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Assistive technology: a collaborative approach.

Abstract

This article describes the formation of the Partnership for Assistive Technology (PAT), a collaborative effort at an urban university created to address the diverse needs for assistive technology. The project involves various departments at New Jersey City University and the University's laboratory school for students with low incidence disabilities. The article describes the partners, mission, and goals of PAT.

Introduction

New Jersey City University, an urban university, is dedicated to providing quality education to a diverse student body. The College of Education at NJCU strives to prepare teacher candidates to teach P-12 urban students effectively. Collaboration within and among departments is encouraged. The following is a description of the formation and initial mission and goals of a collaborative group created at NJCU to increase the knowledge and enhance the use of assistive technology by University faculty, teacher candidates, University students, P-12 students, and community factions.

For this collaborative effort, four major departments and programs at New Jersey City University united: the Department of Special Education; the A. Harry Moore Laboratory School; Project Mentor, a support program for students with learning disabilities; and the Educational Technology Department. The ultimate goal of this partnership, Partnership for Assistive Technology, is to enhance the experience and education of students with disabilities through the use of assistive technology. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 defines an assistive technology device as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system ... that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability."

Participants

Department of Special Education

The Department of Special Education at New Jersey City University provides teacher education programs to over 800 students, the largest number of teacher education students in the College of Education. The teacher certificate-granting program is available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The department has focused on inclusion, positive behavior supports, transition, and most recently assistive technology. Only one course focusing on assistive technology (AT) is offered through the department. Moreover, assistive technology has not been consistently infused throughout courses. Two of the major reasons for the limited focus on AT is lack of software and hardware and inadequate faculty preparation.

The Department of Special Education is dedicated to providing universal design and accessibility for all students. Incorporating AT into inclusion settings is one method of providing an equitable education for all students. In order to accomplish this, the Department needs access to software, hardware, training laboratories, current research, and consultation from experts in the field of assistive technology. Due to lack of funding and the need for increased knowledge among all constituents, a collaborative approach is necessary for the Department of Special Education to begin educating teacher candidates effectively about the issues of access and use of technology for students with disabilities.

A Harry Moore Laboratory School

The A. Harry Moore Laboratory School, founded in 1931, functions under the direction of NJCU's College of Education and is accredited by the New Jersey Department of Education. The school offers comprehensive academic, therapeutic, pre-vocational and social programs for approximately 185 students with special needs. The students range in age from three to twenty one years old and have a variety of multiple/significant disabilities. The school is committed to empowering students as contributing and productive members of society. The laboratory school is often used for field placements for teacher candidates from the Department of Special Education. One major goal of the collaboration is to develop an AT laboratory that will be utilized for comprehensive field placements for a variety of departments including Early Childhood Education, Elementary and Secondary Education, Educational Technology, Educational Leadership, Nursing, and Counseling. One inconsistent piece at A. Harry Moore has been the implementation of assistive technology. Although many students utilize such devices such as alternative augmentative communication, switches, and a variety of computer programs, the consistency of the use varies from teacher to teacher. Moreover, only a few teachers at the school are proficient with AT.

Educational Technology Department

The Educational Technology Department at New Jersey City University offers a 36credit MA in Educational Technology and a 15-credit Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology. There are currently 268 students enrolled in the program; 94% are fulltime K-12 teachers. The design of the program is guided by the International Society for Technology in Education's (ISTE) Technology Facilitator (TF) Standards (ISTE, 2004), and the urban mission of the College of Education and the University. The Department's interest in assistive technology was the result of a confluence of factors reflecting the growing interest of the subject in the field of educational technology. As the source of guidance for the program, the prevalence of assistive technology in the ISTE TF standards has had a powerful influence on our program. Three of the eight ISTE TF standards (ISTE, 2004) address assistive technology in their specific performance indicators:

* Assist teachers as they use technology resources and strategies to support the diverse needs of learners including adaptive and assistive technologies. (ISTE, TF-2.A.3).

* Use methods and strategies for integrating technology resources that support the needs of diverse learners including adaptive and assistive technology (ISTE, TF-3.B. 1).

* Identify, classify, and recommend adaptive/assistive hardware and software for students and teachers with special needs and assist in procurement and implementation (ISTE, TF6.B.2).

