Academic Exchange Quarterly Fall 2004 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 8, Issue 3
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Assistive Technology: A Collaborative Approach
Amerman is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education. Aitken is Director of Project Mentor, a regional center and academic support program for students with learning disabilities. Shamburg is an assistant professor in the Educational Technology Department. Twomey is Chairperson of the Educational Technology Department.
This article describes the formation of the Partnership for
Assistive Technology (PAT), a collaborative effort at an urban university
created to address the diverse needs for assistive technology. The project involves various departments at
For this collaborative effort, four major departments and
The Department of Special Education at
The Department of Special Education is dedicated to providing universal design and accessibility for all students. Incorporating AT into inclusion settings is one method of providing an equitable education for all students. In order to accomplish this, the Department needs access to software, hardware, training laboratories, current research, and consultation from experts in the field of assistive technology. Due to lack of funding and the need for increased knowledge among all constituents, a collaborative approach is necessary for the Department of Special Education to begin educating teacher candidates effectively about the issues of access and use of technology for students with disabilities.
The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School, founded in 1931,
functions under the direction of NJCU’s
The laboratory school is often used for field placements for teacher candidates from the Department of Special Education. One major goal of the collaboration is to develop an AT laboratory that will be utilized for comprehensive field placements for a variety of departments including Early Childhood Education, Elementary and Secondary Education, Educational Technology, Educational Leadership, Nursing, and Counseling. One inconsistent piece at A. Harry Moore has been the implementation of assistive technology. Although many students utilize such devices such as alternative augmentative communication, switches, and a variety of computer programs, the consistency of the use varies from teacher to teacher. Moreover, only a few teachers at the school are proficient with AT.
Educational Technology Department
Technology Department at
The Department’s interest in assistive technology was the result of a confluence of factors reflecting the growing interest of the subject in the field of educational technology. As the source of guidance for the program, the prevalence of assistive technology in the ISTE TF standards has had a powerful influence on our program. Three of the eight ISTE TF standards (ISTE, 2004) address assistive technology in their specific performance indicators:
o Assist teachers as they use technology resources and strategies to support the diverse needs of learners including adaptive and assistive technologies. (ISTE, TF-2.A.3).
o Use methods and strategies for integrating technology resources that support the needs of diverse learners including adaptive and assistive technology (ISTE, TF-3.B.1).
o Identify, classify, and recommend adaptive/assistive hardware and software for students and teachers with special needs and assist in procurement and implementation (ISTE, TF-6.B.2).
The eight ISTE TF Standards and related performance indicators are embedded throughout the Educational Technology Department’s course sequence and guide the revision, direction, and assessment of our program.
The initial interest in assistive technology began with the particular issue of Web accessibility. Over the last five years the issue of Web accessibility grew in the revision of specific courses and served as a catalyst for deeper departmental reflection on the broader aspects of assistive technology. Course curriculums such as Using the Internet in Education and Distance Learning for Educators, for example, incorporated guidance from the both the World Wide Web Consortium (www.w3c.org) and the Federal Government’s 508 Accessibility Guidelines (www.section508.gov). Furthermore, industry standard software packages used in these courses such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe Acrobat have increasingly embedded tools for authoring and assessing accessible documents.
Besides Web design guidelines and course software packages, there are broader movements that have affected the content of various courses. The increased inclusion of the topic of assistive technology in textbooks, trends in Universal Design for Learning (Center for Applied Special Technology, 2004) and related convergence and handheld technologies have edged into the curriculum of many of the courses. Many of these new technologies, such as handheld Web access devices and cellular text messaging, are marketed for the general population but are designed with procedures and techniques that make content accessible for people with disabilities. It is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss many of the trends in technology and their uses in education without addressing the issues of accessibility.
The Partnership for Assistive Technology
The mission of the Partnership for Assistive Technology is to provide training, information, and access to state-of-the-art assistive technology for all stakeholders—students at New Jersey City University and the A. Harry Moore Laboratory School (which serves students with multiple and/or significant physical, medical or cognitive disabilities), pre-service and graduate students, current teachers in the classroom, NJCU faculty, and the wider community with interest in people with disabilities. Our focus has a cross-disability perspective, providing persons with disabilities access to the educational, research, social, cultural, and economic resources that assistive technology can provide. It is a people-first initiative whose goal is to help persons integrate into the mainstream of society. To accomplish this, networking and cooperative efforts are essential. The mission is to develop an effective network of state and local agencies, non-profit organizations and consumer advocacy groups to work with the Partnership for Assistive Technology. Male (2003) stated, “Creating a vision does not mean waiting until all the elements are in place before the work begins.” (p. 146).
