You might be wondering or worrying about some of the following: “My son always seems to be by himself because he can’t get around as well as other children his age.” “My daughter can’t speak as well as other children. She’s given up trying because no one understands her.” “We never seem to have any family fun anymore because our little one with all his physical disabilities is too difficult to take along.” “Our teenage son has so few skills we think he’s never going to be able to have a job.” “If only there were toys my little girl could use.” “We think our elementary child could do better in school, but she has such an awful time writing she can never get written assignments done.” “Our son uses a wheelchair very independently. But at school his recess yard is not accessible, neither is the library. He even needs help opening those big, heavy doors to the front entrance. He can’t use some of the rooms in our house, either.” Answers for worries like these can sometimes be found in the right device or service.
Recreational activities: a family who enjoys winter sports is able to ski together because their son takes advantage of a Maine skiing instruction program designed for people with disabilities. Another family whose two sons use wheelchairs enjoys camping: through an equipment loan program the family has a low-interest loan to buy an adapted van.
Socialization and independence: a young man whose disability severely limits his mobility uses a motorized wheelchair around his city, avoiding isolation, increasing peer interaction.
Education: School buildings and school facilities are adapting to assure the integration of students with disabilities in regular school activities. Educational opportunities and programs assure that students with disabilities learn alongside students without disabilities. Some older schools have adapted their buildings and facilities; new school construction has playgrounds, bathrooms, cafeterias and lunchrooms to accommodate the needs of their students with disabilities. Schools are also beginning to modify their educational programs, using assistive technologies and universal design for learning, to ensure that all students (including students with disabilities, those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and students (“at risk”) have equal access to the general curriculum.
Not every educational program is accessible to each and every individual student. Even new schools and programs may require adjustments based on the specific facility and the access needs of that school’s students.
Some students require assistive technology to move from school to work. Skills for job readiness and/or strategies such as modified curriculum, adapted equipment, transportation, computers and communication systems can be developed with the aid of technology.
Employment: Assistive technology helps increase the likelihood that a young person with a disability can compete in the post-high school or post-college job market. Job-site modifications make buildings, vehicles, telephones, machines, computers accessible.
Independent Living: AT increases the possibility that a person with a disability can live independently either alone or with friends. Adapted food preparation devices, organizational aids, adapted personal grooming and hygiene aids make it possible to safely and effectively live independently.
If you are thinking that there might be a device that could make your child’s or family’s life easier, that there might be a way to adapt an everyday item so that your child or young adult can use it, you might be right. Parents who want some help getting assistive technology have several resources.
Families invest more than money in their children’s assistive technology. Practical investments of time and emotional investments are made with every assistive technology purchase. Buying and then not using a device because of dissatisfaction is a routine familiar to families. Because of time and emotional investments, when equipment fails to perform as expected, family disappointment is great.
You and your team of professionals know best your child’s needs. An assistive technology assessment can help you and your team of professionals determine the best, most helpful equipment, modifications and services for your child and family.
An assistive technology assessment should help families choose the most appropriate technology that helps their children do what they need to do. Federal law defines an assistive technology assessment as “a functional evaluation of the individual in the individual’s customary environment.” Evaluators are individuals or a team of professionals with knowledge of your child’s disability and knowledge of helpful technology. Including family members and, as appropriate, your child or young adult as part of the evaluating team, is important to help identify both the strengths and also the things that are difficult for your child.
An assessment recommends devices and services - including modifications to your child’s and family’s environment - based on your child’s and family’s strengths, needs and lifestyle. An assessment should be specific to your child, family, family lifestyle, home, and your child’s school. Your child’s assessment is not what “most children with cerebral palsy” or what “most children with learning disabilities” or what “most children” with any other disability require. Your child’s needs should be evaluated based on your child’s personal strengths and needs, your family’s needs and lifestyle. Assessments that include personal considerations about your child and family make the best recommendations about assistive technology.
In doing the assessments these are examples of some of the things evaluators need to know: What does your child do well? What does your child have difficulty doing? What does your child enjoy doing? What’s working? Why is it working? What are the difficulties your family wants assistive technology to resolve? What does the child/young adult want to be able to do? What has already been tried?
Evaluators should be able to determine whether devices and services for your child’s personal use, modifications to your child’s or family’s environment or a combination of both would improve function. Evaluators should be able to recommend helpful devices and explain how they are used. Your child should be able to use the devices and services recommended by an evaluator. An evaluator should recommend necessary training and a way to assure and monitor the safe and effective use of recommended devices.