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Assistive Technology Policies of State Departments of Education: The Baseline Investigation

This investigation was conducted prior to the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandated that assistive technology (AT) be considered for all students who receive Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). It serves as the baseline against which a current NATRI investigation of AT policies of State Departments of Education is being compared. The results of that analysis should provide evidence about the impact of the IDEA mandates related to AT

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ABSTRACT

A national survey of State Directors of Special Education was conducted in 1995 and 1996 to determine the perceived need for assistive technology policies and the extent to which assistive technology policies had been provided to local school districts in their states. Most respondents (86%) reported that there was a moderate to great need for assistive technology policies to be developed by local education agencies to guide the delivery of assistive technology services. The remainder believed that current federal and state laws and regulations are sufficient to ensure the delivery of such services.

Slightly more than two-thirds of the jurisdictions (35) either provided assistive technology policies, advisories, or technical assistance resources to local schools or were in the process of developing them. A content analysis was conducted of assistive technology policy-related documents provided by 25 of the states. Findings from the content analysis resulted in the identification of 14 topical areas that state and local education agency personnel should consider as they develop assistive technology policy or technical assistance guidelines. Several issues also were identified that have implications for assistive technology policy development and additional research.

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INTRODUCTION

The provision of assistive technology (AT) in federal law has created the opportunity for substantial changes in planning and implementing free, appropriate public education (FAPE) programs for students with disabilities who are receiving special education services. The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407) established common language for AT by providing the legislative definitions of assistive technology devices and services. The Tech Act, as it is known, provides the following definitions:

Assistive Technology Device: The term "assistive technology device" means 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 functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Assistive Technology Service: The term "assistive technology service" Wednesday, August 16, 2006ability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Such term includes:

(A) The evaluation of the needs of an individual with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the individual in the individual's customary environment;

(B) purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by individuals with disabilities;

(C) selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, retaining, repairing, or replacing of assistive technology devices;

(D) coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;

(E) training or technical assistance for an individual with disabilities or, where appropriate, the family of an individual with disabilities; and

(F) training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of individuals with disabilities (34 CFR 300.5, 300.6, 300.38).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 (P.L. 101-476) further established the federal commitment to assistive technology. First, IDEA adopted the language and definitions of the Tech Act provision, changing only the wording of individual to child or children. Second, IDEA...

provides that if a child with a disability requires assistive technology devices or services, or both, in order to receive a free appropriate education, the public agency shall ensure that the assistive technology devices or services are made available to that child, either as special education, related services, or as supplementary aids and services that enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes. Determinations of whether a child with a disability requires assistive technology devices or services under this programs must be made on an individual basis through applicable individualized education program and placement procedures(Federal Register, 1991, p. 41272).

Changes in federal policy under the IDEA necessitate the development of resources and policy guidelines by state and local education agencies to guide schools in the delivery of AT services. Julnes and Brown (1993) identified several general areas school districts need to address within policies in order to ensure that assistive technology needs are adequately met. They include: (a) ownership of equipment and provisions for home, school, and community use, (b) training for professional personnel, students and families, (c) evaluation to determine the need for assistive technology services, and (e) operational questions that help determine if AT is necessary for a student to receive a FAPE, related services, services in the least restrictive environment, or access to a school-sponsored program or activity on a nondiscriminatory basis.

A study of AT practices in Virginia, (Behrmann, Morrissette, & McCallen, 1993) found that only a small portion of eligible special education students were receiving assistive technology services and devices and that policy relating to assistive technology on Individual Education Programs (IEPs) was lacking. Based on their findings, recommendations were made for the development and distribution of state assistive technology devices and services policies and guidelines.

There is little empirical evidence available regarding the nationwide status of state education agency (SEA) policies and procedures related to AT services. An Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) search for national surveys related to AT services produced no reports of published research on the topic.

An unpublished study by Reid (1994) was located that reported the results of a national telephone survey of State Directors of Special Education or their designees to determine how SEAs were ensuring that students with disabilities were provided with needed AT. That survey also explored the AT information that was disseminated, systems used to track AT needs of students, sources of funding for AT devices and services, the status of interagency cooperative agreements, and the agencies that were responsible for administering portions of federal laws that dealt with funding for AT services.

