Are students’ assistive technology devices ready for the new school year?

Not having AT ready for a student who needs it can delay learning and cause frustration for parents and teachers
By: | September 25, 2019

While parents are busy tackling back-to-school shopping lists this time of year, make sure your staff is preparing students’ assistive technology so that it’s ready to go from the start of the school year.

Not having AT available for a student who needs it can delay learning; cause frustration for the student and his parents; and, in some cases, lead to a denial of FAPE. See Buffalo (NY) Pub. Schs., 116 LRP 26110 (OCR 04/08/16).

As more tools become universally available within devices, also make sure staff are aware of these supports and how students can access them, said Sharon Plante, chief technology integrator at Eagle Hill Southport (Conn.) School, an independent school serving students with language-based learning disabilities.

“Students need direct instruction on how to use AT that’s built into their devices,” Plante said. “I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year working directly with students on this.”

Here are more back-to-school tips to ensure AT is ready for students this year:

Set up a tracking system. Designate staff who will track school-owned AT devices and monitor repairs that need to happen before school starts. Set up a system to easily identify who has district-owned devices, what device they have, what school they attend, and so forth, said Therese Kwiatkowski, director of student services for Wauwatosa School District in Wisconsin. A simple spreadsheet or a shared online document can help staff keep track of school devices and licenses.

Check on repairs. “When staff collect equipment in the spring, equipment is checked in, tested, updated, and sent for repairs at that time if needed,” Kwiatkowski said. If a device doesn’t arrive in time for the start of the school year, consider contacting a local assistive technology lending library to borrow a loaner device until the repairs are complete or a new device arrives.

Identify students whose IEPs include computer access. As technology access increases in schools, AT looks significantly different than it did in the past, Kwiatkowski said. For example, a student who needs text read aloud may be able to access that on a classroom computer or tablet. “Work closely with your technology department to ensure universal access for all students,” Kwiatkowski said. Also, identify those students whose IEPs list computer access and ensure their equipment or software is available, she said. In some cases, your IT staff may need to enable an accessibility feature on a device or “whitelist” an online tool so that the student has access to it.

Research new features, updates. Before school starts, check for new features or updates to devices that could impact students with disabilities, Plante said. “We have a digital backpack of tools, so I try to keep up with updates to those tools,” she said. “Now’s also the time where I’m contacting companies and letting them know about features that we like or don’t like, and talking to them about their cost structure, if that’s changed over the summer.”

Contact families to see if needs have changed. For students who require specialized equipment, reach out to their families over the summer to see if there are any significant changes that may require adjustments or modifications to their equipment, said Kwiatkowski. For instance, for communication devices, have speech-language pathologists assist families with updating students’ devices with new vocabulary or picture cards before they return to school, she said.

Train in advance. Train teachers on the purpose and use of equipment such as FM systems, amplification systems, low vision supports, and communication devices, Kwiatkowski said. Once school starts, also consider holding a workshop for parents to show them some of the technology tools that students are using in the classroom and how they can use them at home to support their child’s learning, Plante said.

Check back in. Once school starts, follow up with the student and teachers to make sure the student’s AT is working properly. Empower teachers to reach out if they have concerns, Plante said. “Our teachers are tuned in and they will let me know if they see a concern so we can directly address that problem,” she said.

Jennifer Herseim is an editor for LRP Media Group and program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.

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