The eight ISTE TF Standards and related performance indicators are embedded throughout the Educational Technology Department's course sequence and guide the revision, direction, and assessment of our program. The initial interest in assistive technology began with the particular issue of Web accessibility. Over the last five years the issue of Web accessibility grew in the revision of specific courses and served as a catalyst for deeper departmental reflection on the broader aspects of assistive technology. Course curriculums such as Using the Internet in Education and Distance Learning for Educators, for example, incorporated guidance from the both the World

Wide Web Consortium (www.w3c.org) and the Federal Government's 508 Accessibility Guidelines (www.section508.gov). Furthermore, industry standard software packages used in these courses such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe Acrobat have increasingly embedded tools for authoring and assessing accessible documents.

Besides Web design guidelines and course software packages, there are broader movements that have affected the content of various courses. The increased inclusion of the topic of assistive technology in textbooks, trends in Universal Design for Learning (Center for Applied Special Technology, 2004) and related convergence and handheld technologies have edged into the curriculum of many of the courses. Many of these new technologies, such as handheld Web access devices and cellular text messaging, are marketed for the general population but are designed with procedures and techniques that make content accessible for people with disabilities. It is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss many of the trends in technology and their uses in education without addressing the issues of accessibility.

Project Mentor: Regional Center for Students with Learning Disabilities

Project Mentor: Regional Center for Students with Learning Disabilities at New Jersey City University is one of eight Regional Centers funded by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education Special Needs Grant Program. The grant program was established in 1986 through the "Higher Education Services for Visually Impaired, Auditorily Impaired, and Learning Disabled Students Act." There are currently five centers serving students with learning disabilities, two centers for deaf and hard of hearing students, and one adaptive technology center which services all special needs students identified by the Act.

Project Mentor is an academic support program for college students with learning disabilities, now in its eighteenth year. Project Mentor provides high quality, varied services for students with learning disabilities including, but not limited to faculty mentor assignments, advisement, priority registration, special tutorials, learning strategy workshops, counseling and advocacy services, and access to and training in the use of assistive technology to any student eligible for the program. In addition a four-week summer orientation program, which prepares students for success in an academic setting, is available to incoming freshman students who disclose a documented learning disability. The Regional Center allows more students to utilize existing services, expands the services to include diagnosis, and allows other institutions of higher education to benefit from the experience gained through Project Mentor to improve their own identification of and service to college students with learning disabilities. In addition, Regional Center status has enabled the program to purchase a wide array of software and assistive technological devices. However, a small percentage of Project Mentor students utilize the existing assistive technology as a reasonable accommodation, which is available to them through both the Center at NJCU and through the lending program at the Adaptive Technology Center at The College of New Jersey. Center staff requires more training in assistive technology in order to instruct students and faculty at NJCU effectively. A need exists for the establishment of an assistive technology lab on the NJCU campus to provide adequate training and access to assistive technology for students with disabilities, teacher candidates, and faculty and staff.

The Partnership for Assistive Technology

New Jersey City University has a seventy-five year history of area preparing New Jersey educators in the area of Special Education, seventy-three years serving students at A. Harry Moore, and Project Mentor--eighteen years. The Educational Technology Department, the "new kid on the block", was created in 1998. Like many universities, maximizing resources and reducing duplication are key initiatives and, because all four groups are all part of the College of Education, they exchange ideas about what each is doing. The Chair of the Educational Technology invited representatives from all the groups to come to a "brown bag lunch" and talk about what each is doing and how we can help each other. Although originally formed to help each other, the focus has evolved to all the members joining to become the Partnership for Assistive Technology--one unified force working toward common goals. The collaborative approach was going to be essential if we were to succeed. "We take a collaborative approach to the subject of technology exploration, knowing from experience that the most effective efforts are those tackled by a team ..." (The Alliance for Technology Access, 2000, p. 82).

Mission of the Partnership for Assistive Technology

The mission of the Partnership for Assistive Technology is to provide training, information, and access to state-of-the-art assistive technology for all stakeholders--students at New Jersey City University and the A. Harry Moore Laboratory School (which serves students with multiple and/or significant physical, medical or cognitive disabilities), pre-service and graduate students, current teachers in the classroom, NJCU faculty, and the wider community with interest in people with disabilities. Our focus has a cross-disability perspective, providing persons with disabilities access to the educational, research, social, cultural, and economic resources that assistive technology can provide. It is a people-first initiative whose goal is to help persons integrate into the mainstream of society. To accomplish this, networking and cooperative efforts are essential. The mission is to develop an effective network of state and local agencies, non-profit organizations and consumer advocacy groups to work with the Partnership for Assistive Technology. Male (2003) stated, "Creating a vision does not mean waiting until all the elements are in place before the work begins." (p. 146).

