Assistive Technology Competencies for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

Abstract: Using the expert opinion of more than 30 professionals, this Delphi study set out to develop a set of assistive technology competencies for teachers of students with visual impairments. The result of the study was the development of a highly reliable and valid set of 111 assistive technology competencies.

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Historically, individuals with visual impairments have faced three primary issues: access to information, independent travel, and the lack of meaningful experiences (Lowenfeld, 1973). To compensate for their vision loss and the subsequent challenges, individuals with visual impairments have relied on assistive technologies for centuries. To be successful in today's technologically advanced society, they must have the tools for and necessary training in assistive technology. Therefore, it is imperative that teachers of students with visual impairments are prepared to provide effective and efficient instruction in assistive technology.

Several studies have assessed educators' needs for assistive technology training (Derer, Polsgrove, & Rieth, 1996; Jennings, Long, & Jackie, 2002; Lee & Vega, 2005), and all have found that the vast majority of teachers of students with disabilities consider themselves to have inadequate knowledge of assistive technology. A 1990 study by Parker et al. was the first in a series of studies on barriers to the use of assistive technology with students with visual impairments. It found that almost two-thirds of the participants rated themselves as having "poor" or "nonexistent" knowledge of specific assistive technology devices for individuals with visual impairments. A similar study by Edwards and Lewis (1998) reported that the participants did not use many of the listed assistive technology devices because of their lack of knowledge of them. Abner and Lahm (2002) found that 51% of the teachers of students with visual impairments who participated in their study did not feel competent to teach their students to use assistive technologies; 62% of the teachers considered themselves to be at the novice or apprentice level in using assistive technologies. Kapperman, Sticken, and Heinze (2002) reported that 72% of the teachers they interviewed were unable to respond to the survey because of their lack of knowledge about the assistive technologies that were discussed.

Thus, the pertinent question is which barriers are creating these deficiencies in teachers' knowledge, since teachers' attitudes reflect a desire to understand, teach, and use assistive technology? The problem begins during the preservice years in teacher preparation programs. Few preservice training programs for special education include courses or even class sections on assistive applications and issues related to these devices (Lahm, 2003; Lee & Vega, 2005; Wahl, 2004). Smith and Kelley (2007) found that most training programs for teachers of students with visual impairments offer instruction in assistive technology with a course, a unit, or embedded throughout the program. However, they also found little continuity in the levels of knowledge and abilities to use assistive technology among the universities. The lack of preservice training in assistive technology has a detrimental affect on teachers when they enter the classroom.

Researchers have determined that there are multiple reasons for the lack of instruction in assistive technology for preservice educators. The reasons include a lack of resources for the programs to purchase equipment, the inability of instructors to stay current with the ever-changing technologies, and limitations related to time or programming. However, one of the major reasons that assistive technology is not taught at the preservice level is that a separate set of assistive technology competencies or standards does not exist. University programs that prepare teachers of students with visual impairments have little or no guidance on what assistive technology content should be taught to their preservice teachers. …