Assistive Technology: How Do You Decide What Tools Your Child Needs?

Ike PresleyHi, my name is Ike Presley. Yes, I am kin to Elvis, but not close enough to count…ninth or tenth cousins. Wait till you hear me sing! No, maybe you don’t want to do that. Anyway, I would like to have a discussion with you about the use of technology by youths and adults who are blind or visually impaired. This topic is referred to as assistive technology (AT) and is one of the subjects in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) that is essential to the education of students who are blind or visually impaired.

cover of Assistive Technology for Students book I am currently a National Project Manager for the American Foundation for the Blind in our Atlanta office and have just completed a book for AFB Press titled, Assistive Technology for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment, with my co-author Frances Mary D’Andrea.

I was born into a family with a history of congenital cataracts. Somehow Elvis missed this part. Anyway, it’s all over my family: brother, cousin, uncle, niece, grandfather, and several of his brothers and sisters. I received very few services during school, but I’ll go into that in another post.

After completing my Masters at Florida State University I moved to Atlanta, GA, and began my career as a teacher of the visually impaired. I taught as an itinerant teacher for four years in one school district and then two more years in a neighboring district.

Then I finally got my dream job, a high school resource room for students who are blind or visually impaired. I taught at this school for 7 years where all my students took vision as one of their classes. I loved getting to have the students for several years and getting to work with classroom teachers who were learning how to meet the needs of our students.

I left education in the late ’80s and became a technology instructor at a rehabilitation center for adults who are blind of visually impaired. I did this for about 4 years and then went back to education as an assistive technology specialist for the Georgia State Department of Education. On this job I traveled around the state of Georgia and conducted assistive technology assessments of students who are blind or visually impaired. I also had the pleasure of training many of the teachers on various technologies and how they could teach them to their students.

In 1999, I started working for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Since then I have learned many more things about technology and have had many opportunities to present on AT at various conferences in the US, Canada, and the UK.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you all this in an attempt to sound important, but to let you know that I have been very fortunate in my life to have many opportunities to not only use a good deal of technology, but also many opportunities to learn about how others are using AT for educational and employment purposes. That’s why I think the good folks at FamilyConnect asked me to be a guest blogger.

There are so many great technologies currently available that it is very difficult to know which one is the right technology tool for your child. I am often asked, “What technology should my child be learning?” I usually ask if their child has had an assistive technology assessment. An AT assessment is designed to provide you and your child’s IEP team with recommendations for technology tools that can assist the child in completing educational tasks. The AT assessment is where you want to start in trying to answer that question.

I will be happy to answer questions in this area during the next few weeks. I’m hoping that this will become an ongoing discussion. In my upcoming posts I’ll talk about the process of conducting an AT assessment. This will not only cover information about the assessment process, but an introduction to the various types of technology used by people who are blind or visually impaired, and some suggestions on how to teach your child about using technology.

In the meantime, you might want to suggest to your child’s teacher that they acquire the AT Assessment book mentioned above. (I know it’s a shameless plug, but I promise I won’t do it all the time, so come back every week or so to see what we’re talking about next.)