Following is a summary of findings reported by Reid as a result of his 1994 research:

  • All SEAs distribute federal and state regulations for IDEA to local school districts.

  • Five states (10%) reported that state regulations had been revised to include a requirement that AT be considered during the assessment process.

  • Eight states (16%) had a separate budget or target IDEA discretionary funds each year for AT.

  • Three states (6%) maintained a long term program to loan AT equipment to students. Eleven states (22%) provided short term loans of equipment to local education agencies (LEAs) for evaluation purposes prior to purchase.

  • Twenty-two states (44%) had established technology centers or assessment teams that provide AT services.

  • Ten states (20%) distributed AT information to parents and teachers.

  • One state maintained a system for tracking the AT needs of students with disabilities, while an additional seven (14%) were developing such systems.

  • Most states used IDEA discretionary funds to purchase AT services and devices.

  • Four states (8%) indicated the existence of cooperative interagency agreements on provision of AT services.

It seems clear from the above findings that, with the exception of promulgating state and federal guidelines and authorizing the use of federal funds under IDEA, very few states were actively involved in policy-related activities dealing with the delivery of AT services to students with disabilities in 1994. Research findings such as this pointed to the need to explore additional questions with respect to the provision of AT services, which was the focus of this investigation.

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PURPOSE

The purpose of this investigation was to (a) examine the perceptions of State Directors of Special Education about the need for assistive technology policies in local school districts and (b) conduct an analysis of existing assistive technology policies. In addition to the survey of State Department of Education officials, local education agencies throughout the nation were contacted to obtain copies of their assistive technology policies. The findings of this investigation can be used as the basis for the development of model policies that can guide the delivery of assistive technology services in schools.

Research Questions

  • To what extent do special education leadership personnel in State Departments of Education perceive a need for policies to guide the delivery of assistive technology services in local education agencies?

  • Which State Departments of Education have developed assistive technology policies?

  • How aware are State Department of Education officials about the availability of assistive technology policies of local education agencies within their jurisdiction?

  • What topics are addressed in current State Department of Education assistive technology policies?

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PROCEDURES

Survey research procedures were used to answer the research questions. Following are descriptions of the survey instrument that was developed to collect the data, the population from which data were collected, and the data analyses that were conducted.

Instrumentation

A one page questionnaire consisting of six items was developed to gather data about AT policies from State Directors of Special Education. The first item asked: To what extent do you believe policies need to be developed by local education agencies to guide the delivery of assistive technology services? Respondents were asked to respond to a four point Likert-type scale with a response metric of No Need, Little Need, Moderate Need, or Great Need.

The second item asked: Do you have statewide assistive technology policies that have been circulated to local education agencies? Respondents were asked to report the current status of their AT policies with a three point response metric of YES, NO, or POLICY UNDER DEVELOPMENT.

The third item requested that respondents send a copy of their policy statements if the answer to Item two was YES. If the answer to Item two was POLICY UNDER DEVELOPMENT, the fourth item requested the anticipated target date for completion of policy development activities.

The fifth item asked: Are you aware of any local education agencies in your state that have developed workable policies on the delivery of assistive technology services? The response metric was YES or NO. If the answer was YES, the sixth item requested the names and addresses of people who could be contacted in order to obtain a copy of the AT policies.

Sample and Data Collection Procedures

The survey, accompanied by a cover letter and a postage-paid envelope, was sent to the Director of Special Education of each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Names and addresses were obtained from a list provided by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE).

The survey was mailed in December, 1995. Follow-up post cards were mailed two weeks later to serve as a prompt to return the surveys. By February 1, 1996, responses had been obtained from 39 of the 51 jurisdictions.

A total of 22 telephone calls were made to personnel from the 12 jurisdictions from which responses were not received. Those respondents were given options to complete the survey via mail, FAX, or phone. Memos and additional copies of the survey instrument were sent to individuals who had misplaced the originals. Six of these jurisdictions elected to respond via FAX, three responded via telephone, and the remaining three responded via mail.

In the event that respondents failed to answer any of the questions, follow-up letters were sent asking them to supply missing answers. All responses to all items on the survey were received by mid-May, 1996, for a response rate of 100 percent.

