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Assistive Technology SP Area Schools

Assistive Technology in Stevens Point Area Public Schools

By Richard Mattke, Assistive Tech. Coordinator & Jerry Bohren, Trustee

“Good morning”, “Hi, how are you?” are little phrases we use every day. Most of us use them without even much thought or planning. However, for the student who is nonverbal or has no voice, the simple act of greeting another person would be impossible without the use of some type of communication system. That communication system may be a picture board or a sophisticated electronic device. Giving a student a voice is just one example of how assistive technology is benefiting students in Stevens Point Area Public Schools.

An “assistive technology devise” means “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” 300.5 (Authority: 20 U.S. Congress, Section 1401 (1)). There are assistive technology devices available for all ages, levels of functioning and areas of need. Assistive technology devices can help an individual compensate for difficulties with mobility, hearing or vision. For students with academic challenges, assistive technology can help meet task demands in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics. There are devices available in each of the following areas: computer access, writing, communication, reading, learning/studying, math, recreation and leisure, mobility, electronic aids for daily living, vocational, hearing, composition or written material and vision.

When the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 1997, one component of the legislation was assistive technology. Now every Individual Educational Program (IEP) team must consider student use of technology as part of the IEP development process. The IEP team may be composed of teachers, parents, occupational therapists, speech and language clinicians, physical therapists and school psychologists. For some students, the team may recommend items that are low tech in nature, such as pencil grippers or raised line paper. For others, the team may recommend higher tech items such as augmentative communication devices, remote switches, portable keyboards or word prediction software. The decision of the type of technology to be used for an individual student is always an IEP team decision.

Under IDEA, Assistive Technology is not only devices and equipment, but also services. An “assistive technology service means “any service that directly assists a student with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.” 300.6 (Authority 20 U.S. Congress, Section 1401 (26)). Assistive Technology services may include the maintenance and repair of equipment, the training of a student to use an AT device and the training of staff and family members in the use of AT devices and equipment.

The mission statement of the Stevens Point Schools is: To prepare each student to be
successful. To that end, the School Board has endeavored to provide appropriate tools for every student to be successful. For a student with a disability, those tools may include assistive technology. The Stevens Point School District serves more than one thousand students with special needs. These students are from three years to twenty-one years of age. Meeting the needs of this many students is a significant task that is met by a dedicated staff of teachers, therapists and educational assistants.

In their advocacy for students with special needs, the Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services and the School Board created an assistive technology specialist position during the 2000-2001 school year. Originally, this position was only half time, but the need for more time was soon apparent. The following school year, the position was expanded to full time. This was a significant commitment on the part of the School Board considering the budget constraints and negative economic environment in which schools have been forced to operate. The AT position is unique in that it is jointly a part of the Pupil Services department and the Technology Services department. This organizational structure allows resources from both departments to be utilized in solving the needs of individual students and providing support for all special education staff. The arrangement has proven valuable in providing assistive technology services in a timely and productive fashion.

To further enhance the educational program for its students, the Stevens Point School District also utilizes the services of Cooperative Educational Service Agency – 5 (CESA 5). For a minimal fee, district educators are able to borrow software, books and various materials for use by students. CESA 5 also provides training for staff and assessment of students for assistive technology. In addition, through the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI), teachers and parents are able to borrow equipment and devices, free of charge, for trial purposes. This aids the district in finding the right match between a student’s need and an appropriate device. WATI also provides staff development seminars during the summer for teachers and parents to enable them to keep current on the latest developments in assistive technology.

Meeting the needs of students with disabilities can be challenging but also extremely rewarding. By making a commitment to students with disabilities, the School Board, administration and staff of Stevens Point Public Schools have shown they are serious about preparing each and every student to be successful.