Pros' Tips on Preparing Students with LD and ADHD to Use Assistive Technology Tools at College
Assistive technology (AT) is a tool that can help students with learning disabilities and ADHD be successful at college, where human assistance with assignments and readings is typically not available. Parents and professionals may need some guidance to find resources. When I developed my book, I asked AT specialists who work with students on both ends of the college transition to provide some direction.
Q. How do you decide which AT tools are appropriate for a student?
Jamie Martin is an assistive technology consultant and trainer who works with students in a variety of grades, typically before they transition to college
A. I interview students to get details about their situation, utilizing the SETT framework established by Joy Zabala The elements are:
Student - what are students’ skills and deficit areas?
Environment – what is the environment like where students will be when they are using tools, and what environments would allow the technology to be effective?
Tasks – what kinds of tasks do students need help to perform?
Tools – what are all of the tools that will help the students complete their tasks in their particular environment? These can be tools the student already uses (e.g. laptop or tablet, apps, etc.) and new tools that are being suggested.
Q. How do you get students to adopt AT?
A. I actually don’t try to teach them how to use the technology right away. I show them the features of a tool or software program and see how they react to it. If they seem overwhelmed, I have them come back. I take a “bicycle riding” approach, meaning that I know it will take a few weeks of practice and support for students to really be able to adjust to using the technology or decide that it isn’t working for them.
My process involves following up with students after the first week that they have been trying something, and then checking back with them after four weeks (which is the length of time for which I loan them a tool). If they tell me that the tool isn’t working for them, I try to figure out what and use that information to find a different solution. If it does work for them, I extend the loan to the end of the semester and look into getting students just what they need. If they like it, I connect them with vocational rehabilitation or any funding source I can so that they can purchase their own equipment. This may even involve getting a financial aid adjustment, as allowed by the Higher Education Act.
Q. What should go into a district’s AT plan?
Brian Friedlander is an assistive technology consultant at AssistiveTek, LLC and an Associate Professor of Education at College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey
A. A good plan will include:
Leadership at district level. Administrators need to make AT a priority in their budgets and communicate a message that all schools in the district are expected to be engaged with the use of AT.
Ongoing professional development. As with any new strategy that students and case managers are expected to use, offering a one-off half-day workshop will not suffice. Teachers need to try things out and then have a chance to ask questions based on their experiences. They will abandon tools if they don’t get enough experience with them. And they need to develop competency so that they can help students.
A go-to person in each building. This person is responsible for introducing new technology into the building and helping teachers and students trouble-shoot. Districts should provide the point-people from all of their schools with additional professional development opportunities so that they can become the in-house expert at their school. If districts don’t have someone interested and with the right expertise, they can hire a consultant.
Someone to take responsibility for the hardware and software (this could be the go-to person but doesn’t have to be.It might also be someone at the district level). Someone needs to keep an inventory of the hardware and software the school has and be responsible for sending things to be things fixed or updated, when necessary so that all teachers know what tools are available and don’t give up on using things.
Q. How can professionals and interested parents/guardians learn about AT?
Karen Janowski is an assistive technology consultant and an adjunct professor at Simmons College
A. They can find out what others are using by following other general and special education teachers through social media, such as Facebook and Pinterest. I highly recommend using Twitter, where educators are the largest professional group using the site. They can search for people and accounts to following using the hashtag “#ATchat.” And they should look for free opportunities in their state like edcamps. It has never been easier for teachers to take the initiative with their own learning. If we want to instill a love for life-long learning in our students, we need to be willing to model it ourselves.
Q. Where can professionals and families look for funding for AT?
A. They can look at:
Their state vocational rehabilitation service agency or the Department on Aging and Rehabilitation Services (DARS). Some of the students that we work with not only receive their AT from these agencies, they have also received tuition assistance for postsecondary education. The Woodrow Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center (http://wwrc.net/) offers the same for essentially every other disability outside of blindness and low vision.
State Tech Act Programs. Every state has a Tech Act program, which is federally funded through the RSA. They should be able to provide guidance in terms of funding resources (http://www.atconnects.com/at-act-programs/state-at-act-programs ) and some of these programs offer technology loans (http://www.atconnects.com/at-act-programs/funding) Those programs can, oftentimes, provide guidance on where professionals and families can follow up locally.
Private health insurers. Depending on the type of technology, some students may be through their plan. For example, hearings aids may be fully covered. This coverage could also translate into augmentative communication aids for some students, mobility aids like wheelchairs or scooters, etc. There may even be a cost-sharing model in place where the state agency pays for what private insurance will not cover.
Local agencies and organizations. Some have also donated technology. For example, we have worked with Local Lions Clubs that have donated CCTVs to low vision students.
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Learn more about why assistive technology can be an important tool for high school students transitioning to college, where they are unlikely to receive a lot of human assistance. Read From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students with Disabilities.