A summary of the response from each jurisdiction was then compiled and mailed back to all State Directors of Special Education, accompanied by a letter of thanks for their participation. At that time, they were requested to review the summary that had been prepared and were provided with an opportunity to edit their responses, make corrections, or provide additional information. Seven jurisdictions FAXed or mailed edited versions or provided additional information.

Although the survey instruments were addressed to State Directors of Special Education, the information was provided by those individuals in 44 of the jurisdictions, while designees of the State Directors responded in 7 instances. Those designees were staff members who worked directly with assistive technology services in each state.

Data Analysis

Data were compiled into a computer database. Separate records were established for each state and survey responses were entered into each record. Responses were coded by a research assistant and checked by the first author for accuracy. Responses to the six items on the survey were analyzed by totaling the number of states selecting each response and calculating the percentage of states responding to each.

A content analysis was conducted for the policy statements received in response to the survey. Three types of documents were sent by respondents. The first were identified as policy statements, the second as advisories, and the third were classified as technical assistance documents. Upon examination, the advisories appeared to correspond more to technical assistance documents than policy statements and were, consequently, treated as such for purpose of the content analysis.

Content analysis consisted of reading each document and determining its unique features and the features that it shared with other documents that were analyzed. Topical categories were generated as a result of this analysis. A total of 25 different topics were identified in the policy statements and 39 different topics were identified in the technical assistance documents (including the advisories).

Separate fields were constructed in the database for each of the topical areas and the analyses of the documents submitted by each state were entered into those fields. A jurisdiction was considered to include a topic if it was mentioned in the different documents that were examined. No value determinations were made about the scope or quality of the information provided for each topic.

The database was then sorted according to category and percentages of jurisdictions that included each topic in their various documents were computed. Summary statistics, in the form of percentages, also were calculated for the survey items that required a quantifiable response.

Data Analysis Reliability

An analysis was performed to examine the reliability of the tabulation of the survey response data and the content analysis decisions that were made about the topics that were contained in the policy and technical assistance documents. Five states (10%) were randomly selected for this analysis using a table of random numbers (Glass & Hopkins, 1984). Three independent evaluators (two graduate research assistants and one staff research associate in the Department) completed separate, independent analyses of the surveys and the documents for the five states. The point by point method (number of agreements divided by the number of agreements plus the number of disagreements multiplied by 100) was used to calculate interobserver reliability (Tawney & Gast, 1984). The overall percentage of agreement on tabulation of survey responses and the content analysis was 100%.

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RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The results and conclusions that were drawn from this investigation are included in this section, according to each of the four research questions described earlier. Summary statis tics will be presented, accompanied by verbatim comments written by some respondents to provide additional insight into the rationale for some of their responses.

Quality of the Data

The results reported in this section are based on a 100% survey response rate from the entire population of 50 State Directors of Special Education or their designees plus the District of Columbia. The validity of the data in response to Research Questions 1 and 2 should be considered to be quite high, since respondents were given the opportunity to correct any errors made by the researchers in interpreting the original responses. Seven respondents indicated that changes needed to be made in those interpretations and provided revisions of their original responses. Those revisions were made prior to analyzing the data.

As noted in the previous section, agreement on a 10 percent random sample of policy analysis data was 100%. This was interpreted to mean that decisions about analysis of the content of the various documents were being made on a reliable basis. The possibility does exist that errors were made in the policy analysis, however, since reliability data were not collected on the entire sample of policy statements. Given this limitation, however, the researchers place a relatively high degree of confidence in the quality of the data upon which the results and conclusions are based.

Need for Assistive Technology Policies

In response to Item 1 of the survey, 31 of the 51 respondents (60.8%) reported a great need for policies to be developed by local education agencies to guide the delivery of AT services. Thirteen respondents (25.4%) reported a moderate need. Following is a sampling of comments provided by the respondents who viewed the need as moderate or great:

  • LEAs need policies to guide their decision making about AT;

  • Planning and ongoing coordination are essential to integrating Assistive Technology into districts' existing programs and procedures for addressing the needs of students with disabilities. Policies should address staff development, identification of/access to resources, fiscal implications, integrated service delivery, transfer of technology across settings, and interagency cooperation;

  • Even with training, without policy a glass ceiling is hit; and

  • Much concern and confusion exists about AT, and policy would relieve these problems.

