Assistive Technology

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource." -President John F. Kennedy

There’s a custom among some people who value education to answer a question with a question. Then, they debate or discuss options, alternatives and/or actions. Mark W. Cerasale, Ed.D., administrator/program specialist for the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS) Technology State Loan Library, adheres to that practice regarding assistive technology (AT).

The question from school district administrators, for themselves and for parents, might be: Is the AT a child is using outdated, and could it be replaced by a device with improved/more features?

In discussing “Getting Assistive Technology Through the Schools” — at the World Congress on Disabilities and Expo in Jacksonville, Fla. — Cerasale’s query-as-answer was: “What does it take to get the best technology available (which) your child needs to provide the best education possible?”

The presentation’s venue was fitting because William Schwaninger, WCD president, sees the Expo striving to improve the lives of the disabled, their families and professionals who work with them. “There are two days where you learn about issues from experts.” On display are products and services “improving lives,” and there are keynote speakers and special events.

Despite the benefits, getting AT through the schools isn’t a simple quiz. Using Florida as an example, Cerasale emphasized that AT specialists from FDLRS study a student’s cumulative file, discuss the Individualized Education Plan with the IEP team member, acknowledge consideration of AT, (and then) AT assessment/evaluation begins. The big test is getting the equipment. Step 1 is to approach school district local AT specialists. Step 2 is the FDLRS Technology Loan Library (www.fdlrs-tsll.scps.k12.fl.us). Other alternatives are regional assistive technology specialists (RLATS), FDLRS AT satellite labs, the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST) statewide loan library and FAAST regional demonstration centers.

The audience was informed that FDLRS assists and supports “appropriate use” of AT for professional staff, students, teachers and parents via local awareness, identification, acquisition and “effective integration” of assistive and adaptive technologies. It supports districts and schools in identifying accessible instructional and assessment media, and backs the use of technology to help students “manage their behavior to be successful in the classroom and community.”

FDLRS, Cerasale explains, provides diagnostic and instructional support services for district exceptional student education programs and families of students with “exceptionalities” statewide. Funding comes through the Bureau of Exceptional Education & Student Services (BEESS) for 19 associate centers that serve from one to nine school districts each. The centers “collaborate” with districts, agencies, communities and other personnel and educational entities, “providing education and support for school administrators, teachers, parents, therapists and students with exceptionalities.”
   
Each center retains specialists in technology, parent services and human resource development. Plus, BEESS supplies regional and statewide technology support services and accessible instructional media through Regional FDLRS technology specialists, regional AT specialists, a statewide loan library and technology services targeting AT, instructional technology and Universal Design for Learning.

Among other tools, Ceradale refers to the LoTTIE (Low-Tech Tools for Inclusive Education) Kit as a collection of more than 50 low- and mid-tech items which can help students with special needs be as “independent and successful as possible.” Developed by Judith P. Sweeney, president of Onion Mountain Technology, Inc., the LoTTIE Kit is used by regular education teachers, special education teachers, parents, instructional aides, occupational therapists and those who work with special needs students. “In these days of inclusion,” Cerasale stresses, “it’s important for regular educators to be aware of items such as these that can assist them with their students with special needs. (Most) items are very inexpensive and can benefit to all students.”

The LoTTIE Kit topics cover the following.
  • What is AT?
  • What are LoTTIE Kits?
  • Tools for reading, writing, math and organization.
  • Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) support tools.
  • Resources.
  • Follow-up for in-service credit.

As for the Phonological Awareness for Parents’ Assessment Tasks Summary, it includes:
  • What is phonological awareness? It’s the first component that supports the development of reading skills, and the ability to hear and work with the spoken language;
  • rhyme and rhythm;
  • blending syllables and sounds;
  • sequencing of sounds;
  • segmenting;
  • manipulation of sounds;
  • read, read, read; and
  • more information.

Also due extra credit is the Wonders of Word Assessment Tasks Summary. Cerasale says it highlights tabs to toolbars; customized toolbars; picture toolbars extra credit (optional); keyboard shortcuts; visual presentation; writing and typing tips; reading supports; summaries; test-taking accommodations; study skills and organization; language bar; voice recognition; text-to-speech technology; handwriting recognition; and putting it all together.

Addressing families, Cerasale contends FDLRS Parent Services yield information, training and support to district administrators and families to “promote effective parent participation” in the education of “children who are exceptional and/or have special needs.” The efforts are:
  • assist schools and districts in developing family friendly programs;
  • ensure that families have access to exceptional student education, training and information;
  • provide data to families and professionals as to local resources and family support groups; and
  • promote partnerships between schools and parents to support student achievement.

Child Find helps parents and school district officials with early identification of children who are at risk for special or unique needs and who aren’t being served in a public school. Primary emphasis is on children birth to five years of age.

For his part, Cerasale must be up-to-date on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Florida Administrative Code, Rule 6A-6: Special Programs I, and a school district’s exceptional student education policies and procedures. The “assumption” is to target ages three through 21, basically K-12.

Just as school administrators understand the importance of effective transitioning, with the aid of the appropriate AT, so does Cerasale — if by a different route. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a bachelor’s degree in marine science. During 24 years of active duty and a Naval Postgraduate School M.S. degree in telecommunications systems management, his postings included Key West, Fla., as deputy direction of command, control, communications and computer systems, and later command duty officer of a joint operations command center.

“From a theological perspective, my entry into the teaching field was the providence of God,” Cerasale insists. “During my transition from the military to the civilian sector, I was introduced to the U.S. Dept. of Defense’s Troops to Teachers Program. I literally walked off the street into the Seminole County (Fla.) Public School district offices and spoke with their recruiter. One hour later, I found myself in the office of the principal of Sanford Middle School. In less than 45 minutes, he offered me a job as a seventh grade science teacher.”

In July 2002, with “absolutely no public school teaching experience,” he accepted the position, and in his first year was “exposed to” students with disabilities — unfamiliar with terms like 504, IEP, accommodations, specific learning disability, and emotional disturbance. “By the grace of God, I didn’t have any major problems with meeting the needs of those exceptional student education (ESE) students who were assigned to my science class. However, their presence piqued my interest as to how they learned and how they were to be instructed.”

On May 5, 2006, Cerasale was accepted for the University of Florida’s Doctor of Education program/Curriculum and Instruction, with a specialization in Special Education Leadership for urban special education administrators and earned a M.A. in Exceptional Student Education.

Cerasale and district administrators alike might agree with the statement, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”


Herb Drill studied journalism at the University of Minnesota and has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In Jacksonville, Fla., he heads Able Me & Associates. His e-mail address is herbdrill@ableme.com.

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