"For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible." - Dr. Katherine Seelman
As I begin to “claim my house back” following the move of my son Hunter to his new university for fall semester, I have been reviewing in my mind all that the move entailed. A mini-van was not large enough, so we borrowed a commercial van from a friend who owns an upholstery business. It was the type of van that only has a driver’s seat and a seat for one passenger, leaving lots of empty space in the back. My husband drove the van and I followed in my car with the most precious cargo of all.
We had the typical college haul of a mini-fridge, microwave, coffee pot, and small television, as well as necessities such as bedding, towels, toiletries, and laundry, cleaning, first aid, and medical supplies. Hunter had several storage boxes filled with clothes. He had been encouraged to bring not only summer and fall clothing, but warm winter clothes too. The university is in the snow belt of Pennsylvania where snow often falls as early as October. To add to this already long list of items were supplies for Hunter’s guide dog. This included a 42- by 42-inch crate, a few extra-large bags of dog food, toys, and comfy bedding. Just like Hunter, the dog faced an important transition and had essential work to do.
Key to Academic Success Is Assistive Technology
It seems likely to me, though, that what will be most key to making the transition from community college to a four-year university an academic success is the assistive technology equipment that we carefully packed up from our computer room at home and brought to his new dorm. This equipment will level the playing field for Hunter as a student with deafblindness and allow him to have the same advantages and opportunities as his college classmates without disabilities.
Hunter was in elementary school when I first heard about assistive technology (AT). I knew nothing about it or how to even begin to go about getting him assessed. Luckily, I participated in a parent leadership workshop offered by my state’s Parent Center and State Deaf-Blind Project. It was there that I first received a tool called LEAP (Leadership Effectiveness Action Plan). It was exactly what I needed to get started. The five-page document covered the following: 1) defining the issue, 2) key players, 3) barriers and obstacles, 4) how to get ready to take action, and 5) “first steps.” (Since being introduced to it, I have used this tool for a variety of circumstances over the years.)
What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive Technology (AT) is defined in state and federal law as, “Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” This covers a broad range of devices, software, and strategies that may be very simple or quite “high tech” in nature. AT may also refer to a service “that directly assists … in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.”
My personal LEAP plan informed the initial development of assistive technology services for Hunter. Subsequently, over the years, he had numerous AT plans of his own. It became a consistent part of the multidisciplinary services he received and decision-making about AT always involved Hunter and our family. Important considerations included timelines, trials, training, and technical assistance that kept in mind age appropriateness, upcoming transitions, and his environment. His use of AT became most effective when he could access it at his own discretion, when and where he needed it. The more he used the equipment, the more fluent he became. He embraced the use of AT and was supported by his educational teams throughout his school career.
Creating an Accessible Materials Plan
Every school year, his team had quarterly meetings about AT to plan and share information. All of his devices and services and their funding sources were carefully documented. Simultaneously, an AT technical assistance consultant worked hand in hand with Hunter and his teacher of the visually impaired to create an Accessible Materials Plan that covered access of materials at home and in the community as well as in educational settings.
As Hunter’s AT world began to grow, it was important to document all of the devices he was accumulating, the dates they were acquired, and their ownership. Even though some of the equipment was funded by his school district, we applied for support from other sources as well. Some equipment was acquired through our Office of Vocational and Rehabilitation Services (OVR) and some we paid for out of pocket. In recent years, he has received equipment through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) iCanConnect program, also known as the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program that provides technology for distance communication for individuals who are deaf-blind. I developed what I called our AT Device and Ownership Plan to complement the Accessible Materials Plan. All of these documents were updated regularly and shared with his team, including any new team members. Hunter subsequently developed his own AT Plan and tracking form for college.
Over the years, I have been in awe of not only the number, but the diverse range of his AT devices. I would laugh thinking that this kid uses anything from a 50¢ magnifier we picked up in a drug store to a $5000 CCTV to read, as well as to support personal tasks, such as cutting his fingernails. Depending on the situation, he knows what he needs and utilizes every piece of AT equipment that he owns.
Hunter has been very fortunate to have good educational teams behind him that recognized the importance of assistive technology in all areas of his life and that honored his self-knowledge about what he needed. The assistive technologies that were carefully packed in the back of that van with all of the other college essentials will be instrumental in making his university education a success.
Assistive Technology (Perkins Scout)
Paths to Technology (Perkins eLearning)