parents, following through at home. We have had successes that were phenomenal. I immediately think of one little fellow who moved from being totally non-verbal to being able to put two syllables together – all in about a year. And now he is highly verbal.”

When asked how they have observed teachers’ changing their minds about the use of assistive technology, Sulyn responded:

“That’s the beauty of it. We have seen changed minds. And that’s why we don’t really listen initially when people say, “I really don’t want to do assistive technology.” They say that because they’re afraid of it, because they don’t really understand it. The beauty of our team’s going into the classroom and working with teachers is that they find out, “This isn’t so hard; I can do this.”

Sulyn describes their long range plan that involves district commitment to providing necessary staff.

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“What I envision is having a full time assistive technology team. Whereas, at this point in time, the OT, PT, and the SLP still have a caseload that they work with. They do therapy with students. My dream, my goal is to have a full time assistive technology team. And I believe that we could do that. I know that they people we have on our team now are dedicated to fulfilling that dream. I think it’s a dream of theirs as well.

Principle 13: An assistive technology team coordinator saves time, effort and discouragement. back to top

School districts that create this position may use a therapist or a special education teacher who has the knowledge, interest and motivation to support teachers and administrators in integrating technology in the classroom. The assistive technology coordinator can dedicate the time required to finding training, troubleshooting solutions, managing the paperwork necessary for funding or IEP documentation, and working with the school district’s information technology staff.

In most school districts, the assistive technology coordinator is a part time position. The job description is developed gradually as the assistive technology team determines what procedures and forms will work best in the unique environment. There is no “cookie cutter” job description for an assistive technology coordinator. Job descriptions from other school districts can be found on the Internet and sought from SC school districts through the SCATP list serve, which can be joined at ../join.htm.

Caption for picture: Jim Little of the SC School for the Deaf and Blind.

Jim Little, Director of Health and Related Services at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, explains how an assistive technology team coordinator makes the difference in the overall picture:

“An assistive technology team coordinator can provide a global perspective that is badly needed for assistive technology to be effectively used in a student’s real life environment. Without that overview, the approach to assistive technology can end up as a piece-meal approach. Critical areas such as cognitive development, social interactions, home environments, or potential sources of support might be neglected. Technical support from other areas of the school or school district might not be identified.

“An assistive technology team coordinator can develop protocols, coordinated assessment and referral procedures that can prevent duplication of effort and prolonged waiting time for services and technology provision. The coordinator can make sure that the pieces of the puzzle are meshed together in the most effective and efficient way.”

Principle 14: Procedures should be set in place for ongoing evaluation and documentation of assistive technology effectiveness. back to top

Ideally, collecting performance data on the student’s use of the assistive technology should be part of the daily routine. Putting these procedures in place early in the process helps in the long run for the IEP, for accountability in general, for supporting standards-based learning and in making future assistive technology decisions.

District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties uses a set of forms to track and document progress as they work with students in a writing class for resource students.

Caption for first still picture: Evaluation sheets and cards to help teachers ask real-life questions are used for each individual student in the class, which meets weekly.

Caption for next still picture: Cards help teachers and therapists motivate students to use augmentative communication devices to communicate thoughts that are important to the student.

In this same class, students use their individual assistive technology solutions for real-life communication by emailing Felicia, a classmate who is homebound.

Jarrod responds to questions that Felicia asked him in an email message using a head switch to activate an augmentative communication device that in turn, sends text to the computer.

Play AT and Classroom Integration video - Part 14 :

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Jarrod uses his head switch with the computerized augmentative communication device and word prediction, to write a response to Felicia’s questions about Thanksgiving and Christmas break. His augmentative communication device scans text and he uses the head switch to choose letters. He tells her that he is really looking forward to Christmas break.

Another student, Mandy, responds to questions from Felicia using an adaptive keyboard. She finds that it’s easier for her if she uses a slip-on typing aid.

Lonnie uses technology to help him use the computer by means of  a "wireless optical sensor" or a tiny “dot” that adheres to his eyeglasses. The optical sensor attached to the computer tracks the user's head movements and translates these movements into direct movements of the on-screen mouse pointer.

Play AT and Classroom Integration video - Part 16:

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A still picture shows the infrared box on top of the computer that receives the infrared signal from the “dot” on Lonnie’s glasses. While practicing the use of this technology, Lonnie can access the computer for a geography lesson. The computer screen shows the mouse moving from spot to spot to gain information about the Amazon Rain Forest.

Principle 15: Using assistive technology in settings other than the classroom is a powerful way to provide continuity of learning.
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The same augmentative communication device can be used to order food in a restaurant, communicate with family members at home and shop in the mall. Using voice-activated software for emailing friends helps reinforce the skills needed to produce class work.

Providing training and support for family members in the use of assistive technology helps make this possible. The assistive technology itself rarely generates a student’s attention and interest for long, but when it makes a difference in real-life experiences, learning in all arenas is reinforced.

