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Some Guiding Principles

The principles listed here were originally part of a larger group in a document published by the Arkansas Tech Act Project which was among the first to be funded. Though they are several years old, they are as pertinent and thought-provoking today as they were then and deserve to be widely shared!

The primary goal of AT is the enhancement of capacities and removal of barriers to performance.

I think there is no comment needed!

AT can BE a barrier.

If we fall into the trap of thinking that a single high-performance tool can consistently remove barriers to performance, we can correct ourselves mid-thought by recalling our own use of laptop computers for note taking during conferences. If the conference lasted all day , what happened two or three hours into things? Ah, the battery! And what happened to the concentration of the group, as you moved over toward the nearest plug which happened to be several tightly-packed rows away? And you were a skilled user who just forgot about the battery! Did you just find it more effective to borrow a pen from the person next to you until you could recharge?

If this happened to you, imagine the barriers a laptop in the hands of an inexperienced elementary student might create! If the object of having the laptop is to increase written productivity, be sure to include the classroom supports and training needed for the student to use the device effectively - operational and problem-solving techniques as well as classroom etiquette relating to computer use... and you might want to consider NOT adding any games to it for a while! :)

Does this mean that laptops should not be a consideration for elementary students? Not at all! But considerations must be made carefully in the light of removing and creating barriers to performance.

All disability groups in all phases.

"Experts" in assistive technology have written volumes about the prerequisites which must be in place to consider assistive technology for a student, while equally esteemed "experts" have written just as prolifically about the fact that there ARE no prerequisites. I tend to fall closer to the side of no prerequisites, requiring only one... that the student be able to breathe, and even that does not require that the breathing be done independently! Radical? Perhaps. However, keep in mind that assistive technology can be no tech, low tech or high tech and that it is meant to improve function. Certainly it would be absurd to expect increases in communication and productivity if there were no tool by which to participate in activities which promote such increases! As an educator, I see assistive technology as a means for learning - not only academics when appropriate, but also personal responsibility and other critical functions of living well in this life.

Keep in mind that this is not to say that there are not prerequisites for the use of particular tools at every functional level. For example, it would seem impossible to use a voice-input system for computer productivity if the potential user is unable to recognize the text of the words that have been spoken or lacks sufficient knowledge of the use of computer hardware and software operations to be able to make corrections or use specific commands as required. This is not a phenomenon only experience with high tech tools, the same can be said of low-tech tool when the match between the skills and abilities (or potential skills and abilities) of the user are far different than those required by the tool.

Function, not disability

Have you ever been asked what software would be right for a person with cerebral palsy or Down Syndrome or any other specific disability? I hope you are smiling as you read this, for if you know more than one person with a particular disability, you know that an unanswerable question without knowing what the person needs to be able to DO as a result of using the software. This is not to say that there are not factors of disability that influence the selection and use of tools, but that they are secondary to the desired functional use of the tools.

Least complex

There are two important aspects of this principle. The first is least complex. If a pencil grip could remove the barriers to required writing tasks for a student, a computer should hardly be a first consideration. The second aspect, however, is needed to remove barriers to performance. If the writing tasks in question are limited to circling answers on workbook pages and handwriting short words, sentences and paragraphs, the pencil grip should be effective. However, if, in addition to those tasks, the student needed to write a multi-page term paper, even the most efficient use of a pencil grip would hardly remove the barrier and consideration must be given to adding additional tools to the student's written productivity system.

Assessment and Intervention

Though this must be considered a "given" it is frequently overlooked in our zeal for acquiring the "right" technology and moving on to the next person who needs help. Appropriate initial assessment cannot take place without considering the goals and objectives of the student. On the other hand, effective intervention creates changes in the needs and abilities of the student. Assistive technology assessment, like any other assessment of value, must be frequently revisited to assure that the match between student and systems continues to be a good one.

SYSTEMATIC problem analysis

Clearly, this is the crux of our considerations. We must think wisely and well...

Follow-up and adjustments

And we must think wisely and well on an ongoing basis, not just once!

Social and Academic Skills

The person who has never had a tool with which to write and, as a result has never experienced the writing process, is unlikely to divine what needs to be done in order to produce a well-written product. By the same token, a person who has never had the ability to communicate effectively generally has not had the opportunity to be shushed as a small child or to learn when and how to take turns or get a turn in a rapid conversation or to perform any number of acts essential to effective and polite communication .

I always think of Angel and her teacher when I present this principle. At age fifteen, Angel received her first voice output communication system. Though she had learned the location of quite a number of communications and could speak often, she did not yet understand when NOT to speak! Her teacher came to my classroom one day very concerned and full of remorse. It turned out that after several warnings about blurting out during quiet time in class, Angel's teacher had fined her for the offense, as was expected with the system used for her classmates. The teacher felt terrible that she had fined a student, who so recently had gained the ability to speak, for using that ability, no matter how inappropriate her timing was. I asked the teacher what would have happened to any other student in the same circumstances. She reported that any student in the class would have been fined for such behavior. About that time, she experienced an "Ah,Ha!" moment and realized that, for Angel, the opportunity to learn personal responsibility for her behavior and when to speak and when not to, were critical parts of her growth as a communicator who would be a welcome participant in any conversation! And Angel? Was she crushed? Hardly! She was delighted to have been treated just like the others!

Team approach

In rehabilitation, I have sometimes heard people who do not adhere to this approach referred to as practicing "Lone Ranger Rehab"! This thought can apply equally to educators and related service providers in schools, as well as to families and outside therapists who work with their children. Multiple perspectives bring to light issues and possibilities that no one perspective can adequately consider when working alone. Each perspective brings expertise in some area which is essential to the effective provision and use of assistive technology.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.