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from Spring 97 issue

Responding to the Technology Revolution

by Edgenie Lindquist, Blind and Visually Impaired Caseworker Consultant for Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

It's an exciting time to be in the middle of a revolution. Not the kind with bullets and bombs, thankfully—but as we enter into the Information Age, the way we communicate with one another is moving at warp speed. Every person, industry, and government is having to adjust to constant change. This includes the worlds of education, work, and services for children with visual impairments.

The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) 's technology loaner program, when it began, was one of the most progressive programs of its day for children with visual impairments. The agency knew that technology could open doors previously closed to people with visual impairments and that children could benefit from access to computers and other technological aids both in school and at home. The program operated effectively for many years.

Because of the technology revolution the loaner program needs to change. The Commission has made a commitment with its education partners to remodel this program into a better program to get children and youths the technology they need in order to compete successfully in the Information Age. What will not change is the program's recognition that every child or youth is an individual with unique needs.

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

The Blind and Visually Impaired Children's Technology Loaner Program was designed to enable students who are visually impaired to access technology outside of their educational environment. The system was structured so that caseworkers and counselors based decisions to purchase technology on the recommendations of the VI teachers (teachers of the visually impaired). This procedure worked well for two basic reasons: the Commission received good support from VI teachers and the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and technology was then limited in both variety and number, especially speech and braille adaptive devices.

Technology changes have effected this program in various ways:

• Technology considered progressive only five years ago has now become obsolete. (How many people bought 386 computers that are still useful today?) What were once state-of-the-art devices have become relics collecting dust in warehouses.

• Technology has become much more complicated and choices have increased, making technology decisions increasingly more difficult.

• Although loaner equipment guidelines were developed with special care to ensure that children's caseworkers and transition counselors could consider the unique circumstances of each child or youth, parents and education professionals are increasingly unclear about how decisions are being made.

THE REMODELING PROCESS

The Commission's commitment to bring about change has begun. An Interagency Technology Taskforce that includes ESC representatives (VI consultants), TSBVI representatives (classroom teachers and technology specialists) and TCB representatives (Children's Program caseworkers, Transition Program counselors, employment assistance specialists, and administrative staff) has already met. Each taskforce member represents their respective program and brings in ideas from across the state.

The task force's goal is to develop guidelines for purchasing technology that create an effective team of families, educational professionals, and TCB staff at the local level.

TASK FORCE RECOMMENDATION TO DATE

• Guidelines will be based on federal and state law.

Of utmost importance is the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which lays out specific guidelines for a free and appropriate public education for our children and youth with disabilities. It requires each local education agency to ensure that Assistive Technology devices or Assistive Technology services, or both, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child's special education, related services, or supplementary aids and services.

Unlike the educational system, where children are entitled to services, the Commission's programs are available to children determined eligible according to defined criteria. Understanding the difference between entitlement and eligibility is necessary for a complete understanding of what the agency can provide and how services are delivered.

The Commission's Transition Program serves youths determined eligible under the amended provisions of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Children eligible for this program may receive various types of services, including rehabilitation technology.

State law determines who is eligible to receive services from the Commission's Blind and Visually Impaired Children's Program (BVICP) and the boundaries within which the agency is expected to operate. The commission may provide services to visually impaired children to supplement the services provided by other state agencies. To be able to do this the commission determines that the provision of the services is appropriate and that the services will assist the children in achieving financial self-sufficiency and a fuller and richer life. It was the intention of the legislature that all state agencies concerned with visually impaired children cooperate fully to achieve this purpose.

• Guidelines should contain definitions.

To make sure everyone involved in the process is speaking the same language, IDEA's definition of assistive technology will be used:

". . . 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."

As you see the definition of assistive technology is not limited to "computers." This encourages broader, less traditional thinking about what technology may benefit a child.

• Requests for technology should prompt initial questions.

The TCB caseworker or counselor will begin reviewing a technology request made by a parent or education professional by asking such questions as:

* Has an assistive technology evaluation been completed yet?

* How is the child or young adult accessing technology while at school?

* Are technology related goals written into the child or young adult's IEP?

Because of its own federal and state laws, the Commission will be asking these questions before it can provide supplemental services. The agency must first be sure the requested technology is not necessary for the child or young adult's educational program. If it is needed for school, purchasing the technology is the responsibility of the local education agency. With limited resources available to the Commission, it is essential to take advantage of existing systems that can provide us with the necessary information to make good decisions. These questions will help smooth the process of assessing, identifying, and accessing technology.

• The Commission should access existing assessments.

Each local education agency is required to have an Assistive Technology Team (ATT). Using the ATT's assistive technology evaluation and information from the most recent comprehensive assessment (especially the functional vision evaluation and learning media assessment) is a great starting point in identifying technology options of potential benefit to the student. The ATT has a wealth of knowledge, but not necessarily about vision. To make the evaluation more useful, parents should advocate that a VI Teacher be part of the ATT's assessment.

• Identification of appropriate technology should be the result of teamwork.

Once the school's assessment has been shared with the Commission, there should be open communication between the parent, caseworker, and educational staff to determine what technology is needed in each environment. Each person should talk about the skills they want the child to have in a variety of environments (e.g., school, home, community, vocational, social, independent living).

• Desired outcomes should be a guiding factor in decision making.

Team members should focus on the tasks and specific skills needed by the student in the various environments. "Low tech" options should be considered before choosing more high technology options. Team members should be encouraged to think creatively about how to meet the child's individual technology needs.

• A teamwork approach would help define financial responsibilities.

As the team identifies the technology needed by the child to achieve definite outcomes in various environments, it should be easier to determine where each member can contribute financially. Although the Commission must look at family income as a resource, the team as a whole should explore other resources, such as the TSBVI Technology Loaner Program and the United Cerebral Palsy Loaner Program.

• The needs of children will change as they mature.

Children's needs change as fast as technology changes. Individual teams making technology decisions will need to commit to reevaluate a child's needs at any appropriate point.

THE NEXT STEPS

The Commission and the Interagency Technology Task Force are asking parents and professionals for help. Think about where services have been and where they are now. As a team think about the type of technology services that need to be available to the student in the future. The Information Age is shaping the world in which our children will live and compete, so we must pool all resources to make effective decisions. Recommendations may be made to any of the task force members listed below.

Edgenie Lindquist, BVICP Consultant, TCB
(512) 459-1578

Cathy Duvall, Manager,
Employment Assistance Services, TCB- (512) 459-2570

Mary Anne Longenecker, Adaptive Tech.Unit, TCB
(512) 467-6310

Gary Everhart, Transition Counselor, TCB
(512) 459 -2541

Nancy Hefner, Technology Teacher, TSBVI
(512) 454-8631

Kitra Gray, VI Consultant, Region X ESC
(214) 231-6367

Debra Leff, VI Consultant, Region XIII ESC
(512) 919-5313

Olga Uriegas, Education Specialist, Region XI ESC
(817) 740-3619

Cecilia Robinson, Technology Specialist, TSBVI Outreach
(512) 206-9269

Peggy Briscoe, Life Skills Teacher, TSBVI
(512) 206-9337

Steve Halvorsen, BVICP Caseworker, Victoria, TCB
(512) 575-2352

Marshall Nay, Employment Assistant Specialist, TCB
(512) 459-2574

Robert Pearson, Technology Teacher, TSBVI
(512) 454-8631

Lucy Westbrook, Technology Support Specialist, TCB
(512) 467-6491


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from Spring 97 issue