In Greenville County School District, Ann Poole is the Principal of Washington Center, a school for students with special needs. They have embedded assistive technology and visual supports throughout the entire school.

The same augmentative communication device can be used to order food in a restaurant, communicate with family members at home and shop in the mall. Using voice-activated software for emailing friends helps reinforce the skills needed to produce class work.

Providing training and support for family members in the use of assistive technology helps make this possible. The assistive technology itself rarely generates a student’s attention and interest for long, but when it makes a difference in real-life experiences, learning in all arenas is reinforced.

In Greenville County School District, Ann Poole is the Principal of Washington Center, a school for students with special needs. They have embedded assistive technology and visual supports throughout the entire school.

Play AT and Classroom Integration video - Part 17:

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We don’t only just have it in the classrooms; we have it in our water therapy program where you saw the children watering the plants. We use it in daily living. We want them to cook. We want them to participate in the library activities by actively reading the stories with the librarian. The art program is just phenomenal. They do T-shirts. They paint. But all of this is used with a switch hooked up to some type of gadget. We have it in the bathrooms; we have it in the lunch rooms. It’s got to be everywhere; it cannot be an isolated event. It goes home with them; it comes back to us. It’s a part of their whole lives. We even try to involve not only the mothers and daddies, the brothers and sisters, sometimes the grandmothers and the grandfathers. So life’s good when everybody’s involved.

Caption before next video segment: When asked about the “No Child Left Behind Legislation” and its impact the need for assistive technology in schools, Ann describes how assistive technology can be applied to state standards.

No Child Left Behind says that all children must have access to curriculum standards. So what do you do if you’re using the kind of technology we have in our school or even out at other schools? You’ve got to have assistive technology, augmentative communication, for severely disabled children who cannot use their hands, or are unable to speak. And you take the regular standards and you modify them. For instance, if you’re doing …. We did a science project this week in one of the classrooms, and they’re working on feeding a fish and what it takes to keep that fish living, that it’s got to have the object. The child that she was doing the project with was unable to use his hands. But he needs to be able to feed that fish just like we would. So the teacher had taken an environmental control arm, and had taken parts of a pouring switch. Then they had the message hooked up to a voice output communication device so that the child, if he pushed the symbol that said “push,” slowly activated the pour-in switch, which then fell into the fish bowl. And I think that fish’s name was Earl, and he got his breakfast. But, how else would you have done that? If he was not actively engaged, and he was watching the activity, it’s not nearly as meaningful. But we teach them how to engage in the community. It may be one of the social studies is “location of people, places, and things.” And as you go around our school, we have voice output device at different locations. For instance, if you come to the office, and you get there, you would push the device and it would say “I’m at the office.” Or if you went to the library: “I’m at the library.” So it’s everywhere. But we are, right now, we are accessing English, language, arts, math, science and social studies and we can pretty much hit, I’d say 15-20 standards out of each section.”

Ann has the following advice for school districts that want to develop assistive technology programs.

“A lot of people come to Washington Center to get ideas, to brainstorm with our teachers, our therapists, with me. I think we’ve got to do more training within districts. I think once they get the “word,” they see the enthusiasm and the difference it makes in instruction. One thing I noticed when I came here was ‘quietness’ of the program. We were not actively engaging the children. Now they are engaged and you can hear their participation.  Still, people need to ‘see’ to become ‘believers.’ They need to see that ‘“yes, this does work, yes, we can do this with even these children, no matter how severely disabled they are.”

Greenville County’s Washington Center has established a nationally recognized home/school communication program entitled "The BIGmack Attack." This program allows a student to have a voice output communication aid, the BIGmack, which travels back and forth between school and home with single messages. This program has been expanded into “BIGmack and His Buddies Attack Literacy.” Adapted books are sent home with students for reading with their families. Picture symbols are added to the books to help the student know when to push an augmentative communication device to help read the story. 

Caption for still picture: Ann Poole shows how materials for home-school interaction are stored in the school library.

Teacher Kim Potter asks for news from home in her class.

Play AT and Classroom Integration video - Part 18:

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Teacher Kim Potter asks Andrew to press his BIGMack device to hear news about a quiet night at home and being ready for a “fun-filled day at school.” Caption introducing next video segment: Molly, a student at Northwood Middle School in Greenville comes to Washington Center so that Josh can read a book to her using an augmentative communication device. He presses the icons for each page about “my little sister” eating so much and that “we thought she’d throw up then and there.” Caption introducing next video segment: Students at Washington Center produce the school newspaper using assistive technology. In this video, the student Anne uses a switch to activate the tape recorder to record an interview of Pat Johnson. Caption within video segment: Anne then uses a simple communication device to interview Pat Johnson. The communication device explains that their topic for the newsletter is about pets that are favorites for people at the school. Pat is asked to complete a survey by putting a sticker next to her favorite pet, which is fish. Through pressing the communication device, she asks Pat why she thinks they are good pets and records Pat saying that they are easy to keep, confined, have beautiful colors and are soothing to watch. The second pre-recorded question asks what she likes best about fish. Pat responds that you can spoil fish; they come running when you feed them. In response to the third question, Pat tells her that she has many fish. Anne then asks Pat to bring a photo of the fish for the newsletter. Anne uses a Polaroid camera and takes a picture of Pat when she is ready, by hitting a switch. She then watches the photo develop and the teacher tells her “Good job.”