Four jurisdictions (7.8%) reported that there is little need for AT policies and 3 respondents (5.9%) indicated that no need exists. Representative comments that accompanied those reactions included:

  • Resource listings in the area would be more helpful. The law is the policy;

  • Since assistive technology is applicable for individual pupils with disabilities, we feel that the IEP process is adequate to address those needs. I don't believe local policies are necessary for our students' service. They are required to address need through IEP review for students under IDEA. Districts will also have available a technical assistance/best practices manual from our office; and

  • LEAs are responsible for providing FAPE to all students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment through an IEP that must include AT devices and services if determined to be necessary by the IEP team.

It was concluded from an analysis of these data that the majority (86%) of State Department of Education special education leadership personnel believe that there is a moderate to great need for local school districts to have policies to guide the delivery of assistive technology services. Clearly, however, this view is not held by all.

Seven respondents (14%) stated that there was little or no need for such policies. It should be noted, however, that those respondents were not insensitive to the need for assistive technology services. Rather, they reported that existing laws and policies were sufficient to cover AT services, since those services are specifically mentioned in the law (e.g., IDEA).

It appears that there were major concerns related to the costs associated with making AT devices and services available and that such concerns have the potential for affecting policy development, as indicated by the following comments that were made:

  • Lack of resources will deter LEAs from developing policies;

  • LEAs vary in their ability to provide services; and

  • They (LEAs) are frightened by AT and its costs.

In addition, there may be some confusion among a few state leaders about where AT services belong in the delivery of special education services. For example, one respondent who did not believe that AT policies were necessary reported:

  • AT is a related service. Procedures are in place for related services.

While this statement certainly is correct, it is not a reflection of the entire picture. As noted in the Introduction, the definition included in IDEA states that assistive technology devices or services can be viewed as special education, related services, or as supplementary aids and services. Thus, the view that AT should be considered only as a related service is not accurate, and is potentially limiting when plans are being made for using AT in IEP planning.

Existence of Assistive Technology Policies

The second research question addressed AT policy statements that were issued by the various jurisdictions. Item 2 of the survey inquired about the existence of such policies and whether AT policy development was underway if such policies were not currently available.

The existence of policy statements appears to have been somewhat affected by concerns that policy has with respect to legal liability to provide services described in policy statements. Several respondents indicated that this was the reason why "advisories", rather than policy statements, were being issued. In addition, it also was discovered that a number of jurisdictions provided AT technical assistance documents to local school districts.

Data related to the second research question are presented in Table 1.

Table 1
Status of Assistive Technology (AT) Policies and
Technical Assistance Documents

