T E C H - N J 2006
Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities
Volume 17, Number 1
TECH-NJ was published for the first time in 1988. In that Stone Age of assistive technology, we naively believed that if only the hardware were faster, if only the software were cheaper, if only “microcomputers” were easier to use, every student with a disability would benefit from their use. In those days of yore, we thought success was just around the corner and that problems would be solved by improved product development.
Now, eighteen years later, we have learned that getting assistive technology into the hands of people who need it is much more complicated than simply designing a new widget. The challenge is more formidable than building faster processors or low-cost chips that hold terabytes of memory. Helping people with disabilities gain access to assistive technology, receive the training they need, and figure out how to integrate it seamlessly into their daily lives has become a tricky obstacle course. Many students, teachers, and parents never succeed in leaping over all the hurdles in their path.
The question we must ask now, in 2006, is this: What needs to happen for teachers, parents, and students to implement assistive technology effectively in the classroom? A major part of the answer is found in the three feature articles in this issue of TECH-NJ. The cover story, a profile of Jon, a high school student who is deafblind, highlights the critical importance of a team effort. Teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, administrators, support staff from outside agencies, all collaborated together, making sure each of their roles and responsibilities were clearly delineated and fulfilled. Jon’s extensive technology implementation plan could not have been developed or carried out by a single person working alone. His success with assistive technology is directly related to this collaborative approach.
A second answer to this question is found in the attitudes and behavior of the featured technology users in each story. Jon in the cover story, Denise, the
augmentative communication user on page 3, and Amy Mintz, the middle school teacher on page 4, all share a set of notable characteristics. They each took the initiative and showed incredible determination to do whatever had to be done to make the technology work. Denise devoted her energies to learning her new augcomm devices so she could use them quickly and be understood even by strangers. She approached mastering her computer with a similar mindset, teaching herself how to create macros so that she could use a variety of applications more efficiently. She refers to this self-study in technology as an “investment.”
All three assistive technology users featured in this issue of TECH-NJ demonstrated unwavering persistence and creativity in their efforts to implement the technology. Problems were viewed as puzzles to be solved, not as insurmountable obstacles. Amy, the middle school special education teacher, for example, persisted in looking for, and then learning, technology solutions that would meet her student’s needs. Trouble-shooting technical difficulties was part of the learning curve. The three were committed to creative problem-solving and persisted through frustrations where others may have given up.
It is easy to admire Jon, Denise and Amy, but that is not the point (and they do not want or need admiration). The point is that teachers and other professionals need to be as determined and persistent in their efforts to implement assistive technology as these three tech users have been. We need to make the same kind of investment in training and self-study that these three have made, and we need to model this commitment for our students so that they, too, will be able to persevere until they have mastered the technology tools that will help them be successful.