Goals of PAT

As Gable, Mostert, and Tonelson (2004) state, "Teacher collaboration has become a legitimate service delivery option for students with disabilities and students at risk for learning and/or behavior problems." With this in mind, the overarching goal of the Partnership for Assistive Technology is to play a distinct and pre-eminent role in the assistive technology field by bringing knowledge and applications about assistive technology to students, faculty, and the community. Detailed goals include:

* Develop an effective network of state and local agencies, non-profit organizations and consumer advocacy groups to work with the Partnership for Assistive Technology.

* Increase the awareness of the effectiveness of assistive technology to teacher candidates and other interested professionals.

* Procure state-of-the-art assistive technology for students with disabilities and provide assessment and training.

* Create two assistive technology labs for AT assessment and training. Complete and unveil the assistive technology laboratory at A. Harry Moore and start developing an Assistive Technology Laboratory and Service Systems (ATLASS) at NJCU.

* Provide training on the use and purpose of assistive technology to classroom teachers, school district administrators, family support members, NJCU faculty, and other interested stakeholders.

* Advocate for the availability of assistive technology across all applicable departments and programs.

* Advocate for research on assistive technology by faculty and teacher candidates with special emphasis on the quality of student outcomes as a result of the use of AT.

* Conduct a large assistive technology conference in the Spring that could include faculty, staff, and teachers and administrators from school districts around the state.

* Share our experiences in creating the PAT for publication and presentations.

* Formalize the PAT through such venues as a Web site on the College of Education's site.

* Add to the expertise of the members of PAT by including a representative of the academic computing lab, a speech therapist, and the Grants office when related topics are on the agenda.

* Meet with representatives from the Business Incubator to discuss possible joint ventures.

* Increase outreach/presence locally (Hudson/Essex) and statewide at AT and disability conferences.

* Establish NJCU as a registered AT provider through professional memberships with the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) and the Assistive Technology lndustry Assn. (ATIA).

Accomplishments

Although the Partnership for Assistive Technology has only been in place for the past year, we feel that we have accomplished a great deal. By first coming together and defining the partnership, our mission, and our goals, we were able to start implementing our vision. We used the last meeting of the academic year to recap what we had already accomplished and reviewed what we were doing in the coming year.

This year we started getting approvals for an assistive technology lab and resource center. The space has started to be cleared. Next year the lab will be established. Last year we were represented at a small regional AT conference. In September we will be at a large, national conference. Realizing this success depends upon the integration of people and technology, we plan to expand the expertise of the PAT by including community stakeholders, the chair of the University computer lab, students, and parents. We envision our collaboration becoming more diverse in order to increased support, both philosophical and financial, for our efforts in institutionalizing assistive technology.

Conclusion

The effort to form and develop a collaborative partnership has been productive, interesting, and fun. Peck and Scarpati (2004) provide food for thought when they pose their question, "Is it [collaboration] a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time?" (p. 7). No individual working alone could have accomplished what our partnership has. "Providing appropriate access to technology for students with special needs is a daunting task, and one that cannot be done without a collaborative approach, because no single entity has sufficient resources or expertise to do the job in isolation." (Male, 2003, p. 132).

Through PAT, we have discovered that people with different areas of expertise, with a common goal and working collaboratively, can form a foundation for systemic changes within an educational institution.

References

Alliance for Technology Access (2000). Computer and web resources for people with Disabilities, 3rd ed. CA: Hunter House Inc.

Center for Applied Special Technology. (2004). Universal design for learning. Accessed June 2, 2004 at http://www.cast.org/udl/

Gable, R. A., Mostert, M. P., & Tonelson, S. W. (Spring 2004). Assessing professional collaboration in schools: Knowing what works. Preventing School Failure, 48 (3), 4-8.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (PL 105-17); Part A, Section 602 Retrieved June 28, 2004 fi-om http://wvvw.ideapractices.org/law/index.php.

International Society for Technology in Education. Educational computing and technology programs: Technology facilitation initial endorsement. Retrieved June 1, 2004 from http://cnets.iste.org/ncate/n-fac-stands.html.

Male, M. (2003). Technology for inclusion: meeting the special needs of all students, 4th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Group, Inc.

New Jersey City University College of Education. (2004). The conceptual framework for the college of education: Reflective Urban Practitioner Model (Draft). Jersey City, NJ: New Jersey City University, College of Education.

Peck, A. F., & Scarpati, S. (Eds.) (May/June 2004). Collaboration in the age of accountability. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36 (5), 7.

Amerman is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education. Aitken is Director of Project Mentor, a regional center and academic support program for students with learning disabilities. Shamburg is an assistant professor in the Educational Technology Department. Twomey is Chairperson of the Educational Technology Department.
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Author:Twomey, Cordelia
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2004
Words:2767
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