Jurisdiction

AT Policy
Available

AT Policy
Under
Development

AT
Technical
Assistance
Document
Available

AT Technical
Assistance
Document
Under
Development

Alabama YES NO YES NO
Alaska NO NO NO NO

Arizona

YES

NO

NO

YES

Arkansas

YES

NO

NO

NO

California

YES NO

NO

NO

Colorado

NO

NO

NO

NO

Connecticut

NO

YES

NO

YES

D. C.

NO

NO

NO

NO

Delaware

YES

NO

NO

NO

Florida

NO

NO

NO

NO

Georgia YES

NO

NO

NO

Hawaii

NO

YES

YES

NO

Idaho

NO

NO

NO

NO

Illinois

NO

NO

NO

NO

Indiana

NO

YES

NO

NO

Iowa

YES

NO

NO

NO

Kansas

NO

NO

NO

NO

Kentucky

YES

NO

NO

NO

Louisiana

YES

NO

NO

NO

Maine

NO

YES

YES

NO

Maryland

YES

NO

NO

NO

Massachusetts

YES

NO

YES

NO

Michigan

NO

NO

NO

NO

Minnesota

YES

NO

YES

NO

Mississippi

NO

YES

NO

NO

Missouri

YES

NO

YES

NO

Montana

NO

YES

NO

YES

Nebraska

NO

YES

NO

YES

Nevada

NO

YES

NO

NO

New Hampshire

NO

NO

NO

NO

New Jersey

NO

NO

NO

NO

New Mexico

NO

NO

NO

NO

New York

YES

NO NO

YES

North Carolina

YES

NO

NO

NO

North Dakota

YES

NO

NO

NO

Ohio

YES

NO

NO

NO

Oklahoma

YES

NO

NO

NO

Oregon

NO

YES

NO

YES

Pennsylvania

YES

NO

YES

NO

Rhode Island

YES

NO

NO

NO

South Carolina

NO

NO

NO

NO

South Dakota

NO

NO

NO

NO

Tennessee

YES

NO

NO

NO

Texas

NO

NO

NO

NO

Utah

YES

NO

NO

NO

Vermont

YES

NO

YES

NO

Virginia

YES

NO

NO

NO

Washington

YES

NO

NO

NO

West Virginia

YES

NO

NO

NO

Wisconsin

NO

NO

NO

NO

Wyoming

NO

NO

NO

NO

Twenty-six of the 51 jurisdictions (50.9%) indicated that AT policies had been completed and were being circulated to local school districts. An additional nine states (17.6%) were in the process of developing such policies. In states where AT policy development efforts were underway, it was projected that such policies would be completed by late 1997.

Of the 35 jurisdictions that had policies either in place or under development, 8 (15.7%) also provided AT technical assistance information. An additional 6 states (11.8%) were in the process of developing such resources at the time the survey was conducted. In jurisdictions where technical assistance development efforts were underway, it was projected that those resources would be completed by late 1997.

Sixteen of the jurisdictions (31.4%) did not provide specific AT policy or technical assistance information to school districts under their jurisdiction.

Assuming planning and development efforts remain on schedule, several conclusions were drawn from the data related to Research Question 2. First, 35 of the 51 jurisdictions (68.6%) will have AT policy statements, advisories, or technical assistance information available by the end of 1997. Second, nearly one-third of the jurisdictions (16) do not provide, or are not planning to provide, assistive technology policies or technical assistance resources to local school districts.

Awareness of LEA Assistive Technology Policies

Research Question 3 addressed the extent to which SEA officials were aware of school dis tricts under their jurisdiction that had workable AT policies in place. Twenty-one jurisdictions (41.2%) reported that they were aware of LEAs that had workable AT policies, while 28 jurisdictions (54.9%) reported that they were not aware of such policies. Two jurisdictions (3.9%) did not respond to this item.

Upon further analysis, it was interesting to note that, of the 35 jurisdictions that reported either the existence or the development of AT policies, 20 did not identify LEAs within their jurisdiction that had workable AT policies. On the other hand, six of the 28 jurisdictions that did not have AT policies, or planned to develop them, identified LEAs that had such policies.

Those SEAs that identified LEAs with workable AT policies were asked to provide the addresses or phone numbers of people at the LEAs who could be contacted to request copies of their policies. Correspondence requesting copies of their AT policies was initiated with the 52 LEAs that were identified as a result of the information that was provided. Responses were received from 31 LEAs that were contacted (60.8%) Eighteen of these (34.9%) sent copies of their policies. Seven of those who were contacted (13.5%) indicated that they did not have policies in place, but were working on them. Six of the LEAs (19.4%) indicated that they had not developed AT policies. Respondents without policies, and those who were developing them, requested information about policies other LEAs had developed as such policies were identified through this research.

These results may be due to one or more of the following factors: (a) LEAs in many states do not have workable AT policies; (b) AT policies and guidelines issued by some SEAs are not being implemented; (c) AT policies and practices are not being monitored by some SEAs; (d) Inaccurate or incomplete information is being provided by some LEAs to SEAs; (e) SEAs were unwilling to share this information; or (f) There is insufficient communication between some SEAs and LEAs about AT policies and practices. Regardless of the reasons for the results of this survey item, it was concluded that the majority of SEAs do not appear to be fully informed about the status of AT policies and practices in local school districts within their jurisdictions.

Content Analysis of Assistive Technology Policies

Research Question 4 focused on the content of the AT policies that were available at the time that the research was conducted. Twenty-five sets of documents were received in response to the request for copies of policy statements. It was discovered that three different types of documents were being distributed by the various jurisdictions. The first were policy statements, the second were referred to as advisories, and the third were technical assistance documents. An examination of the advisories lead the investigators to conclude that those were more similar to technical assistance documents than they were to policy statements. Consequently, the advisories were grouped with the technical assistance documents for purposes of content analysis.

