By Courtney Noblett
Acting Director, AT Division
Central Coast Children’s Foundation, Inc.
The past ten years have witnessed two simultaneous explosions: 1) the volume of available technologies to support people with disabilities (hereafter Assistive Technology, or simply AT) has multiplied exponentially; and 2) the amount of information about assistive technology on the Internet has exploded in parallel fashion. This “web essay” is intended as a convenient guide to the most valuable sources of AT information and AT-related content currently available on the web.
One of the most useful starting points is the website maintained by the Alliance for Technology Access (www.ATAccess.org). This site strives to communicate clearly to people with disabilities, the family members of people with disabilities, and the many professionals who support people with disabilities about the technology tools and AT approaches currently available. Among its many valuable components are:
1) An excellent guide to low-cost/no-cost online tools for people with disabilities (www.ataccess.org/resources/lowcostnocost.html), which includes sections on funding options, early learning, and literacy, all with a focus on technology resources that increase access to computers for people with disabilities.
2) ATA Recursos En Espanol (Resources in Spanish) (www.ataccess.org/resources/defaultes.html), which includes items on “Assistive Technology – What You Need to Know” and “Using technology to Enhance Early Learning Experiences.”
3) The Family Place in Cyberspace (http://www.ataccess.org/resources/fpic/default.html) is an initiative designed to address the assistive technology needs of families of children with disabilities. It includes the following resources:
a) Assistive Technology in K-12 Schools gives a range of information about integrating assistive technology into schools.
b) Accessible Toys – With Toy Industry Association support, the ATA evaluated dozens of toys for accessibility to children with disabilities.
c) We Can Play offers over a dozen different accessible play ideas for children of all abilities in both English and Spanish (Podemos jugar).
d) Access Transition – is information and resources for students with disabilities who are facing the transition from public school to the next stage in life.
Another valuable website containing information on assistive technology and disabilities is the site maintained by the Family Center on Technology and Disability (http://www.fctd.info). The Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) is a resource designed to support organizations, programs, and individuals who work with families of children and youth with disabilities. The Center’s goal is to strengthen the ability of organizations throughout the country to provide current, accurate, and useful materials to the families of children with disabilities. Many of the resources are also available in Spanish (http://www.fctd.info/resources/index_es.php).
The comprehensive online, informational resources on the subject of assistive technologies include:
1) The Family Information Guide to AT (http://www.fctd.info/resources/fig_summary.php) is a 54-page guide which includes an introduction to assistive technology; a discussion of AT in schools, including the IEP process, due process and relevant laws; a section on AT funding; an illustrated glossary; and annotated resources.
2) FCTD Resource Reviews (http://www.fctd.info/resources/search.php) is a fully searchable database of more than 600 abstracts of books, articles, videos, training manuals, software, and websites concerning AT. These resources are reviewed and evaluated by the Family Center’s AT Specialists.
3) Member Organizations (http://www.fctd.info/members/search.php) is a fully searchable database of information on approximately 2,000 disability-related organizations throughout the United States, U.S. territories, and the world. A brief organizational description and contact information is included.
4) Monthly Newsletters (http://www.fctd.info/resources/newsletters/index.php) on AT topics, including IEPs, mediation, socialization, inclusion, and in-depth interviews with nationally-recognized experts. Both current and archived issues of News & Notes are available online.
5) Online Discussions (http://www.fctd.info/webboard/index.php) are month-long discussions of AT topics, moderated by national experts. Digests and transcripts from past discussions are available in the archive.
6) AT Fact Sheets (http://www.fctd.info/resources/index.php) each 2-3 pages long and covering various AT topics, including the IEP and Assistive Technology Laws. The Family Center’s Illustrated AT Glossary is also available as a fact sheet.
