Is this technology really needed? The answer is sometimes yes, if the technology is assistive technology. Assistive technology (AT) is essentially any device that is needed by an individual with a disability to increase, maintain, or improve functional skills. Assistive technology helps individuals complete activities of daily living, communicate, use a computer, read, write, organize, complete math, hear, see, control their environment, and move around. For students who require AT to achieve in school, it is not just a 'neat tool' for them to use but also essential for success.
Assistive technology can come in the form of low, mid, or high tech options. For students who struggle with reading, AT might be in the form of electronic text that can be resized, highlighted and read aloud. For students who exhibit difficulty with writing, software that predicts the word being typed or turns a person's spoken words into a written form might be considered. Assistive Tech might help a person who has no speech or limited speech communicate by speaking words as a picture is selected; words may be spoken by an electronic device or a communication partner.
Like any technology, assistive technology is changing so quickly that it is often difficult to determine what might be available to meet the specific needs of a student in completing tasks across environments. Because there are so many tools available, it cannot only be difficult for educators and students to know what technology to use, but how to use it effectively. Finding time for training can also be an issue.
To overcome this challenge, Iowa's Area Education Agencies not only provide significant support for educators and children in the use of assistive technology but also fund an online resource known as Atomic Learning. Atomic Learning is a provider of online technology training and support. It has over 50,000 short, step-by-step video tutorials on over 205 applications including more than 50 assistive technology programs. Atomic Learning is part of the 'Iowa AEA Online' program (www.iowaaeaonline.org), which is funded by the Area Education Agencies across the state of Iowa. Iowa's AEAs provide access to these resources free of charge to accredited schools, serving Pre-K through 12th grade students. District staff and students have access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Since it is online, information relating to an application can be acquired at school or home. Each school has a unique username and password that students and staff members can obtain from their school's media specialist.
Specific software and assistive technology tools like Kurzweil 3000, Read & Write Gold, IntelliTools Classroom Suite, Co:Writer 6, Solo, Boardmaker Plus, MS Office, Dragon Naturally Speaking, iPads, iPods, Macintosh and Windows accessibility features are only a few examples of training tutorials that are available as part of the Atomic Learning resource.
When students who require AT use it effectively at school and home, they have a greater chance of being successful life-long learners. Students needs have always varied greatly, but now more than ever, there are tools with a variety of features to help meet these needs. Iowa's Area Education Agencies are here to provide support and leadership so they can do just that!
Lea Ann Peschong is Speech-Language Pathologist based out of the Marshalltown office of Area Education Agency 267. She can be reached at 641-844-2466. Area Education Agency 267 serves over 60,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency's service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.