Assessment of Learners with Disabilities and / or Learning Difficulties (LLDD) for Assistive Technologies.
When trying to develop a solution to support a disabled learner to access technology, or to promote their use of technology for a purpose (i.e. communication or writing), it is imperative that the learner is assessed by a competent practitioner. In my experience this is ideally done by an Assistive Technologist in a multi-disciplinary team working alongside other specialists (e.g. Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT), Occupational Therapist (OT) etc.) to establish suitable access solutions and learner goals. However, the Assistive Technologist is a new and emerging role whose duties are currently often absorbed into another’s job role, whose position can be placed in a range of departments including IT Support, Communication, SaLT, OT or Functional Skills.
In order to support practitioners to perform a coherent and useful Assistive Technology assessment, 2 online Google Docs forms have been developed, with accompanying printable PDF copies; an Initial (or pre-entry) Assessment, the purpose of which is to aid the practitioner in writing a report to support the learner’s application to college, and a Baseline Assessment, from which learner goals and information can be collated and disseminated to relevant academic staff and clinicians once the learner has started at the education provider.
It is important to define what is meant here by Assistive Technology (AT). Bryant & Bryant (2003) tell us the term has a wide range of clinical applications across multiple disciplines; in fact “the application of technology to the general field of disabilities is referred to as AT” (Quist & Lloyd, 1997). However, for the purposes of this design project, the term Assistive Technology is being used solely with regards to an educational setting and is thus being defined as:
“any item of hardware or software designed or used in order to make access to general IT or technology, teaching or learning resources and the wider curriculum easier for an individual learner who may have any combination of disabilities or learning difficulties.” (Maudslay, Slaughter, & Boulton, 2014)
This design activity attempts to address 2 separate pedagogical issues; firstly, and most importantly, the use of an assessment to develop access methods to technology to promote inclusivity for disabled learners. Secondly, to develop the ability and confidence of the assessing practitioner to undertake such a task.
In order to undertake this type of assessment, certain assessor criteria needs to be met:
- An overview of hardware and software solutions. The assessor needs to know available solutions in order to recommend them.
- The ability to communicate to a learner. This may involve training in the use of signing, symbols and other alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) methods. Lloyd & Wendt (2011) tell us that knowledge of how an individual communicates allows us to present information in a way that is easy for the student to learn.
- An holistic overview of other surrounding issues that may affect a learner during their assessment, i.e. behaviour issues associated with Autism, tiredness due to seizure activity, lack of confidence with unknown persons etc.
This proposed method for an Assistive Technology assessment is completed over 3 separate stages, each with different purposes and outcomes:
- Initial (or ‘pre-entry’) Assessment purpose
usually conducted as a one-off short (½ -1 hour) event
- To ascertain the suitability of the provider for the learner
- Establish initial preference for access methods to technology (hardware and software solutions)
- To evidence the suitability of placement to funding commissioners
- To prepare the College for this learner’s potential intake
- Initial Assessment outcome
- Report to commissioners on suitability of provision
- Baseline Assessment
a process usually conducted over the first 6-week half-term
- Develop learning goals
- Refine access methods
- Log information about how the learner uses technology
- Baseline Assessment outcome
- Disseminate within institution to other education and care staff and therapists.
- Continuing Assessment
an on-going process during their placement
- Learners may exceed their initial proposed learner goals
- They may develop, either physically or cognitively to allow access more challenging tasks.
- They may lose some ability due to their disability and access methods needs to be refined.
- New technologies are being developed and something more suitable may be available during the course of their programme.
The overall outcome of this activity is to recommend and / or develop an access solution that best suits a learner and to also help shape their future curriculum by finding activities that are motivational and achievable. Lloyd & Wendt (2011) suggest that we must consider current performance level to develop realistic goals to avoid setting learners up to fail (i.e. by giving them tasks beyond their physical and cognitive limits imposed by their disability). This enables us to establish a baseline from which to measure success and to challenge and inspire learners to develop their independence as is the purpose of an Independent Specialist College (The Association of National Specialist Colleges, n.d.).
This learning activity does have limitations and cannot be viewed in isolation of other training in the use of Assistive Technology. The information presented in these prescriptive forms are not realistic of an actual assessment activity in which activities and processes will be guided by the learner and their abilities. It would not do well to follow all the items within the forms in the order that they are presented. The forms assume competency and they simply inform a structure for producing a report or collecting data.
However, analysing this activity using Salmon’s 5 Stage Model (2014), demonstrates that a prescriptive form does have enormous benefits in offering access and motivation in introducing a practitioner to this complex process. However, that is where the support ends as there is no community or guidance offered beyond the scope of the activity. If this project were to be developed further I would wish to include hyperlinks on the form to instructional videos, relevant resources and areas for support and development including relevant forums and Twitter handles of established practitioners in the field of Assistive Technology.
We live in a an exciting time where according to Wyer (2001) technology is viewed as “the great equalizer” allowing learners with physical difficulties and learning disabilities access to education at a level relative to their understanding. A comprehensive Assistive Technology assessment process enables practitioners to obtain the best out of their learners, using technology to overcome barriers and minimise the impact of their disability to help students develop their independence.
Bryant, B. R., & Bryant, D. P. (2003). Assistive technology for people with disabilities. Boston: Pearson.
Lloyd, L. L., & Wendt, O. (2011). Augmentative and alternative communications perspectives volume 4: Assistive technology : Principles and applications for communication disorders and special education Emerald Insight.
Maudslay, L., Slaughter, R. & Boulton, A. (2014). Assistive technology in further education organisations: A report on the findings of a questionnaire sent out as part of the Dart2 project. Retrieved from http://find.jorum.ac.uk/resources/bitstream/531439
Quist, R. W., & Lloyd, L. L. (1997). Principles and uses of technology. In: Lloyd, L. L., & Wendt, O. (2011). Augmentative and alternative communications perspectives volume 4: Assistive technology : Principles and applications for communication disorders and special education Emerald Insight.
Salmon, G. (2014). Five stage model – Gilly Salmon. Retrieved from http://www.gillysalmon.com/five-stage-model.html
The Association of National Specialist Colleges.Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability. Retrieved from http://www.natspec.org.uk/fileadmin/publications/Briefing_paper_Green_paper_final.pdf
Wyer, K. (2001). The great equalizer: Assistive technology launches a new era in inclusion. Teaching Tolerance, (19)