Several practical resources on the web link users to guides on funding AT. When considering AT funding options, The AT Funding Manual (http://www.iltech.org/fundingmantable.asp) is a good place to start. It consists of three parts: Part 1 provides general information about funding, Part II lists governmental and private, non-profit agencies and service clubs that provide assistive technology funding, and Part III lists several helpful resources to assist in the funding search. There is also useful advice in “Using Mini-Grants to Fund Assistive Technology for Students with Severe Disabilities” (http://www.ttac.odu.edu/Articles/minigrant.html) as well as The Family Center’s Financing Assistive Technology: Handbook for Funding (http://trace.wisc.edu/archive/fintech/fintech.html), which discusses Federal funding sources as well as grants, scholarships, and awards. A website assisting users with researching funding options for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is www.aacfundinghelp.com. This website posts information about programs that cover and provide funding for AAC devices, also known as “speech generating devices (SGDs). The Medicare section of this website (http://www.aacfundinghelp.com/funding_programs/medicare.html) offers AAC stakeholders all-you-need-to-know about Medicare, including: eligibility for purchasing speech generating devices (SGDs), current Medicare SGD coverage guidance, and Medicare SGD accessory codes and fee schedules; Medicare coverage of eye-gaze technologies and specific information for people with ALS and their family members; Information about rentals, repairs, replacement devices and Medicare’s scope of coverage of computer and PDA-based devices; and Physical prescription and facts about Medicare reimbursement rates for SLP assessment and treatment services.
Lewis Golinker developed two useful podcasts in this area. “How to Fund Augmentative Communication Devices Through Private Medical Insurance” discusses obtaining coverage and funding for AAC devices in the US from the most common types of medical insurance policies and is approx 90 minutes. A companion webcast, “An Overview of the Health-based Funding Program that Cover Speech Generating Devices” is available here: http://www.aac-rerc.com/pages/news/webcasts2005.htm#nov1
Computer Hardware and Software Modifications
Modifying existing computer software programs or hardware components to fit AT users is explained through many online sources. Standard Accessibility Options in Windows XP (http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/content/factsheets/pdfs/XP-Accessibility-Options.pdf) is a skill-sheet designed to give the reader a tour of the Windows Accessibility Options and better understand how to make effective changes for a variety of common difficulties that people face when using a computer. On–Screen Keyboard is a utility that displays a virtual keyboard on the computer screen that allows people with mobility impairments to type data by using a pointing device or joystick. This link (http://www.microsoft.com/enable/training/windowsxp/usingkeyboard.aspx) explains how to turn this feature on and off in Microsoft and explains other basics of using it. Additional AbilityNet Skill Sheets, covering such topics as “Slowing down the Double-click Speed on the Mouse” and “Windows Magnifier Tool” are available here: http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/atwork_skillsheets. These sheets cover common “how to” topics to modify, add, or delete a variety of keyboard and program tools in Microsoft and Windows, many to meet the needs of persons using Assistive Technology. Closing the Gap (www.closingthegap.com) contains information about software, hardware and assistive technology options for children and young adults with disabilities. Their site contains articles from the Closing the Gap newsletter, questions and answers, a searchable product database and contact information for vendors. The Trace Research and Development Center (http://trace.wisc.edu) is currently working on ways to make standard information technologies and telecommunications systems more accessible and usable by people with disabilities. In particular, this link (http://trace.wisc.edu/world/web/) explains how do design more usable websites, covers accessible web guidelines, and other web access tools. Equal Access to Software and Information (www.rit.edu/~easi/itd.html) includes links to online training on AT, including adaptive devices and software and web accessibility.
Implementing AT in Schools
Several sites are available to assist parents and professionals in implementing AT into schools. One interesting resource is links to the Office of Special Education Policy Clarification Letters (http://www.iltech.org/fm-osep_letters.asp) addressing questions ranging from whether a school district can deny a student AT, to the school district’s liability for family owned AT. Also included here are the thirteen most common “excuses” offered by four funding programs to deny requests for assistive technology devices (http://www.iltech.org/fm-bakers_dozen.asp) and other tips for handling claims which are denied by insurance companies. Several helpful forms for determining amounts of AT funds are also provided.
