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Including Assistive Technology
in the Standard Curriculum
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E568
Author: Cynthia Warger
Assistive technology (AT) is defined as any item, piece of
equipment, or product, whether acquired commercially, off
the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase,
maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals
with disabilities. (P.L. 101-407, The Technology Related
Assistance Act of 1988).
The 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) emphasizes the importance of
technology and the need to share cutting-edge information
about advances in the field. The law requires that assistive
technology devices and services be considered for all
children identified as having an exceptional education need.
These amendments mark a significant shift in how educators
view assistive technology--which previously had been viewed
almost exclusively within a rehabilitative or remediative
context. Now, within the context of planning individualized
education plans (IEP), technology is being considered as a
viable tool for expanding access to the general education
curriculum. However, there is still much work to be done to
ensure that IEP teams consider the maximum benefits of
Considering Assistive Technology in the IEP
The new requirements in IDEA '97 to consider assistive
technology devices and services for all students with
disabilities creates a massive task for school districts.
Already, special educators across the country are reporting
an increased number of referrals for children with mild
disabilities in which the issue is access to the curriculum and
productivity once in the curriculum. School-based
professionals are finding that the "fix-it" approach taken with
traditional assistive technology applications is not appropriate
for these new types of technology referrals. More often than
not, instructional issues are at the heart of these
referrals--they require educators to start with the curriculum
and then ask how tools might assist students in achieving the
Thus, school districts are searching for tools that they can
use to ensure that IEP teams meet the intent and the spirit of
the law. To assist school districts with this goal, Gayl Bowser
and Penny Reed have developed the Education TECH Point
system which educators can use as a tool to develop
effective assistive technology delivery systems. The TECH
Point system offers educators a strategy for identifying
specific points in the planning process where AT should be
considered. The TECH Points are:
At each point, questions are posed which reflect issues that
must be addressed. The TECH Point structure provides a
way to effectively organize and monitor AT utilization while
enabling programs to tailor activities to match each student's
- Initial referral question.
- Evaluation questions.
- Extended assessment questions.
- Plan development questions.
- Implementation questions.
- Periodic review questions.
State Level Support for AT
States can support local education agencies in
meeting these new requirements to consider assistive
technology in each child's IEP. To ensure that technology
benefits children with disabilities, states need to implement
policies and practices that support its effective use. Louis
Danielson, Director of the Division of Research to Practice at
OSEP, suggests that state directors of special education put
into place a clear policy on assistive technology that includes:
Promoting Access to the Curriculum: Promising
- A statement of desired AT outcomes.
- Policies for delivering AT services.
- Staff development and technical assistance policies.
- Verification that the technology plan includes
- Mechanisms for interdisciplinary involvement.
- Policies for purchasing, using, and managing equipment.
- Strategies for obtaining adequate funding.
- Strategies for communicating these policies.
As a result of the new law, technology is increasingly being
recommended to help students with cognitive disabilities
achieve in a challenging curriculum. Technology that
supports students in accessing the curriculum does not need
to be expensive or complicated to make a difference in
learning. Both low tech and high tech applications have been
used successfully to ensure students' success in the general
education curriculum. What do we know about the positive
benefits of using technology in academic subject areas to
help children with disabilities achieve to high standards?
The following research-based applications have been
selected to show how technology is being integrated into
curriculum and instruction to support a wide range of student
Enhancing Literacy Goals
Michigan State University researcher Carol Sue Englert has
developed a web-based curriculum for elementary students
with mild disabilities that enhances literacy learning,
particularly writing. The web site called TELE-Web (which
stands for Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments on
the Web) serves as a literacy development environment. The
web site provides tools that help students develop
performance abilities in reading and writing, in addition to
independent learning skills.
TELE-Web is set up in the classroom as four central
environments--writing room, reading room, library, and
publishing room. In each environment, students are able to
receive cognitive and social support. The following example
shows how TELE-Web was integrated into a fourth grade unit
- TELE-Writing Room. A KWL (what I know, want to know,
have learned about) activity on castles; retelling stories
in one's own words; creating cognitive webs; play
writing; story writing.
- TELE-Reading Room. Castle spelling words; castle chat.
