SC Curriculum Access through AT
How do school districts develop their AT programs?
Every school district develops a unique approach to establishing an effective AT program, based primarily on the expertise and background of existing staff, particularly therapists and classroom teachers. Some school districts spend more time developing classroom materials and helping students and teachers one-to-one in the classroom. Other school districts find that AT assessment procedures have a high priority early in AT program development. Whereas some school districts do an experience inventory of teachers and therapists before they start developing procedures and forms, other districts find it easier to start with one student, one classroom at a time and learn from experience before they write procedures.
Districts have written grants for AT equipment in a loan or demonstration center within the school district, to provide a place for training and assessment. Sometimes this is a good way to get school and community support in the beginning.
Bonnie Hayes, Special Education Coordinator for Aiken County Schools, writes:
”Our district recognized the need for an AT program when we found ourselves purchasing a variety of devices at parent or teacher request with little or no real documentation that the device would meet the students needs or actually be used by the student. There was no follow up, no tracking and no training. The program evolved into what it is today through a commitment by the Aiken County Department of Special Education to meet student needs as indicated in the students IEP. Grant awards provided funds to refine and shape our program through the purchase of equipment for trial, training of team members and ongoing AT assessment of students.”
"We have written procedures in our Special Education Handbook giving guidelines to teachers on how to access the short-term loan library, technical support and the student referral procedure for an AT assessment. Our forms can be accessed through our district web site at http://www.aiken.k12.sc.us/site1/SpecialPrograms/se_index.html.
Richland District One has a web site for their Assistive Technology Evaluation and Demonstration Center, showing pictures of students using technology. Their referral form, parent survey and ecological inventory forms are also online at http://www.richlandone.org/departments/assistive_technology/
Bonnie Weeks describes how they began AT program development in Horry County Schools:
”Horry County Schools began addressing assistive technology about 15 years ago. In the beginning the Coordinator of Special Education spearheaded efforts with the assessment team consisting of a teacher serving as the assistive technology specialist and an occupational therapist. At that time, an assistive technology demonstration lab was set up for teachers to use in training and for student assessments.”
Sumter School District Two has equipped an AT room at one of their schools for training and assessments. The room is divided into areas that show different kinds of AT
Captions for first still picture: A few of the switches used for assessment are shown in the Sumter District Two AT room
Caption for second still picture: Cindy Charles in front of the augmentative communication center
Caption for third still picture: Cindy Roberson with something every AT room needs a laminator!
Many school districts have developed AT Handbooks, like this one from Aiken County Schools.
Word Document AikenATHandbook can be saved to computer.
Some AT forms used by school districts follow. These forms can be saved as Word Documents:
Brochures have been developed to promote the AT program to parents and people in the community, such as this one from Kershaw County Schools.
Word Document Kershaw AT Brochure can be saved.
School districts wanting to develop an AT program should have realistic expectations. It takes time to develop a program and districts that experience success find that it is done one step at a time. Many districts, like Union County Schools, start with an informal AT team. When asked, AT team members were candid about the barriers they faced
Dr. Janie D. Sweet from Union County was succinct about their barriers: “Shortage of money, staff and time!”
Mary Drew from Richland District Two writes about their challenges:
“One challenge has been to educate regular and special education teams to understand what assistive technology is and what it is not. Another challenge has been the time that it takes to do the observations and make sure that everyone involved has an understanding of equipment and its use. A third challenge involves helping teachers use devices appropriately and consistently.“
Mary Scott from Darlington County Schools addresses the ways that they have met the challenge of increasing the expertise of AT team members:
“Our main barrier to being effective has been lack of knowledge of the spectrum of available AT devices. We have attended the AT Expo, we have developed a library of devices for checkout, we have called on the South Carolina Assistive Technology Program, and we have just learned through trial and error.”
Bonnie Hayes in Aiken County describes years of experience when addressing the barriers that they have faced:
“The largest barrier faced in the development of our AT team has been time (or the lack of it) to dedicate to the AT program. Everyone on the team is a full-time employee of our district, with assistive technology being just one of multiple assignments. Another barrier has been physical space to set up an AT center that would give classroom teachers hands-on experience and training in the use of software, equipment and devices or provide a place for AT assessments. We need a place where all the materials and equipment are within hands reach, so that we don’t need to reschedule and drive long distances to find what we need for a particular student. With budget cuts, it is a continuing challenge to find training for AT team members so that we can stay current in a field that changes daily.”
The most effective AT programs develop in districts that take a flexible approach and use the people they have available. Strengths and weaknesses vary, but the commitment of a few people can make a tremendous difference in the lives of students with disabilities.
Bunni Russell from Sumter School District 17 lists some of the strengths of their AT program:
- Onsite assistance from the AT team
- Direct involvement with teachers and students in classrooms
- Commitment to sending teachers outside the district for training
- Variety of AT equipment available for loan
- Blending of expertise among AT team members
Bonnie Weeks from Horry County Schools identifies some of their AT team strengths that are realistic goals for any school district:
- A team with different areas of expertise that compliment one another
- A team that examines all information on a student and problem solves together to make recommendations
- A team that communicates well with school personnel and parents
- A team that realizes the AT is an ongoing process and does not end with the assistive technology evaluation.
While districts strive to meet these challenges, it is always important for AT teams to see progress and strengths and to take encouragement from each other