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Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology
A Comprehensive Guide to Assistive Technology Services
By Gayl Bowser, Diana Foster Carl
CAST, Inc.Copyright © 2015 QIAT Leadership Team and CAST, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Introduction to the Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology
Technology plays an increasingly diverse and important role in the lives of most people, but nowhere is it as critical as in the life of an individual with a disability. Technology can help overcome barriers imposed by disability and create access to a broad range of activities. For students with disabilities, technology can be an important tool to improve access to the curriculum and increase learning. When technology is used to increase functional capability of a student with a disability it is, by definition, assistive technology (AT). A wide variety of tools, many developed for other purposes and ranging from simple to complex, can be AT for students with disabilities.
The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) describe critical elements involved in the provision of AT services. This chapter provides an overview of the
rationale and need for QIAT,
basic principles of QIAT, and
structure of Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT).
The Rationale and Need for QIAT
Overall, I feel that my school district does a superior job of providing an education for its students who receive special education services. Throughout the district there is a conscientious attempt to follow the letter and the intent of IDEA with the exception of one area. That area is assistive technology. This has not occurred through an intentional disregard of the law, but rather, through a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding of information about assistive technology.
The determinations of what assistive technology devices and services need to be provided to a student have been completed very informally and haphazardly and primarily just for the students with moderate to severe disabilities. No consistent and systematic assessment has been used in the consideration of need. This has resulted in students being under served and money being wasted. Inappropriate equipment has been ordered. Equipment has been duplicated unnecessarily. Items are strewn throughout the district with no record of what is where. Equipment is underused, unused, and inappropriately used because the proper training was not provided.
(Special Education teacher, 1998 in Bowser and Reed, 2012, p.i)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) notes that almost 30 years of research and experience have demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by "... supporting the development and use of technology, including assistive technology devices and assistive technology services, to maximize accessibility for children with disabilities." (IDEA, 2004 [C.F.R § 601.(5)(H)34]). In addition, research has shown AT can improve outcomes in a variety of academic areas including mathematics (Maccini & Gagnon, 2005), writing (Sitko, Laine, & Sitko, 2005), reading (Strangman & Dalton, 2005), achievement of IEP goals (Watson, Ito, Smith, & Andersen, 2010), and across various types of disabilities (Ostensjo, Carlberg, & Vollestad, 2005; Stumbo, Martin, & Hedrick, 2009). In spite of the wide recognition of the benefits of AT, many students with disabilities still do not receive needed AT devices and services as part of their IEP.
In part, this is because school districts still struggle to develop and sustain programs that effectively and efficiently consider, assess, and provide AT devices and services to the students who need them. Although it's clear that a student's need for AT must be considered in the development of an IEP, no official national guidance has been provided about how to consider and determine a need for AT or how to ensure appropriate levels of service. Much is left to chance or individual discretion. School district teams commonly struggle with questions such as: "What does it mean to consider AT?" "Which procedural safeguards apply to the provision of AT?" "How do we know what AT devices and services are really needed for a child to participate in and benefit from a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE)?" "How do we help a child use AT and evaluate that use?"
The primary purpose of QIAT is to guide thoughtful development, provision, and evaluation of AT services for students with disabilities. The Quality Indicators, intent statements, and descriptions included in QIAT provide support for the development and delivery of AT services of consistently high quality to all students who require those services to make progress toward meeting their educational goals. Rather than proposing or supporting any particular model of AT service delivery, QIAT describes core components that should be present in some form in all AT service delivery systems of high quality.
Regardless of where services are provided or the specific model used to support service provision, the Quality Indicators apply (Zabala, 2007). Further, QIAT supports the federal requirement that the services should address not only the needs of students, but also the needs of family members and school personnel working with students who require AT devices and services to receive FAPE.
Quality Indicator Areas
QIAT describes core components of quality AT services in eight core areas. The indicators in each area can be used as guideposts for developing effective, efficient, and ethical services. The eight Quality Indicator areas are
Consideration of Assistive Technology Needs,
Assessment of Assistive Technology Needs,
Including Assistive Technology in the IEP,
Assistive Technology Implementation,
Evaluation of Effectiveness of Assistive Technology,
Assistive Technology Transition,
Professional Development and Training in Assistive Technology, and
Administrative Support of Assistive Technology Service.
QIAT supports systemic AT decision-making and actions at all points of AT service delivery as well as guidance for effectively documenting, organizing, and monitoring AT selection, acquisition, and use by individual students. Quality Indicator Areas align to specific areas of responsibility in special-education processes that may require services to support the use of AT. The first six indicator areas guide teams through the processes necessary to determine support needed for an individual student's use of AT. Professional Development and Training in Assistive Technology and Administrative Support of Assistive Technology Services support planning and implementation of AT processes and procedures at the education agency level.
Principles Underlying All Areas of QIAT
The complexity of identifying Quality Indicators that are useful across a wide variety of educational environments and service provision options is evident. The issues with implementing quality services in a way that supports positive student results are even more complex. There is clearly a need for people with a wide variety of perspectives and experiences as providers and consumers of AT services to participate in defining and implementing this work.
