“Tools and strategies empower learners to access their school day, curriculum and dreams. Access is the first step to meaningful inclusion.”
– Debra Fitzgibbons, OTAP and RSOI coordinator
Approximately 185 therapists and assistive technology professionals from across the state of Oregon attended the AT-TIES Together conference in Salem.
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Assistive Tech for Students
As a child Carol Allen panicked because she didn’t know how to complete a math problem. Her teacher leaned in close and said, “Let me show you another way.” Allen learned how to find the answer by using a different method.
“I’ve never forgotten that feeling of panic,” said Allen who has spent her career as a literacy and inclusion educator. “That’s how some kids with disabilities can feel all day.”
Allen presented a keynote address at a recent AT-TIES Together state conference held at the Salem Convention Center. This international speaker traveled all the way from England. The statewide conference brought together assistive technology teams (AT) with therapists in educational settings (TIES). These teams help ensure that learners have the tools they need to learn and thrive. The community shared knowledge and learned from each other. They had hands-on access to the latest technologies and current resources.
Jodi Szuter, left, education specialist with School Health shows assistive technology tools to Debra Fitzgibbons, OTAP and RSOI coordinator.
Douglas ESD Deputy Superintendent Bryan Hinson attended the conference and said, “The AT-TIES Conference is a great resource for occupational therapists and physical therapists to come together and learn from the latest and greatest in their fields.”
Cindy Eiynck a Douglas ESD occupational therapist who works in Jackson County mentioned that she looks forward to attending this conference. “I appreciate the quality level of speakers and assortment of topics to choose from that I can then take home and directly apply to my job as an occupational therapist working in the preschool classrooms.”
Claire Cunningham works as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). She teaches the use of assistive technologies (AT). She appreciates the conference because it brings together all the therapists who work with children who are often in need of multiple services.
The conference was organized by Oregon Technology Access Program (OTAP) and Regional and Statewide Services for Students with Orthopedic Impairments (RSOI). Additionally, Douglas ESD provided administrative, event planning and IT support.
Stacie Wiley, Douglas ESD’s systems integrator provides technology support at the AT-TIES Together Conference.
OTAP and RSOI are grant-funded programs through the Oregon Department of Education. The programs have been housed at Douglas ESD since their inception. The programs offer live and virtual trainings such as conferences and workshops. Technical resources and an assistive technology loan library are also available to school districts and families. The goal of these grants is to help individuals discover the tools they need to participate in their education and to achieve their personal goals for learning and independence.
“Everyone deserves the right to a meaningful and inclusive education. Assistive technology and therapist supports ensure all learners have the tools they need to access their education,” said Debra Fitzgibbons, OTAP and RSOI coordinator. “Assistive technology tools help people overcome barriers and accomplish tasks that they couldn’t otherwise accomplish.”
Fitzgibbons mentioned that accessibility is built into many devices that we already use. An iPad or computer’s text-to-speech feature is one example. Other specific tools such as a C-Pen reader allow learners to move the pen over text to hear words read aloud.
“Tools and strategies empower learners to access their school day, curriculum and dreams. Access is the first step to meaningful inclusion,” said Fitzgibbons.
“Start with the student’s interests, abilities, and difficulties, the characteristics of the environment, and the demands of the task before you begin looking for tools that will help the student,” said Penny Reed, Ph.D., independent consultant in the field of special education specializing in assistive technology services. This assistive technology author and leader started the OTAP and RSOI programs with grants from the Oregon Department of Education more than 30 years ago. Reed continues to provide guidance to educators about best practices in the field of assistive technology. She attended the AT-TIES Together conference as a presenter and attendee.
Dr. Penny Reed, special education independent consultant (right), attended the AT-TIES Together conference as a speaker and attendee. Reed presented the Penny Reed Award for Excellence in Assistive Technology Innovation & Leadership to AT specialist Shannon Henry from Northwest Regional ESD.
OTAP has a technology lending library available to families and educators. There’s something for learners of all ages. The selection includes switch-adapted toys, devices to assist with everyday living and communication tools. Items can be checked out for up to six weeks.
“By borrowing equipment from our loan library through OTAP, educators can try a piece of equipment out. That way they can see if the student is going to benefit from the technology before their district makes what can sometimes be a costly purchase,” said Hinson.
“Over the years, OTAP has been extremely helpful to us in the Jackson County EI/ECSE [Early Intervention, Early Childhood Special Education] as we formed our AT [Assistive Technology] team from the ground up. We are very thankful for OTAP and all of the support and training opportunities they have provided us,” said Eiynck.
To learn more about the OTAP and RSOI programs and resources, visit www.douglasesd.k12.or.us
Douglas ESD continues to find new ways to support the region. There are nearly 50 programs and services at Douglas ESD that champion children. This article is part of a series that will feature programs and people who help students succeed.
Edited: Sept. 5, 2023 * Claire Cunningham is an Oregon certified teacher and a certified speech language pathologist assistant (SPLA).