Wednesday, May 16, 2012

School-based Assistive Technology and the other Guys...

I work on a small Assistive Technology team in a small to mid-sized school district in North Carolina. One of the issues which we've been discussing for some time amongst our selves, and with other staff in our district is whether or not there is a significant difference between school-based Assistive Technology and community-based Assistive Technology.

According to North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), the mission of school-based Assistive Technology Programs is to offer consultation to local education agencies about assistive technology devices and services to support quality educational programming for exceptional children.  Note the focus on education.  This may be where the school-based AT Professional parts ways with an AT Professional in the community.

I have only worked as a school-based Assistive Technology Professional. However, it seems reasonable that there would be no specific mandate to focus exclusively on education for the non-school-based sector. According to Washington State University, the purpose of AT is to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible for individuals with disabilities.  That is a broad mandate.  It still seems that best practice would include defining the "problem(s)" and generating a measurable goal(s) to track progress or lack there of.  

School-based AT then is specifically driven by the education model. Private or community based AT does not have such a narrow lens.  Despite this difference, it seems to me that best practice is driven buy the client's needs and measurable goals. I'm curious to hear from others. Please share your thoughts with me on this topic!

Happy therapy!


  1. I don’t see that much of a difference with schools that recognize the role of assistive technology, the student’s need for assistive technology and are also supportive of using assistive technology. When this is missing, then that is where the differences between school and community assistive technology providers really start to stand out. When these factors are present, it’s a great collaboration. Occasionally it is a funding issue that stands in the way of educational service delivery. When that happens, the collaboration between school and community assistive technology can have outstanding benefits to the school and the student.

    The one area that I have found the exception is augmentative communication (AAC). The student who requires AAC rarely, if ever, is 100% independent in using the assistive communication device. Also, since healthcare funding for speech generating devices generally requires a 3 to 6 year needs prescription, I have often seen school teams become overwhelmed by the AAC device and the student’s need for ongoing training and support. I have also been fortunate to be involved with students enrolled in what I tend to refer as “model classrooms”. When that is the environment, the outcomes are nothing short of magical.

  2. Great insights. Unfortunately many of our school systems in NC have yet to really embrace Assistive Tech interventions, whether it's due to funding or knowledge, or more likely both. I agree that schools are often challenged by the length of time-investment required to become a skilled AAC user. In our district we try to think of all tech interventions as an iterative process, meaning there really is no "end point".