Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Assistive Technology Services Are Moving Mainstream - and it's About Time!

One of my biggest frustrations for several years has been that the assistive technology tools I have and know support ALL learners have been basically restricted to students on IEP's only because my funding doesn't cover my services for any students other than what is IDEA-related. Well, in Oregon, we are finally shifting our service model at my ESD and working hard on a "paradigm shift" that involves our educational service district's providing a wrap-around service model that will support academic achievement for all students.
For too long, therapist's strategies (OT, PT, etc.) have been denied students that are falling between the cracks but not qualifying for an IEP. When I first started looking at assistive technology tools for remediating learning outside of special education, I was met with resistance because my requests were unconventional. The trend to move assistive technology into the mainstream of education is a victory worth fighting for and a task that means swimming up-stream for many of us.
Have you experienced first-hand how notoriously slow education changes? Bringing new ideas and systemic change is scary to many who have "always done it the old way." The saying "If you keep doing what you have always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten," is true in this instance.
What we hope to accomplish in my region, is to augment instruction and remediation built on professional learning communities, positive behavior support and response to intervention work already begun in our districts. If these are new terms to you, check the above links accompanying them.
We are developing a pilot project that will include one of each of the following: an OT, PT, SLP, School Psychologist, Assessment and data specialist, Assistive Technology and Instructional Technology specialists, Alternative education specialist and Austism, Vision and Hearing . All these folks will be available as a support team to be involved and dedicated to one district for customized academic intervention strategies. Each student needing interventions and remediation will be given extra support from the team - not waiting until students show up with an IEP.
Just imagine what we could accomplish for kids with that kind of support. And the cost? Well...we are going to have to make our dollars stretch. Our pool of funds is shrinking by the month and we are looking to this new model as a possible way to think outside the box to provide service in a different way that might cut down on so much travel and utilize technology and video teleconferencing more, etc. as well as being in the schools locally as needed - being a part of a team. The hope is we can see a new model that will align itself better with the shrinking funds our districts have and still provide quality services - even better services than before, on a smaller budget. We still have more questions than answers, but we have started a PLC of sorts with our specialists and leaders involved in the project to build what it will look like over the next few months.
We are reading "Professional Learning Communities at Work" by Richard Dufour and Robert Eaker, available here. I would highly recommend this book for getting yourself to think outside the box and look at how to develop a strong, committed professional community. As things develop, I will share more about what we are creating and how it is going as it progresses. I am just relieved that I am going to be able to use what I know to see more students succeed. These are challenging, but exciting times.

All the best to you!


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