The content analysis resulted in the identification of different topics that were evident in the two different types of documents that were examined. The topics that were identified are listed in Table 2. No priority should be inferred from the order of presentation of the topics.

Table 2
Topics Included in Assistive Technology (AT) Policy and
Technical Assistance Documents

Topic

In AT
Policy
Documents

In AT
Technical
Assistance
Documents

Student eligibility for AT services

YES

YES

Definition of AT device

YES

YES

Definition of AT as special education services

YES

YES

Definition of AT as a related service

YES

YES

Definition of AT as supplemental aids/devices for support in the regular program

YES

YES

Definition of AT services

YES

YES

Provision of AT services within a FAPE

YES

YES

AT funding

YES

YES

AT provided at no cost to parents

YES

YES

Provision for AT assessment

YES

YES

Personnel involved with AT assessment

YES

YES

Procedural guidelines for AT assessment

YES

YES

Provision for augmentative communication assessment

YES

YES

AT Training for professional personnel and students

YES

YES

AT Training for parents or families and students

YES

YES

Involvement of local school boards in IEP Committee decisions related to AT

YES

YES

Guidelines for AT service delivery

YES

YES

Guidelines for maintaining AT equipment

YES

YES

Evaluating the impact of AT services

YES

YES

Documentation of AT in the IEP

YES

YES

Interagency collaboration in the delivery of AT services

YES

YES

Building awareness about the availability of AT services

YES

YES

Provision of AT services for private school students

YES

YES

Home use of AT provided by LEAs

YES

YES

Strategies for conflict resolution

NO
YES

Inclusion of relevant laws applying to AT

NO
YES

Inclusion of policy letters written by federal agencies

NO
YES

Conflict resolution regarding AT

NO
YES

Question and answer format used to present information

NO
YES

Flow chart used to present information

NO
YES

Applications of AT use provided

NO
YES

Sample goals and objectives provided for AT

NO
YES

Description of state AT resources provided for LEA

NO
YES

Ownership of equipment discussed

NO
YES

Students qualifying for AT services under Part H funds

NO
YES

Sample IEP forms provided

NO
YES

Assistance provided for making AT recommendations

NO
YES

Follow-up services discussed

NO
YES

Disposal of equipment when students exit school programs

NO
YES

Thirty-nine different topics were identified as a result of the content analysis, 24 of which appeared in both the policy statements and in the technical assistance documents. As might be expected, the 14 topics addressed in the technical assistance documents, but not in the policy statements, focused more on procedures and details with respect to the implementation of assistive technology services than they did with policy.

Upon further inductive analysis, it was concluded that the 39 different topics could be clustered under 14 broad categories. These, and their significance, will be described in the following section of this report.

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ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS

Several issues and implications related to the establishment of policies and technical assistance information concerning the delivery of assistive technology services in schools are presented in this section, These are based upon the speculations of the researchers and their interpretations of the data that emerged from this nationwide investigation.

Philosophical Issues

Although this investigation determined that a majority of special education leadership personnel in State Departments of Education believe there is a moderate to great need for local education agencies to establish policies related to the delivery of assistive technology services, a substantial minority of their colleagues (14%) believe that such policies are not necessary. These positions appear to reflect philosophical differences.

Advocates for AT policies seem to believe that such policies will result in improved delivery of quality services to children. Those who are not in favor of AT policies seem to believe that existing legal and regulatory provisions are sufficient to ensure that quality services are provided.

It is interesting that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between beliefs about the importance of AT policies and the promulgation of such policies or related AT information. For example, while respondents from only 7 jurisdictions reported little or no need for AT policies, more than twice as many jurisdictions (15) provided neither AT policies or technical assistance information nor were they in the process of developing such materials. Thus there appears to be a discrepancy between reported beliefs and subsequent action. An alternate explanation, however, could be that some respondents who believe that policies should be established might also believe that it is the responsibility of LEAs to generate such policies and that guidance at the State level is unnecessary.

