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SETT Reading and Resources

PART II: Selecting Assistive Technology

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Some Guiding Principles
Whose Input Might Be Included in the Selection Process?
The IEP Team

Part III:  The SETT Framework


Technology is a tool that serves a set of educational goals, and if we don't think about what we want the technology for first, we end up with technology-driven solutions that have very little impact in the lives of children and in our educational system.

—Linda Roberts, Director of Education Technology, U.S. Department of Education

Though Linda Roberts was talking about educational technology in general, this quote sounds as though it was written especially for us! How many times have you heard, "Well, now that we have these things for Johnny, we can think about how we are going to use them and what he is going to do with them? And we wonder why device under utilization and abandonment is so pervasive! :)

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Some Guiding Principles

The following principles 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 no comment is 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 to the computer after two or three hours? Ah yes, the battery! And what happened to the group's concentration, as you moved toward the nearest plug, which of course was several tightly packed rows away? And you were a skilled user who just forgot about the battery! Wasn't it easier to just borrow a pen from the person next to you until you could recharge?

If this has happened to you, imagine the potential barriers created by a laptop in the hands of an inexperienced elementary student! If the object of having laptops is to increase written productivity, be sure to include the classroom supports and training needed for students 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.

AT may be applicable to all disability groups and in all phases of education.
"Experts" in assistive technology have written volumes about the prerequisites that must be in place before considering 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 doesn't 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 the activities that 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 aren't prerequisites for the use of particular tools at every functional level. For example, using a voice-input system for computer productivity might be impossible if the potential user is unable to recognize the text of the words that have been spoken, or if the user lacks sufficient knowledge of computer hardware and software operations to be able to make corrections or use specific commands as required. This is not a phenomenon only with high-tech tools; the same can be said of low-tech tools when the skills and abilities (or potential skills and abilities) of the user are far different than those required by the tool.

AT is related to 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 that's 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 aren't factors of disability that influence the selection and use of tools, but that they are secondary to the desired functional use of the tools.

The least complex needed to remove barriers to performance.
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 form a continuous, dynamic process.
Though this must be considered a "given," it is frequently overlooked in our zeal to acquire the "right" technology and then move on to the next person who needs help. Appropriate initial assessment cannot take place without first considering the student's goals and objectives. On the other hand, effective intervention creates changes in a student's needs and abilities. Assistive technology assessment, like any other assessment of value, must be frequently revisited to ensure that the match between student and systems continues to be a good one.

Systematic problem analysis and problem solving are essential.
Clearly, this is the crux of our considerations. We must think wisely and well.

Follow-up and adjustments are expected.
And we must think wisely and well on an ongoing basis, not just once!

AT does not eliminate the need for teaching 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 has generally not had the opportunity to be "shushed" as a small child, or to learn when and how to take turns, or how to get a turn in a rapid conversation, or how 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 15, 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 things during class quiet time, 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. She reported that any student in her class would have been fined for such behavior. About that time, she experienced an "Aha!" moment and realized that, for Angel, the opportunity to learn personal responsibility for her behavior as well as when to speak and when not to, was a critical part 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!

A team approach is required.
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 could adequately provide. Each brings expertise in some area that is essential to the effective provision and use of assistive technology.

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Whose Input Might Be Included in the Selection Process?

The student
The student is not first on this list by chance. No technology is more expensive than that which is not used! If a student's input is not considered at some point, this is highly likely to occur. It is amazing how often a student will let you know that the question of whether or not a given system might address his or her needs has never been asked!

Personal support
This may come from family members, other caregivers, or, in some cases, friends and associates of the student. These people have expertise and insights and into the student as a person. They are also among the most important people in the student's life and, as such, have enormous power within the non-school environments. Their active and informed participation can make the difference between success and failure!

Medical personnel
Sometimes medical issues can have a profound influence on the selection and use of assistive technology tools. Is the student's condition stable? What changes might occur, and what might be the rate and degree of change?

In some cases, a physician's prescription might help with funding a device through Medicaid or some other non-educational source, though this avenue must be explored with care. Generally a prescription cannot be required if the device is necessary for implementation of the IEP.

School personnel
This group contains most of the people we frequently refer to as the Assistive Technology Team, the speech language pathologist, diagnostician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and any others pertinent to the student. However, they are just a part of the team supporting any individual student. These team members provide valuable insights and expertise in various aspects of the process and may also have knowledge of a variety of assistive technology tools, but they must work collaboratively with the people closest to the student on a daily basis in order to obtain the most effective results. This means valuing the input of and working closely with families, classroom teachers, personal assistants, and others, who have the opportunity to invite success or inadvertently sabotage it!

Social Services
When available, social services personnel can provide valuable help in coordination of services and benefits among agencies who work with a student. This frequently is related to finding, but may also include coordination of, services.

Manufacturer's representatives
Though manufacturer's representatives should never conduct assessments of needed and recommended devices, they are valuable resources in determining a good match between the features required for the student and the available tools that may be considered for inclusion in a system. Manufacturer's representatives can generally give the most effective demonstration of the tools that they represent, and they are excellent sources of information on the most effective combination of system components, as well as the repair and replacement records and policies that apply to their products. In addition, some manufacturer's representatives are professionals in the field and will help with the identification of similar tools made by other companies. Though this may appear to be counterproductive at first glance, most people's trust increases as information is freely shared, and this ends up working to the advantage of the manufacturer; if a sale does not happen with this student, it might with another.

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The IEP Team

The dynamic multiperspective Assistive Technology Team makes its recommendation to the IEP Team, which is the actual decision maker in all aspects of a student's program, including assistive technology devices and services.

The IEP Team's challenge includes:

  • Assessment
  • Intervention
  • Vision keeping
  • Goal setting
  • Decision making
  • Planning

In addition to participating in needs assessments and the development of intervention strategies, Assistive Technology Team members must consider the desires, hopes, and dreams of the student and his or her family members. Care must be taken to honor the input of each team member when moving toward a collective vision for the student; otherwise, it is impossible to decide goals and objectives, and plan activities and follow-up that are aligned with that vision and can be supported by all members. This frequently takes quite a while, as team members bring not only their own unique information but also their unsubstantiated assumptions to the discussion.

Hard work? Yes, and lots of it! Time consuming? Perhaps. But so is doing something over and over again because care was not taken up front to move forward together and "get it as right as possible" from the beginning!

In order to facilitate this kind of work, we will explore the SETT Framework. SETT provides for the gathering, organization, and analysis of data in a way that honors multiple perspectives; invites active participation through use of common language; builds consensus; and links assessment and intervention so that people can work together to support students in reaching their goals and objectives, both educationally and personally.

Part III: The SETT Framework continue arrow (2451 bytes)

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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.