- TELE-Library. Internet search on castles; castle
word-sort; email to people knowledgeable about castles in
Poland and Scotland.
- TELE-Publishing Room. Stories for editing and
comments; journal of castle life contrasts.
Preliminary research suggests that with TELE-Web children
are more motivated to write, and that they are writing longer
and more descriptive stories.
Improving Access to the Science Curriculum
Judy Zorfass at the Education Development Center, Inc., in
Massachusetts is finding that technology tools can be
integrated into challenging science curriculum and instruction
to ensure access for students with disabilities. Zorfass'
Project ASSIST (All Students in Supported Inquiry-Based
Science with Technology) brings together teachers, science
specialists, special educators, and technology specialists on
a regular basis to plan, act, and reflect upon student learning
in science, in inclusive classrooms, supported by technology.
To support educators in talking about children's science
learning, Zorfass and her colleagues created an action
reflection process. The team cycles--and then
re-cycles--through these phases:
- Plan activities. During the planning phase the classroom
teacher and the specialists develop a lesson containing
clear science learning goals. The lesson is related
to the science standards, includes modifications for
students with disabilities, and is supported by
technology where appropriate.
- Implement instruction. The teacher implements the
lesson, however, some of the team members also
participate. Their role is to closely observe and gather
data on children's responses to the lesson, as well as
assist with instruction when appropriate.
- Reflect on progress. The reflection phase occurs soon
after the lesson. Each team member shares the data he or
she has gathered regarding student learning. The
teacher and the specialists describe, interpret, and
reflect on the students' work as it relates to the
criteria that have been set.
For more information about Project ASSIST, check out
Zorfass's web site at: http://www.edc.org/FSC/ASSIST/.
Improving Concept Development in Mathematics
John Woodward of the University of Puget Sound in
Washington has been studying how technology can be
integrated into mathematical problem-solving activities to
provide access to students with cognitive disabilities.
Unlike traditional math story problem lessons where students
read a problem in text and are expected to calculate
answers, Woodward uses computer-based spreadsheet
programs in conjunction with real-life problems.
Spreadsheets are an excellent tool because they model or
provide visual representations of the problem, crunch the
calculations--which is a tedious turn-off for many youngsters,
but especially true for students with disabilities--and thereby
focus the students' attention on understanding the
mathematical operations in a real-life context. Spreadsheets
free students, who heretofore had difficulty with math, to keep
asking questions, to continue analyzing the visual
representations of the data, and eventually to use their higher
level thinking skills to formulate conclusions.
Woodward has successfully field tested numerous lessons
using his research-based approach. For a look at selected
lessons, check out his web site at
Elements to Consider in Implementing Technology
- Locate equipment where instruction and learning are
taking place. Technology needs to be in the classroom and
accessible to the child.
- Select low tech applications whenever possible.
- Integrate the use of technology into lessons in a
purposeful and meaningful way.
- Have the same equipment used in the classroom
available in the child's home to promote continuity of
learning, if possible.
- Offer training and technical support to classroom
teachers initially. When the technology is available in the
home, provide training to family
- View the initial fiscal and human resources as an
investment that the child will continue to benefit from in
- Don't reinvent the wheel each year--when possible use
the technology that is already in place.
The potential of assistive technology to improve and enhance
the lives of individuals with disabilities is virtually unlimited.
Now, with the help of current Federal laws, assistive
technology will provide more children with the opportunity to
maximize their learning in a challenging curriculum.
Behrmann, M. (January 1995). Assistive technology for
students with mild disabilities. ERIC Digest E529.
Readings on the use of technology for individuals with
disabilities. ERIC Mini-Bib EB16. (July 1996)
Resources on the use of technology for individuals with
disabilities. ERIC Mini-Bib EB17. (July 1996)
Woodward, J. (in press). Redoing the numbers: Using
technology to enhance mathematical literacy in secondary
classrooms. TEACHING Exceptional Children.
Woodward, J., & Baxter, J. (1997). The effects of an
innovative approach to mathematics on academically low
achieving students in inclusive settings. Exceptional Children,
Zorfass, J. (1998). Successful Science for Every Student:
How Technology Helps (video-based professional
development package). Newton, MA: Education Development
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication
was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. RI93002005. The opinions expressed in
this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department
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