When reviewing or using QIAT, it's important to know the basic principles underlying all areas of QIAT:
It is essential that all AT services developed and delivered by states or education agencies are legally correct according to the mandates and expectations of federal and state laws.
AT efforts at all stages involve ongoing collaborative work by teams that include families and care givers, school personnel, and individuals from other service agencies as appropriate. These teams are referred to as "collaborative teams" throughout the text because the ability to share knowledge and work together is critical.
All team members involved in AT processes are responsible for following the code of ethics for their respective professions; nothing being asked of them should negate that responsibility.
QIAT is designed to be specifically applicable to educational settings at all levels. The term "IEP team" will be used throughout the text, but it applies equally to early childhood services, where it would be the Individual Family Services Plan (IFSP). Therefore the term "education agency" is used throughout QIAT rather than school, district, service provider, or some other more specific term to avoid the assumption that QIAT applies to only one level or type of service provision. Though QIAT is intended for education agencies and is based on the regulations of the United States, other countries and service agencies have found that, with minor adjustments, pertinent to specific regulations and service plans, the content is valuable and useful in other settings where AT services are provided (Martin, 2013).
In order to understand the need for the Quality Indicators, it's important to understand the history of AT in educational policy, the research about the delivery of AT services, and the impact of AT on the education of students with disabilities.
Legal Mandate for Assistive Technology in IDEA
As early as 1990, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the United States Department of Education provided guidance requiring consideration of AT needs during the development of IEPs for children with disabilities (Schrag, 1990). This guidance indicated that the provision of FAPE for all students with disabilities must include the tools needed for the student to benefit from educational opportunities. Also, for the first time, in 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P.L. 101-476) mandated the provision of AT devices and services if students need them in order to receive FAPE, and provided definitions of AT devices and services (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1990). Subsequent revisions of the law in 1997 and 2004 included the mandate that every IEP team consider each student's need for AT devices and services during the development of the IEP, and the 2004 revision stipulated that AT is considered in the development, review, and revision of the IEP (IDEA, 1997; IDEA, 2004). This addition increased awareness and scrutiny among education agencies of the procedures and practices used to plan and implement AT services.
The definition of AT was initially published in federal law in the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 and remains consistent in all federal legislation. In IDEA, AT is defined as follows:
34 C.F.R. § 300.5 Assistive technology device
Assistive technology device means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of that device. (Authority 20 U.S.C. 1401(1))
IDEA also defines assistive technology services:
34 C.F.R. § 300.6 Assistive technology service
Assistive technology service means any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. The term includes
a. The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;
b. Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities;
c. Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;
d. Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;
e. Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child's family; and
f. Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of that child. (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1401(2))
IDEA defines the responsibility of the local education agency (LEA) to provide AT devices and services. LEA is the legal term for school districts and other local K–12 education agencies. It is this mandate that heightened the awareness of AT among education agencies throughout the country and provided the impetus for the development of the Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology.
34 C.F.R § 300.105 Assistive technology
a. Each public agency must ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in §§ 300.5 and 300.6, respectively, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child's
1. special education under § 300.36;
2. related services under § 300.34; or
3. supplementary aids and services under §§ 300.38 and 300.114(a)(2)(ii).
b. On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child's home or in other settings is required if the child's IEP Team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE. (Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1401(2))
Unfortunately, members of IEP teams often are unprepared to implement this statute effectively and school districts often are unprepared to provide sufficient training and support in AT to members of IEP teams and others involved in AT work (Bowser & Reed, 1995; Hutinger, Johanson, & Stoneburner, 1996; Todis & Walker, 1993).
Even excellent educational practices, such as universal design for learning (UDL), can add to the confusion. UDL is a framework that guides the shift from trying to make lessons and activities accessible after the fact to a process that includes the incorporation of accessible instructional materials and barrier-free learning options at the instructional design stage (Rose & Meyer, 2002). When instruction is designed with built-in choices and access for all students including those with special education needs, it makes the teacher's job much easier. However, it does not eliminate the need to document in the IEP the specific features or AT a student needs in order to make progress in the general education curriculum. For example, a teacher might think she doesn't need to note the need for text-to-speech in an individual student's IEP because she provides a universally designed learning environment where all of the lessons in the classroom include the option of using text-to-speech when reading new material. But, if that student moves to another education agency, text-to-speech may not be commonly available. The IEP must document his need for access to text via text-to-speech, without regard to what is available for other students.
Additional Mandates: Section 504 and the ADA
Not all students with disabilities need specially designed instruction. Students with disabilities who do not require specially designed instruction are not eligible under IDEA and will not have IEPs. These students may still need AT in order to access or participate in their education and may receive it under the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Section 504 is a civil rights law that guarantees that no student with a disability will "be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." (Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, 1977) Education agencies that receive federal funds must provide accommodations, including AT to students with disabilities if needed, so that they will receive an education equal to that of their peers.
Excerpted from Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology by Gayl Bowser, Diana Foster Carl. Copyright © 2015 QIAT Leadership Team and CAST, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of CAST, Inc..
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