HomeLearning DifficultiesLegal Rights & AdvocacyIndividuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004

Matching assistive technology tools to individual needs

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By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.

Contexts of interaction

Students with learning difficulties must function in a variety of settings. Technology that is appropriate in one setting may be quite inappropriate in another. Therefore, it is important to consider the selection of technology relative to all settings where she is likely to use the tool (e.g., school, home, work, social, and recreational or leisure environments). The fact that a technology successfully compensates for a learning problem in one setting does not mean that it will be effective in another. For example, a speech recognition system may work quite effectively at home where the student can work alone. However, the use of the technology in a classroom setting, where there is considerable extraneous noise, may interfere with the technology's operation.

Similarly, the social appropriateness of AT may change from one setting to another. For instance, using a calculator to compensate for a math disability in a classroom setting may blend in nicely, without any negative social ramifications. However, using a calculator to keep score of a board game outside of school may appear inappropriate to peers. 

The settings in which the technology will be used may change over time. For example, a high school student who uses a portable word processor to take notes in the classroom may later find the same technology useful in a college lecture hall or during meetings on the job. Therefore, some consideration should be given to projecting the appropriateness of the technology for the various settings where you expect it may be used over the course of one, two, three, or more years.

Assistive technology: Rights under IDEA

Under IDEA, AT must be considered for children with disabilities if it is needed to receive a "free and appropriate public education." It is the school district's responsibility to help select and acquire the technology, as well as provided training to the student in the use of the technology, and, at no cost to parents. This is done on a case-by-case basis. It is the IEP team (including parents and students) that makes a determination as to the necessity of AT. It is also the IEP team, (or any individual member) that initiates a request for an AT assessment. The assessment may be performed by school district personnel, or an outside consultant working in conjunction with the IEP team. Parents should know that at present, there are no standard policies, procedures or practices among school districts for conducting AT assessments. This is all the more reason for parents to be informed as to the critical elements in conducting a quality AT assessment.

Assessment for today and tomorrow

Selecting an appropriate AT tool for a student requires parents, educators, and other professionals to take a comprehensive view, carefully analyzing the interaction between the student, the technology, the tasks to be performed, and the settings where it will be used. Keep in mind that AT assessment is an on-going process, and it is critical to periodically re-evaluate the match even after a technology tool has been selected. This will help ensure that the student receives the maximum benefit from AT and is able to reach her full potential.

This article is based on the Functional Evaluation for Assistive Technology (Raskind & Bryant, 2002).

Marshall H. Raskind, Ph.D., is a learning disability researcher. He is a frequent presenter at international LD conferences and is the author of numerous professional publications on learning disabilities. He is well-known for his research on assistive technology and longitudinal studies tracing LD across the life span.