The Assistive Technology Training Online Project (http://atto.buffalo.edu/) provides information on AT applications that help students with disabilities learn in elementary classrooms. Included in this website are:
1) AT Basics- Information on AT use for elementary students with disabilities,
2) AT Decision Making- Using this process to identify AT Solutions for students, and
3) Tutorials – “How to” use specific hardware devices and software programs to support students with disabilities.
Understanding how and why schools are required to fund AT for a child is useful when advocating for services. The Assistive Technology Act (ATA) of 1998, Public Law 105-394, (full text available here: http://www.atnet.org/advocacy/act.htm) also known as the “Tech Act,” affirms the federal role of promoting access to assistive technology devices and services for individuals with disabilities. The Assistive Technology Act gives grants to states for activities that will increase access to assistive technology devices and services for individuals with disabilities. For a list of state projects funded under the Tech Act, visit http://www.ataporg.org/stateatprojects.asp. The ATA is implemented in California primarily through grant contracts. As of July 2006, the Department of Rehabilitation has contracted with the Alliance for Technology Access (www.ATAccess.org) to serve as the statewide AT Network Hub organization.
Ensuring the AT needs of children and adults are met is one function of Protection & Advocacy, Inc (PAI) (http://www.pai-ca.org/). PAI is a private, nonprofit organization that protects the legal, civil, and service rights of Californians who have disabilities. PAI provides a variety of advocacy services, including information and referral, technical assistance, and direct representation. PAI also gives legal advice to consumers, their families and advocates; and makes presentations on issues relating to AT. It monitors, analyzes and comments on pending state legislation and regulations. PAI has developed Accessing Assistive Technology, a handbook on the rights of persons with disabilities to receive AT. This manual is available by contacting PAI at 1-800-776-5746. The Assistive Technology section of their website (http://www.pai-ca.org/_vti_bin/shtml.dll/Search.htm) contains chunks of the manual as well as many helpful documents on advocacy. In particular, “10 Critical Services Available Free of Charge” (http://www.pai-ca.org/serving/what.htm) outlines the free services provided by PAI and “Advocacy Skills: Technology Summary” (http://www.pai-ca.org/PUBS/534201.pdf) provides good tips on advocacy.
AT Related Services
Several quality organizations contain many useful links to AT-related information. Parents Helping Parents (http://www.php.com) operates The iTECH Center as a preview and demonstration site for Assistive Technology. The Center offers the following: Guided, “hands-on” sessions in the lab, T.I.P (Technology for Infants and Preschoolers): Early Intervention program, Educational Software, Computer Accessibility Solutions, Augmentative and Alternative Communication- low/high-tech, and Toy Adaptation- battery-operated toys adapted for use with a switch.
The following online resources are available from the PHP website:
1) Resource Directory (http://www.php.com/include/agency/): Provides information on thousands of community programs, government agencies and programs throughout the United States and Canada.
2) Special Education Letter Writer (http://www.php.com/include/blurb.php?item=resources_ltr) -Getting results from government agencies often involves writing professional letters. PHP’s Special Education Letter Writer will produce a professional letter to request special education assessment.
3) An IEP Preparation Tool (http://www.php.com/include/blurb.php?item=iepprep) – Online tool designed to help parents organize their thoughts and records before attending an IEP meeting, so that they enter the meeting feeling prepared.
4) CalStat Online IEP Training (http://www.calstat.org/iep/):This training is designed to guide professionals and parents through the challenge of writing IEP goals and objectives that are based on California’s state standards. It provides guidance for writing IEP goals that directly apply to the mandates of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended in 2004, and are tied to standards, are student focused and are measurable. This self-paced training includes a pre-test, post-test, certificate of completion and takes approximately five to six hours to successfully complete.