The newsletter is published in a special format with picture symbols throughout.

Description of slide show of still pictures: Pages 1-5 of the school newspaper, with stories about school events and interviews of people. Each word in print has a picture symbol on top of it.

Caption for next picture: The Washington Center school greenhouse provides an environment for students to plant and grow plants and vegetables that they later will use for cooking.

Stephanie Caldwell is excited about the value of the greenhouse experience for her students. She says, “These students are so often the ones ‘taken care of.’ The experience of nurturing something themselves is irreplaceable. Watching the cycle of life has been good for them: planting the seeds, watering them, and seeing them grow. They are able to control new environments.”

Caption for first still picture: Britney uses a simple switch to activate devices that plant and water greenhouse plants.

Play AT and Classroom Integration video - Part 19:

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Justin is helped to push a switch attached to a water pick that, in turn, waters the plants. Caption within video segment: Justin is able to pour dirt in the bucket by pushing a simple switch on his own. Caption within video segment: At a developmentally delayed pre-K class in Sumter District Two, snack time involves everyone using the same spinner to select their snacks. Caption for next video segments: Tyler uses two different switches to activate a feeding machine so that he can eat on his own in the school cafeteria at Satchelford Elementary in Richland District One. He is able to control the scooping of his food separately from bringing the food to his mouth.

Adaptive physical education equipment is an integral part of the PE program at Fairwold School in Richland District One.

Caption for next picture: Many different switches, such as this string switch, can be used for these students with severe physical and cognitive impairments.

Pat Smith, PE Teacher, uses a combination of switches and adaptive equipment for a myriad of sports.

Justin uses a simple switch to start his “bean bag toss.”

Play AT and Classroom Integration video - Part 20:

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Justin hits a switch. Justin’s switch activates a leaf blower that shoots a beanbag towards the target. Caption for next video segment: Pre-schoolers like Kenyatta and Mary enjoy activating switches that cause music or bubbles. They are encouraged to hit the switch to make the bubbles blow and are reinforced when they repeat what the teachers says. Caption for next video segment:  The Alley-Oop ramp is used for any sport that requires a ball to be thrown. Rocky uses it to send a basketball into the net on the floor.

Pat Smith summarizes the overall approach they have to PE for their students:

“Individuals with special needs should be able to enjoy the excitement and fun of PE, just like everyone else. To get a better understanding of adapted physical education, just change the word ‘adapted’ to ‘modified.’ It’s modifying the curriculum, task, and or environment for a physical activity so that it is as appropriate for the person with a disability as it is for a person without a disability.”

In Lexington School District Five, school-based jobs for students have been modified with low tech solutions to enable students to become more independent. Carrie Hutto, OT, describes their strategies:

“In the OD class students begin with a school-based job when they are 16 and progress to job training at various facilities in the community. At school the students have participated in various jobs in which the equipment has been modified.

Caption for still picture of student in a wheelchair pushing a broom: For sweeping, we attach a push broom to the outside of the wheelchair, allowing the broom to sweep the floor as the student goes down the hall.”

Caption for picture of a dowel rod with paint opener on the end: “To check the bathroom soap dispenser, we took a dowel rod and attached a metal paint opener.”

Caption for picture of rod pulling on a soap dispenser: “The kids go into the bathroom and place the round end on the end of the soap dispenser to pull it toward them to see if it's empty. They then report the empty ones to the janitors.”

Caption for picture of Mandy using a feather duster: “One of the students dusts in the library. We took a feather duster and bent the handle to a 90 degree angle and placed it in a dowel rod so when Mandy dusts, it's at the correct angle as she's maneuvering her wheelchair down the aisle.”

The thought of implementing all of these principles may seem overwhelming. The important thing to remember is that they are implemented one student at a time and one classroom at a time. If accessing the curriculum, step by step, is the primary goal, these principles fit together for seamless service provision. The Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) provides a simple chart, “Assistive Technology Mini-Assessment: Qualities for Success” shown in the Resources section.

Educators throughout South Carolina have committed themselves to these principles and show how well these principles work every day in the classroom. The “Spotlights” section shows more about how students, parents, teachers, therapists and administrators are working to make assistive technology a valuable tool in curriculum access.

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