AT Story from Pre-Conference Speaker
Denise DeCoste, Ed.D.
Careers are a long a winding road, but my central commitment to AT has endured for over 30 years. I was first introduced to AT in the form of a Scholastic talking word processor when I was in graduate school in the mid 1980’s. I saw the potential for struggling young writers and I was hooked. While I started out with a degree in Occupational Therapy, my work at Children’s National Medial Center led me to pursue a master’s degree in Special Education to better understand the many issues that affect learning. But that wasn’t enough, so I pursued a doctorate in Education and Human Development in order to dig deeper into understanding emergent literacy development in students with disabilities. So while I started my post secondary education before the advent of home computers, my career path was defined by all the possibilities that technology offers.
Over the years, I embraced principles that are consonant with AT such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I read Rose and Meyers, “Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age” the summer before the start up a new high-incidence assistive technology team (HIAT) in Montgomery County, MD. UDL concepts completely changed my thoughts on we should be approaching technology integration. It was not about a medical model of service delivery, (e.g., referral, assessment and recommendations.) Technology integration was tenuous in the best of classrooms, and students resisted using technology because of the stigma attached. Instead, it was about designing learning environments that engage all learners. It was about equity where everyday options for action and expression using technology were available for all students to meet their personalized learning needs. Using a UDL lens, HIAT AT services were re-envisioned to focus on building the capacity of school teams. It took time to build necessary on-demand resources and online professional learning, but the outcomes were worth it.
There will always be a need for centralized expertise in AT as there will always be students who need that something extra to help level the playing field, to communicate, to learn, to express what they know. But for the vast majority of learner with disabilities and their teachers, AT should be an everyday tool in the classroom. Educator practices are shifting and AT specialists need to stay ahead of these shifts. If you are going to lead, then lead. Not by maintaining the status quo of AT practices as defined by the past 30 years, but by redesigning AT services that are flexible to pedagogical changes going forward.