MACUL Member Spotlight: Rosanne Burden, Assistive Technology Specialist with the Berrien Regional Educational Service Agency.
What’s the difference between assistive technology and instructional technology?
Assistive technology (AT) devices are identified in IDEA 2004 as:
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. In my mind, assistive technology is personal as it is designed so that an individual with a disability can perform a particular task. Instructional technology is more classroom based in that you are using whiteboards, Chromebooks, apps and extensions to assist with instruction and/or learning. These tools may help any student maximize their ability to achieve in the educational environment. Many instructional technologies can definitely be AT such as voice recognition or creating a video response through a website or app. The line between the two disciplines definitely is overlapping and blurring as many technologies are turning into everyday mainstream tools that we all use.
What recent developments have had the greatest impact on AT?
When iPads made their appearance in 2010 that was huge for many of our students with disabilities. I saw students with autism who became interested in learning because of the visual nature of the iPad. It also gave us a less expensive way to provide Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to students who needed that assistive technology. Right now, I feel like Chromebooks and the Google Suite of apps in conjunction with the right extensions can provide so much support to our students with learning differences. Voice recognition built into Google Docs is a real game changer for some kids as well as word prediction/completion programs to provide support for written assignments. Using video in things like Recap or Flipboard gives students another way to show what they know. It’s terrific to have so many options right now and it’s a matter of making the best match to the student’s needs.
What additional resources are available to teachers?
Closing The Gap has a great bimonthly online newspaper, database of assistive technology products, and webinars. The Center on Technology and Disability has many free resources for parents and teachers including webinars, articles, and guides. One of my best sources for finding out about new technology is using social media such as Twitter or Facebook. I love to follow the hashtags #spedchat and #atchat on Twitter even just a few minutes a day is great! Many vendors of AT equipment have webinars that are free of charge as well.
What is AAC Awareness Month?
Helping some of our local speech and language therapists get students started with AAC is a passion of mine. AAC Awareness Month is a wonderful way to get the word out about students who need AAC. Providing equipment and training to enhance communication, whether that be an iPad with a communication app, or a dedicated device run by eye gaze or a headmouse for those who may be physically challenged is a rewarding task. In my experience, the inability to communicate with others, to tell them what you are thinking and feeling, is the greatest challenge a student can have. That’s why I get so excited about helping students get started with AAC–it truly changes their lives!