Mona Pruett, M.S., OT/L
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) requires that Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams consider the need for assistive technology (AT) for all students with disabilities. However, there is no eligibility criterion for necessary assistive technology. It is the job of the IEP team and other professionals to determine a student’s specific AT needs. Consideration may occur as a short discussion that takes place during the IEP meeting to determine if current strategies are successful. However, IEP teams may decide that further investigation or assessment is needed to make an informed decision about whether a student requires AT. Therefore, an AT assessment may be recommended.
All assistive technology assessments include a functional assessment in the student’s customary environments, such as the classroom, lunchroom, playground, home, community setting or work place.
Many IEP team members are not familiar with the assistive technology assessment process. IEP team members often wonder who is qualified to give an AT assessment, where a student can go to receive an AT assessment, and what is involved in an AT assessment. Furthermore, IEP members and administrators might also fear that the AT assessment may result in the need for extra funds for AT devices or an outside AT evaluation. To better describe AT services, The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) was developed (The QIAT Consortium, 2005).
QIAT has identified seven indicators for quality AT assessment. This article will examine these indicators, which were developed to help IEP teams demystify the AT assessment process.
Indicator #1: Procedures for all aspects of AT assessment are clearly defined and consistently applied.
It is important that school divisions have in place policies and procedures for assessment so that the assessment staff can make appropriate AT decisions during the assessment process without undue delays or unnecessary cost. These policies and procedures should cover areas such as the legal mandates, the referral process, obtaining data, making data-driven decisions, trial use period with selected AT strategies, and obtaining AT tools for assessment purposes. Recommended timelines and forms should be included in the policies and procedures related to AT assessment.
The Virginia Department of Education’s Statewide Assistive Technology Project has developed guidelines and resources for the AT assessment process. These resources are available for school divisions to use as AT assessment policies and procedures are being developed.
Indicator #2: AT assessments are conducted by a team with the collective knowledge and skills needed to determine possible AT solutions that address the needs and abilities of the student, demands of the customary environments, educational goals and related activities.
This indicator tells us that AT assessments should be conducted by a team of individuals who know the student best. This indicator does not tell us the educational background of the assessment team; rather, it says that the team should be made up of individuals who know the student, who understand the curriculum or task that is challenging to the student, and a person with knowledge regarding possible AT solutions. Each student’s assessment team should be unique and customized to reflect that student’s strengths and needs. Anyone who has potential to contribute to the AT decision-making process should be included on the team. So, the assessment team might be made up of a general education teacher, a special education teacher, the parent and/or the student, and resource personnel such as a speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or instructional technology specialist.
Knowledgeable IEP teams understand the continuum of AT devices and services and are more likely to avoid considering only expensive high tech solutions. Well-informed team members, including service providers and family members, understand the importance of using the least complex options that effectively lower barriers to a student’s educational achievement.
Indicator #3: All assistive technology assessments include a functional assessment in the student’s customary environments, such as the classroom, lunchroom, playground, home, community setting or work place.
This indicator explains that a quality AT assessment should be completed where the student is placed. Sending the student to an outside source for an AT assessment may not produce recommendations for AT solutions that will be appropriate to the student’s environment or routine. The evaluation of a student’s need for AT must be functional, practical, and conducted, at least in part, in each of the environments in which the student’s educational activities take place. Not only does the law require it, but it is also the primary way that the specific areas in which the student is having difficulty can be addressed and needed supports and services identified.
In some cases, school divisions and parents request AT assessments from outside sources. Information gained from a center-based evaluation may provide useful information for the IEP team in determining levels of performance. However, the school district is still responsible for completing a functional evaluation in the student’s customary educational environments. It is the responsibility of the IEP team to review the recommendations for specific devices from outside sources and then conduct a functional assessment to determine if the recommended device will help increase, maintain, or improve the student’s functional capabilities to participate and progress in education. Such an assessment may take place over time and generally involves trial use of the recommended devices in typical settings. The assessment may also include comparative use of other AT devices. Based on the additional data gathered during the functional assessment, the IEP team may determine that the recommended device is needed, that another device would be better, or that the child does not need AT.
Indicator #4: Assistive technology assessments, including trials, are completed within reasonable timelines.
Indicator #5: Recommendations from assistive technology assessments are based on data about the student, environment and tasks.
Indicator #6: The assessment provides the IEP team with clearly documented recommendations that guide decisions about the selection, acquisition and use of AT devices and services.
These three indicators tell us that a quality AT assessment yields recommendations that are based upon data obtained through observations and trials of possible AT solutions. They also indicate that the IEP team is provided with recommendations from the AT assessment based upon the obtained data. The indicators do not give recommended timelines for AT decisions, since a trial of AT solutions is an individualized process and can take up to 4 to 6 weeks for each solution being assessed. The trial process gives the IEP team important information regarding specific features on devices and allows the student and staff to learn to use the features.
Indicator #7: Assistive technology needs are reassessed anytime changes in the student, the environments and/or the task result in the student’s needs not being met with current devices and/or services.
This indicator conveys the important concept that AT assessment and consideration is an ongoing part of educational planning and not a one-shot separate event.
By examining the intent of these quality indicators for assistive technology assessment, school divisions can demystify the assistive technology assessment process by developing and adopting best practice procedures for AT assessment. Having procedures in place, with applicable forms for referral, background information, observations and data collection will give IEP team members the ability to make informed AT recommendations and decisions without uncertainty.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et.seq. (2005).
The QIAT Consortium. (2005). Quality indicators for assistive technology services.
Retrieved from http://natri.uky.edu/assoc_projects/qiat/documents/2%20QIAT%20QIs%20Assessment.pdf