Philosophical issues also are reflected in the types of information disseminated by the jurisdictions to local school districts. Different types include policy statements, guidelines, advisories, technical assistance information, and various combinations of same. In all likelihood, decisions about the type of information to disseminate also are affected by concerns related to the cost of providing AT services and those related to legal liability to provide services described in policy statements.

Relationship between Policies and Practice

Although the majority of jurisdictions provide a variety of policy statements, advisories, and technical assistance information to local school districts, additional research needs to be conducted to determine the impact that such documents are having on the actual delivery of AT services in schools. The mere existence of such guidelines does not ensure the application of the principles and procedures that are advocated therein.

Furthermore, research needs to be conducted to determine the types of information that LEA personnel would find to be most useful as they develop their own policies and practices for the delivery of AT services. Such information should be quite helpful to SEA personnel who are involved in establishing policy guidelines and technical assistance information.

Collaboration between SEAs and LEAs

There appears to be a need for additional communication and collaboration between SEA and LEA personnel who are involved in the development of AT policies and technical assistance guidelines. Perhaps the comments of one respondent said it best:

  • As awareness of AT increases, the need for informed policies does likewise. LEAs should work cooperatively with the SEA to develop appropriate coherent policies.

Thus, it would seem to be important to view policy setting as a joint venture. Collaboration among those who are establishing AT policies at both the state and local levels should result in greater understanding and communication among all parties involved. In addition, communication between those who are establishing AT policies and those who are attempting to implement them should result in the development of policies that are grounded in reality.

Implications for Policy Development

The most practical results of this research resulted from an examination of the topics that emerged as a result of the content analysis of the policy statements and technical assistance documents that were obtained. The investigators determined that the topics listed in Table 2 could be clustered into 14 broad categories, which potentially could be used to guide the development of assistive technology policies, advisories, procedures, or technical assistance documents and practices.

An analysis was then conducted to determine the extent to which the jurisdictions that provided copies of their AT policies, guidelines, and technical assistance documents included each of the topics. Following is a list of the categories that were identified. The first number in parentheses represents the number of jurisdictions that addressed each topic. The second number represents the percentage of jurisdictions that addressed the topic. The percentage was calculated by dividing the number of jurisdictions that included a topic by the number of jurisdictions that provided documents for analysis (25).

  • Definitions of Assistive Technology Devices and Services (24/96%)

  • Legal and Regulatory Mandates for the Delivery of Assistive Technology Services (8/32%)

  • Eligibility Requirements for Assistive Technology Services (22/88%)

  • Interdisciplinary Involvement in Delivering Assistive Technology Services (1/4%)

  • Assistive Technology Screening and Assessment (22/88%)

  • Planning for Assistive Technology Services (20/80%)

  • Delivery of Assistive Technology Services (11/44%)

  • Equipment Management, Use, and Maintenance (21/84%)

  • Providing Assistive Technology Support Services (2/8%)

  • Assistive Technology Staff Development (21/84%)

  • Assistive Technology Interagency Collaboration (2/8%)

  • Dissemination of Information about Assistive Technology Services (21/84%)

  • Evaluation of Assistive Technology Services (4/16%)

  • Funding for Assistive Technology Devices and Services (21/84%)

In an effort to obtain an estimate of the comprehensiveness of policies and guidelines that were reviewed, the number of the 14 categories addressed by each of the 25 jurisdictions that provided documents was calculated. No jurisdiction addressed all 14 of the above topics. The average number of topics addressed was 8 with a range from 1 to 12, and a standard deviation of 2.75.

The frequency with which reporting jurisdictions addressed the various topics ranged from 1 (interdisciplinary involvement) to 24 (definitions of AT devices and services). The most frequently addressed topic was definition of AT devices and services (96%), followed by eligibility requirements for AT services (88%), AT screening and assessment (88%), equipment management, use, and maintenance (84%), AT staff development (84%), AT funding (84%), and planning for AT services (80%).

Topics addressed by fewer than 50% of the 25 jurisdictions that provided documents included delivery of AT services (44%), legal and regulatory mandates (32%), evaluation of AT services (16%) and interdisciplinary involvement (4%).

