There is a well-known quote about hoping to have the wisdom to know the difference between things one can change and things one cannot. There’s something else to consider in many situations, though: the wisdom to know that a difference even exists between things that seem similar.
As an occupational therapist specializing in assistive technology for more than twenty years, one of the misconceptions that I’ve come across most often in my practice is the idea that technology is the same thing as assistive technology, when, in fact, there is great difference between the two. Another common misunderstanding is that instructional technology – or even information technology or educational technology – are one and the same as A.T.
Each of these things, however, is distinct from the others:
Technology – a category of devices, materials, and tools, each of which has been created for a particular purpose
Information Technology (or “I.T.”) – the use of computers, telephones, and other equipment needed to store, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data, often in the context of a business
Educational Technology (or “Edtech”) – the practice of facilitating learning by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources
Instructional Technology – the integration of technology for the purpose of enhancing instruction. This includes designing, developing, utilizing, managing, and evaluating the processes and resources for learning, in a general context.
Assistive Technology (“A.T.”) – an item, piece of equipment, set of materials, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or custom-made, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a person with a disability, and the knowledge and use of specifically targeted strategies in the selection, design, implementation, and/or use of an assistive technology device
In the spectrum of technology, the purpose of the design and the application of materials as well as the experience, training, and knowledge of the individuals involved in recommending and implementing the use of those materials determines the category into which the service falls.
So what does all of that mean, in practical terms?
Any type of technological equipment using for a general purpose of saving or organizing data or of getting information from one person to another is Information Technology. In an educational setting, technological materials used as part of the teaching process, ranging from a teacher entering grades on her computer to a student using a calculator for math, is Educational Technology. Instructional Technology, while closely related to EdTech, is more specialized because it involves the use of technology in the process of teaching; Instructional Tech is often used when materials or devices (or recommendations for either) are issued to a teacher for the purpose of helping her to teach her students, in both general education and special education settings. An example of the practice of Instructional Tech is a set of iPads being issued to a special education teacher for use in a preschool classroom – or even just a list of general app recommendations being provided to that teacher.
Assistive Technology is the most specialized application of technology as it involves the use not just of technological equipment but also of specific strategies that have been developed and implemented with the goal of influencing outcomes for a specific person, based on the strengths and weaknesses and the interests of that person. The practice of A.T. is much more than providing a device like a communication switch, a computer, or an iPad or even a list of apps such as “The Top Ten Apps for Children With Autism;” along with the materials being recommended, it includes a plan and a reason for that plan.
Why is this distinction important? Because, once technological materials have been issued, the main reason for the lack of success in using them is a lack of knowledge of how to do it, based on research, experience, and expertise of those involved in the program. In my experience, it isn’t nearly enough for a school district, a business, or a hospital or other facility to simply give a device to a person with special needs. Even if the person seems to enjoy using the equipment and even if he or she seems to have a general idea of how to use it, there is more to the provision of quality of the plan that needs to accompany that device. Even if a person with a college degree in teaching and/or with training or talent in technology is involved in doling out the products, there is still more to the picture. Customization of the design and set-up of the equipment, according to the specific needs of the individual involved, is essential to the success of the program, and that’s why assistive technology specialists are needed.
The mission of this blog will be to share information and strategies about the real-life application of products that can be used in the context of assistive technology. Please follow along to learn more about the logistics of specific types of equipment, creative ideas for successful implementation of A.T. devices and materials, and advice on the use of roll-out strategies and troubleshooting for the successful application of materials in the field.