As Gable, Mostert, and Tonelson (2004) state, “Teacher collaboration has become a legitimate service delivery option for students with disabilities and students at risk for learning and/or behavior problems.” With this in mind, the overarching goal of the Partnership for Assistive Technology is to play a distinct and pre-eminent role in the assistive technology field by bringing knowledge and applications about assistive technology to students, faculty, and the community. Detailed goals include:
o Develop an effective network of state and local agencies, non-profit organizations and consumer advocacy groups to work with the Partnership for Assistive Technology.
o Increase the awareness of the effectiveness of assistive technology to teacher candidates and other interested professionals.
o Procure state-of-the-art assistive technology for students with disabilities and provide assessment and training.
o Create two assistive technology labs for AT assessment and training. Complete and unveil the assistive technology laboratory at A. Harry Moore and start developing an Assistive Technology Laboratory and Service Systems (ATLASS) at NJCU.
o Provide training on the use and purpose of assistive technology to classroom teachers, school district administrators, family support members, NJCU faculty, and other interested stakeholders.
o Advocate for the availability of assistive technology across all applicable departments and programs.
o Advocate for research on assistive technology by faculty and teacher candidates with special emphasis on the quality of student outcomes as a result of the use of AT.
o Conduct a large assistive technology conference in the Spring that could include faculty, staff, and teachers and administrators from school districts around the state.
o Share our experiences in creating the PAT for publication and presentations.
the PAT through such venues as a Web site on the
o Add to the expertise of the members of PAT by including a representative of the academic computing lab, a speech therapist, and the Grants office when related topics are on the agenda.
o Meet with representatives from the Business Incubator to discuss possible joint ventures.
o Increase outreach/presence locally (Hudson/Essex) and statewide at AT and disability conferences.
NJCU as a registered AT provider through professional memberships with the
Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of
Although the Partnership for Assistive Technology has only been in place for the past year, we feel that we have accomplished a great deal. By first coming together and defining the partnership, our mission, and our goals, we were able to start implementing our vision. We used the last meeting of the academic year to recap what we had already accomplished and reviewed what we were doing in the coming year.
This year we started getting approvals for an assistive technology lab and resource center. The space has started to be cleared. Next year the lab will be established. Last year we were represented at a small regional AT conference. In September we will be at a large, national conference.
Realizing this success depends upon the integration of people and technology, we plan to expand the expertise of the PAT by including community stakeholders, the chair of the University computer lab, students, and parents. We envision our collaboration becoming more diverse in order to increased support, both philosophical and financial, for our efforts in institutionalizing assistive technology.
The effort to form and develop a collaborative partnership has been productive, interesting, and fun. Peck and Scarpati (2004) provide food for thought when they pose their question, “Is it [collaboration] a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time?” (p. 7). No individual working alone could have accomplished what our partnership has. “Providing appropriate access to technology for students with special needs is a daunting task, and one that cannot be done without a collaborative approach, because no single entity has sufficient resources or expertise to do the job in isolation.” (Male, 2003, p. 132).
Through PAT, we have discovered that people with different areas of expertise, with a common goal and working collaboratively, can form a foundation for systemic changes within an educational institution.
Disabilities, 3rd ed. CA: Hunter House Inc.
Center for Applied Special Technology. (2004). Universal design for learning. Accessed June 2, 2004 at http://www.cast.org/udl/
Gable, R. A., Mostert, M. P., & Tonelson, S. W. (Spring 2004). Assessing professional
collaboration in schools: Knowing what works. Preventing School Failure, 48 (3), 4-8.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (PL 105-17); Part A, Section 602
Retrieved June 28, 2004 from http://www.ideapractices.org/law/index.php.
International Society for Technology in Education. Educational computing and technology programs: Technology facilitation initial endorsement. Retrieved June 1, 2004 from http://cnets.iste.org/ncate/n_fac-stands.html.
Male, M. (2003). Technology for inclusion: meeting the special needs of all students, 4th
Peck, A. F., & Scarpati, S. (Eds.) (May/June 2004). Collaboration in the age of
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