On the surface, it appears that the policies, advisories, and technical assistance documents promulgated by the State Departments are moderately comprehensive if there is any validity to the 14 different topic areas that were identified through this analysis. Caution should be taken in generalizing these data, however, since they are based on an analysis of only 25 of the documents that are currently available. Nine jurisdictions had AT policy statements under development and six had AT technical assistance documents under development. It is unknown the extent to which the topical areas are included in those documents.

It appears that the above topics could be used to organize planning efforts related to assistive technology services. Individuals or sub-committees could be assigned the responsibility of developing policy statements. Once consensus is established on the policies, procedures could be developed, followed by technical assistance materials used to support the delivery of assistive technology services. Administrators, planners, policy makers, and decision makers also could use the above topics as headings in policy, procedure, and technical assistance documents.

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CONCLUSIONS

Following are the conclusions that were drawn from this nationwide investigation. The great majority (N = 44; 86%) of special education leadership personnel in State Departments of Education and the District of Columbia believe that local school districts need policies to guide the delivery of assistive technology services in schools. The remainder (N = 7; 14%) who believe there is little or no need for such policies hold the opinion that existing laws and regulations are sufficient to ensure the delivery of AT services.

Slightly more than two-thirds of the states provide, or are developing, resources designed to guide the delivery of AT services in schools. These are in the form of policy statements, guidelines, advisories, and technical assistance documents.

An analysis of the assistive technology policy-related documents provided by state officials yielded 14 topical categories. The topical categories could be used to structure AT planning efforts, policy statements, and the development of technical assistance resources.

The policy analyses that were performed in this investigation were primarily quantitative. That is, attention was focused on whether a jurisdiction included the different topics that were identified in the documents. No effort was performed to analyze the scope or quality of the information in the documents. The reason for this is that there are no criteria upon which to make judgments about quality and comprehensiveness of AT policies and technical assistance documents. There is a need for a research effort directed to the development of such criteria.

From the data obtained in this investigation, it does not appear that many LEAs have developed, or are developing, AT policies. If this conclusion is in error, then many SEAs are not informed about those efforts. There appears to be a need for better communication between LEAs and SEAs regarding the status of AT policies and services that are being delivered in local schools. Additional collaboration among those agencies should also facilitate policy development.

Finally, additional research is necessary to determine the actual AT policies that are being developed at the school district level. The relationship between those policies and actual practices should be determined as well as the effectiveness of the policies in guiding the delivery of AT services. Information gleaned from such research would be quite useful to those involved in revising existing policies and those who are developing new ones.

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REFERENCES

Behrmann, M. M., Morissette, S. K., & McCallen, M. H. (1993). Assistive technology issues for Virginia schools [Technical report]. Submitted to the Virginia State Special Education Advisory Committee.

Bowser, G., & Reed, P. (1995). Education TECH points for assistive technology planning. Journal of Special Education Technology, 12, (4), 325-338.

Glass, G. U., & Hopkins, K. D. (1984). Statistical methods in education and psychology (Second Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Federal Register, 1991, August 19 to be codified at 34 C. F. R. 300).

Julnes, R. E., & Brown, S. E. (1993). The legal mandate to provide assistive technology in special education programming. West's Education Law Quarterly, 2, 552-563.

Reid, J. E. (1994). All states survey of facilitating practices in special education. [Unpublished Manuscript], Reno, NV: Nevada Assistive Technology Collaborative.

Tawny, J. W., & Gast, D. L. (1984). Single subject research in special education. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

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CREDITS AND DISCLAIMERS

Assistive Technology Policies of State Department of Education : The Baseline Investigation(© 1996) was conducted by Jennifer K. Bell and A. Edward Blackhurst. At the time this research was conducted, Bell was Project Director, and Blackhurst was Principal Investigator of the University of Kentucky Assistive Technology (UKAT) Project in the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Kentucky. It may be duplicated and circulated for noncommercial purposed, provided this credit is included.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Rebecca Burleson, Amy Keith, and Margaret Bausch, who assisted either in tabulating data or participating in reliability checks of the policy analysis that was conducted in this investigation.

The research conducted for this report was supported by the University of Kentucky and Grant No. H180U50025, Examination of the Effectiveness of a Functional Approach to the Delivery of Assistive Technology Services in Schools, from the Division of Innovation and Development, Office of Special Education Programs, U. S. Department of Education. The conclusions and implications reported herein do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the funding agencies.

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