Empowering Rural Students with Disabilities Through Assistive Technology
Written by Patricia Deloney
Previous issues of SEEDS have focused on the implications of technological innovations for rural schools, addressing such topics as distance learning, statewide and state specific networks, along with policy issues. Another major area of technology that is producing a significant impact on rural education is that of the large and complex field of adaptive and assistive technology, which includes all those devices and services that help people with disabilities to improve, expand, and extend their capacity to interact with their environments and to function independently. The field uses the terms "assistive" and "adaptive" in describing the range of technology available. These terms have slightly different connotations, but we will refer to both types of technology as "assistive devices" to simplify the language.
New developments-primarily in computer technology-have expanded the potential for improving interactions, independence, and quality of life for people with disabilities far beyond anything imagined before. In schools, technological advances may reduce the need for a substantially altered curriculum or teaching methods for some students. This could conceivably lead to a reduction in the number of students who need special instruction. Further, in some cases, students with severe disabilities may be able to participate more in mainstream schooling and interact with classmates and teachers in ways that were previously impossible. Most important, the use of appropriate assistive technology in the education process increases the potential for persons with disabilities to succeed in independent living and to engage in productive employment, as well as to enjoy an improved quality of life.
Along with the positive aspects of assistive technology will come new issues and complicated questions. One important challenge posed by the growing use of assistive technology is the need for educators to stay abreast of new developments. This issue of SEEDS will attempt to encapsulate for the rural educator an overall perspective on the field of adaptive and assistive technology and issues related to its use in rural schools. The discussion will address devices available for students, the legal mandates related to the use of assistive technology in schools, funding for assistive technology devices and services, existing support systems in the Southwest Region, implications for rural school administration, and resources to help educators who are planning and implementing assistive technology programs.
Next page: Defining Assistive Technology