AT Journey: Web Edition

AT Journey: Web Edition

Assistive technology (AT) is defined as anything that supports learners in doing things they would not otherwise be able to do. AT can provide the traction learners need to succeed, but is often intimidating to educators who think of it as very specialized.

Many schools rely on an expert model (one person or team) to have all the information about AT consideration, tool selection, and implementation. What would happen if the expert left tomorrow? What if your team had a process? This journey is designed for individuals and school teams to learn more about assistive technology while examining their current practices. These modules aim to assist you with:

  • Developing a successful, team-based model to effectively deliver AT services to their students
  • Understanding and navigating the intersection of AT, Ed Tech, IT (information technology) and UDL (universal design for learning)
  • Promoting a learning, sharing, and capacity-building community by eliminating information silos.

You’ll be able to go at your own pace. Each step of the journey contains videos, resources, and helpful hints to help your team move toward a collaborative AT process. The ultimate goal is getting the appropriate assistive technology (AT) into the hands of students in a more efficient and effective manner.



Demystifying Assistive Technology

Welcome to the first stop of the AT Journey: Web Edition! The purpose of this journey is to help you and your team get the right assistive technology (AT) tools into the hands of your students, faster.

By law, we’re required to consider assistive technology for any student with an IEP. The world of AT can seem complex and overwhelming to educators who may not know where to start. Find out more about what qualifies as AT, debunk common myths about assistive technology, and learn how your student(s) could benefit from AT.

If you're new to AT, don't worry! This journey is designed for educators who may be unfamiliar or have limited prior knowledge about assistive technology as they navigate through the AT maze.



Technology in School

In today’s world, students have access to technology at their fingertips. Computers, tablets, and phones are examples of tools that students could use to improve their access and learning of the curriculum.

When does technology become assistive technology (AT)? The type, tool, and function of the technology often determines when technology is considered to be AT, Educational Technology (ET or Ed Tech), or Information Technology (IT). 

Many classrooms and schools are adopting Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), or 1:1 devices, which incorporate technology and accommodations that could benefit some students more than others.

Learn more about these different technologies and how AT intersects with each.



Building an AT Team

Expecting one person (e.g., an AT specialist) to carry the weight of providing assistive technology for each student who requires it is not only a burden, it’s unrealistic! After several years of training and on-the-job experience, all educators have an immense amount of expertise, yet this information is often “siloed” in their respective fields. 

Rather than rely on an expert, developing a team whose expertise can support the ever-growing needs of students can be more effective and efficient.

Find out more about how to: 

  • Eliminate educational “information silos"

  • Build a collaborative AT team

  • Utilize the expertise of colleagues to effectively address student needs


Developing a Plan

When educators identify a new practice they would like to try, they might be motivated to just jump into action. For example, if they want to implement a core vocabulary initiative in their school, they may print off the posters and hang them without explaining how staff can model throughout the day, demonstrate how to expand on what the student points to (or says), or what is the long term plan for students requiring augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). After hanging the posters, the educator may wonder why staff aren’t using them with their students and why the students are not improving their expressive or receptive language skills.  

Based on our work with other educational teams, we know that approach can be vulnerable to criticism, reluctance, confusion, and competing priorities. 

However, teams who work through a strategic planning process, beginning with beliefs and long terms goals and ending at an action plan level, are more likely to implement the new practice, experience benefits from doing so, and create structures to support long term implementation.

This process can take 6+ hours to complete from start to finish. Based on feedback, the process is worthwhile and assists teams in making meaningful, visible progress, but strategically requires sustained mental focus and collaborative energy. Your team may want to break up the planning process into manageable chunks of time (e.g., two 3-hour sessions or three 2-hour sessions).


The AT Process

Now that you have a better general idea of assistive technology, let’s get AT into the hands of the students. By law, AT must be considered for all learners with an IEP or a 504 plan. AT can only be effective if it is person-centered, task-focused and environmentally useful. The SETT framework developed by Joy Zabala is one collaborative decision-making tool that teams can use to examine the student, the student’s environment(s), the tasks being required to complete, and the possible tools that fit the identified need(s).

During this stop, you will find information about:

  • What it means to consider AT for students with IEPs or 504 plans
  • The SETT framework by Joy Zabala

  • A modified SETT framework from Kelly Fonner


Growing Your AT Toolbox

The right assistive technology can help in any aspect of a learner’s life. Assistive technology can assist with face-to-face or remote instruction. Remember that AT can be anything and range from low tech (i.e., paper-based or not requiring electricity) to high tech (e.g., Chrome extension or eye gaze device). These examples are features of AT tools and feature matching is a critical step in finding the right tool for your learner. 


This stop covers the importance of feature matching as well as tools that support: 

  • Communication

  • Executive functioning

  • Academics (Reading, writing, math)

  • Seating, Mobility and positioning 

  • Vision and hearing


AT in the IEP

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to learners with disabilities.

The law also requires that public schools develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each learner who qualifies for special education. The IEP is a written plan for educating the learner with a disability and describes their specific special education needs as well as any related services, including assistive technology. While schools may document it in a variety of ways, the overall idea is to clearly communicate the learner’s need for and use of AT to the parents/caregivers and potential future readers of the IEP document.

In the stop, you’ll find answers to the following questions:

  • Where is AT documented in the IEP?

  • How is AT documented in the IEP?

  • What about 504 Plans?

  • Where can the AT be used (ex: at school, at home)?


AT for Learners of All Ages

Assistive technology (AT) can remove barriers and provide opportunities to learners of all ages. Infants, toddlers, children, and young adults may use assistive technology to help them communicate and socialize, learn, move, and work. Over time, the learner’s AT needs may change as they develop skills in these areas.

During this stop, you’ll find information about how AT can help learners of all ages, including:

  • Young children (Birth-5 years)

  • School age (5-18 years)

  • Post-secondary (18+ years)


AT in Michigan

By this point, you know that the journey to effectively consider, select, and implement assistive technology with learners of all ages is a collaborative one. For some learners, the SETT process and a couple of trials can clearly match an AT tool or service. Other learners may present with complex needs that do not quite fit technology that is known or available within a district. At some point, you or someone on your team may want to connect with another AT professional to assist with this process. There are several opportunities for Michigan educators to connect with other AT professionals within the state and trial new technology for their learners. 


At this stop, you will find information regarding: 

  • How to connect with local AT Leaders

  • How to join the AT Leaders group as well as the AT Leadership Listserv

  • Alt+Shift’s Lending Library


A Continuous Journey

While this may be the final stop on the AT Journey, the real journey for both learners and educators never truly ends. Remember that a learner’s needs and their AT tools are required to be reviewed and updated (if applicable) at least annually at every IEP meeting. As technologies change and accessibility continues to become more readily available, your team’s AT process should also be reviewed periodically.


At this stop, you’ll find information about:

  • Revisiting your plan

  • Providing professional development around AT

  • Alt+Shift partnerships with ISDs

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