The Center for Accessible Technology (CAT) http://www.cforat.org strives to include participation in higher education, employment and community for persons with disabilities. CAT provides access to assistive technology that gives people with disabilities access to computers; provide art programs to provide access to artistic expression; and offer ongoing consultation and support to assist people with disabilities in maintaining and enhancing access. Online resources include:
1) Articles on Assistive Technology such as: “Talking” Programs for the Mac and Magazine Service for People Who Are Visually Impaired http://www.cforat.org/articles/
2) Keyboarding classes for people with disabilities
3) Links to several disability sites
The United Cerebral Palsy http://www.ucp.org provides links and information on technology and disability, specifically info on the Tech Act. Articles and legislative action on many other technology specific issues is found here: http://www.ucp.org/ucp_generalsub.cfm/1/8/11211
More Tech-related resources are found through the TECHTALK (http://www.iltech.org/techtalk.asp) publication of TechConnect & Illinois Assistive Technology Project. TECHTALK contains information on technology-related subjects. A popular feature of this publication is the “Ten Dollar Tech” (http://www.iltech.org/ten_tech.asp) section which features low-cost, high-impact AT devices or adaptations. The home site of TechConnect & Illinois Assistive Technology Project (http://www.iltech.org/index.asp) is worth exploring as well.
Schwab Learning is a great site where parents and teachers can find information on learning disabilities plus interviews, newsletters, resources, and links to other parents. The site includes a Spanish version of all the information. www.schwablearning.org
DO-IT Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (www.washington.edu/doit) offers links to many different resources related to disabilities and technology. The information is suitable for consumers as well as professionals.
The AT Network (www.atnet.org) is dedicated to expanding the accessibility of tools, resources and technology that will help increase independence, improve personal productivity and enhance the quality of life for all Californians. The AT Network provides a variety of information and referral services, as well as funding resources for AT. The Assistive Technology Journal (http://www.atnet.org/journal/index.htm) is published monthly and contains information on AT resources. Several links to information on AT & State Programs such as Special Education and CA Children’s Services are provided (http://www.atnet.org/index_resources.htm) as are links to funding sources and strategies for obtaining assistive devices.
A great place for downloads is SWAAAC: Supporting Learning Through Assistive Technology (http://www.swaaac.com/) has organized links to hosts of useful information on Assistive Technology, including:
1) Software Demo Downloads http://www.swaaac.com/OtherRes/software_downloads.htm
2) Onscreen Keyboards & Screen Readers
3) PowerPoint Lectures: Teaching Yourself and Others about AT- These downloadable presentations cover a range of topics, including: AAC Assessment, Making Toy Adaptations, Legal Issues and AT, Introduction and Overview of AT, and Reading and Writing: AT for Learning Disabilities http://www.swaaac.com/Tools/PPTs.htm
4) Assistive Technology Partners http://www.uchsc.edu/atp/library/fastfacts.htm
5)Fast Facts (http://www.swaaac.com/About/fastfacts.htm) : Quick information sheets covering a variety of Disability topics as they relate to Assistive Technology. Topics include Computer Access, Daily Living, Funding, and Legislation.
The WATI: Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiate (http://www.wati.org/products/freematerials.html) is also a great source of free downloads, including:
1) A Resource Guide for Teachers and Administrators on AT (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/resource%20guide%20-%20general.pdf)
2) Hey! Can I Try That? A Student Handbook for Choosing and Using AT (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/heycanitrythat.pdf) and in Spanish (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/oye!puedo.pdf)
3) AT Assessment Package (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/wati%20assessment.pdf) : A process based, systematic approach to providing a functional evaluation of the student’s need for AT in their customary environment
4) AT Assessment Forms (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/assessment_forms_only.pdf) and in Spanish (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/at_conderation_sp.pdf)
5) AT Checklists (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/at_checklist.pdf) and in Spanish (http://www.wati.org/products/pdf/atlist_sp.pdf)
The above resources are an introductory guide to the valuable sources of AT information and AT-related content online. This guide was developed with the goal of simplifying the search process for families and professionals and serving as a “one-stop” shop in exploring this topic.