Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Assistive Technology is Worth the Effort: Funding Issues; Part 3 of 3 in a Series

Funding and Resource Issues - another part of the puzzle:

I have a problem with allowing money issues to dictate what we will or won't do for children when it comes to assistive technology. I have the belief that if we are mandated to provide services to all children to access their education equally, then the standard we need to meet is pretty high and it needs to be funded no matter what.

What is that standard?
Equal access, period. This means that Johnny in the wheelchair, needs to access the computer to do the same tasks as the student that can walk in, sit down and go to work. I used to be a professional development trainer for education technology. I would take a teacher and class of children into the school computer lab and model how to effectively use technology in a lesson on a topic using research and study skills, write and produce an interactive PowerPoint Presentation, etc. In those sessions I had regular students that used 30% of their potential in producing a product. I would have a disabled student doing the same project and because of their challenges, they were putting out 110% effort to produce.
My point is that there is so much extra energy having to be spent by these special needs students just in doing the tasks, that we should be bending over backwards to provide them with every possible solution needed to make access as easy for them as possible so we are accomplishing the goal of equal access.
I have been in many meetings with different dynamics when it comes to the team discussing what assistive technology is needed for a student. Some administrators on these teams are poised and ready to do whatever it takes - and that means pulling favors with the local Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs for fund-raising support if it comes to that. I see other administrators and even parents that say "We can't afford that." They see the obstacles ahead and go the path of least resistance.

There are so many resources out there to fund AT if you have the following things in hand:
1. Documented Support of the Effectiveness of the Device or Software:
There is a process for evaluating the effectiveness of AT. There are trials, like we mentioned in the last installment of this series, that are run to collect specific data on how effective the trialed equipment works to support the task or goal. This process has been outlined by various groups in various models, but the fundamentals are the same. The model we use is SETT. It can be found at the WATI website. The pioneers of this model have been mentors to me and I have felt so honored to sit under their training.
SETT basically means knowing the Student, the Environment, the Task and the Tools. These are all components in the assessment, trial, data collection, decision making and implementation. There is a lot more to it, but at least this gives you a general idea.
Thinking through these things as a team and having solid documentation, gives a donor the data needed to make a decision on granting funds. They can see the proof that the requested item will work.

2. Connections to Therapists and County/statewide Programs:
I don't know how it works in your state, but with me, there a a lot of avenues for funding that come through state health care systems for children with orthopedic disabilities, mental and learning disabilities and vision, speech and hearing disabilities. These funds can run out by spring and there are various criteria like the AT has to be for home use, or the AT has to be something used at school that can be duplicated for to and from school integration.
These types of funds are managed by directors of programs that oversee therapists that work with children at a regional level. As referrals come in, needs are assessed and necessary supports can be funded. I would pursue the trail of finding out who the director is of the therapists that work with your child and find out what funding sources are available and what specific types of support the funds can provide. If there are funds available, you will most likely need the data from above, several quotes for prices on the item or items and a letter from the sped teacher/case manager, an assistive technology specialist and the therapists involved endorsing the item as an effective and necessary support. In order to get the letter and the data, you will have to do the third piece in the puzzle listed next.

3. Local Support Through Your School Administrator and the IEP Team:
Working as a team is probably one of the most effective ways to see results. If you are NOT a team player, I would suggest that you get that skill developed. You will see incredible results when you can work together with others. I wrote a series a month or so ago on parent advocacy and then expanded on it with articles that were published through Ezine Articles. The articles are available on my sidebar. The principle in the series that applies here is the ability to work in a positive and supportive manner with the school team rather than being defensive and confrontational. Being willing to do research and assist with fund raising or data collecting as a volunteer are ways to be a part of the team in a supportive way. Many times educational assistants are doing actual trials with students on software and devices. Having you there to learn about the equipment or software and volunteer some time to sit in and help record times a switch is accessed with a clicker counter, etc. can be a real support. Integrating that data collection with a device at home and counting clicks and hits to send back to school can help to.
I have learned a real lesson in the extent of parental involvement from a great couple with a child who has CP. The dad's company pays an hourly rate for time spent volunteering by their employees. He volunteers during the week when he can, clocks the hours and gets a check from
work to give to the classroom. They are planning to buy software for integrating curriculum supports for their child in the room each year as the child progresses through school. The teachers that get to have this child will receive benefits in many ways. Good for them!

The three areas above are some solid beginning steps I recommend to follow. This content is a sneak peek at some of the material I am developing for release in a bundle of AT resources and activities this spring. I will be releasing some content here and there for you to read as it is developed. I would love your feedback so I am giving you what you want. If you have questions or would like more specifics please comment or email me and I will try and address those issues.

Don't forget the interview on blog talk radio live coming up later today.

All the best to you!


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