Assistive Technology Competencies for Special Educators

By Lahm, Elizabeth A.; Nickels, Beverly L. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 1999 | Go to article overview

Assistive Technology Competencies for Special Educators


Lahm, Elizabeth A., Nickels, Beverly L., Teaching Exceptional Children


Are you ready? Do you know how to provide your students with the technology they need for success? Do you have a plan? How are your own skills in using technology? What do you know about assistive technology? About configuring, troubleshooting, and evaluating software and hardware? Can you effectively incorporate technology into your classroom instruction?

This article discusses competencies in technology knowledge and use that special educators need today. Here, we challenge teachers and other related services professionals to take charge of their own training and move toward being competent in assistive technology to better serve their students and meet the mandates of the law (see box, "IDEA and Assistive Technology).

Educators must become proactive in their technology-related professional development because teacher education programs have only recently begun addressing the technology skills of their students. This, in part, is because many teacher educators are not trained in assistive technology either, and in part because training programs are already packed with coursework addressing the many other competencies that special educators must have. Adding assistive technology to the program of studies is truly a dilemma for preservice and inservice teacher preparation programs.

Understanding change in education is a slow process. We must meet the needs of a changing student population and incorporate changing technologies, both instructional and assistive, into the many approaches to instruction available to special educators. Understanding new competencies and requirements is a start.

The Work of CEC's Professional

Standards and Practice

Standing Committee

Over the past few years, the Knowledge and Skills Subcommittee of CEC's Professional Standards and Practice Standing Committee has been developing and validating knowledge and skill statements to serve as competencies in all areas of disabilities ( The Council for Exceptional Children, 1998). In addition to competencies for disability categories, the subcommittee has developed sets of knowledge and skill statements for cross-categorical aspects of special education, such as diagnostics, cultural diversity, and transition. Recently, the subcommittee has written knowledge and skill statements for assistive technology and validated these statements for CEC's Technology and Media Division (TAM).

The subcommittee validated these statements through a Delphi methodology (Ono & Wedemeyer, 1994). Fourteen nationally known assistive technology experts formed a Delphi panel for the purpose of reviewing 189 knowledge and skill statements. The Delphi panel discussed each statement through a blind iterative process. Each member had three opportunities to review the statements and rate them as "essential," "useful but not essential," and "not important." They were encouraged to state their rationale for their ratings. These comments were shared with all panelists on subsequent rounds, who used them to reconsider their ratings. The ratings assigned on the third round were final and are the basis for our discussion. The final number of statements was 51.

The definition of assistive technology can be found in the 1997 amendments to IDEA, as well in many other pieces of legislation. The definition is broad in nature (see box, "Assistive Technology Defined") and encompasses a full range of technologies, from low to high sophistication. The panelists rating the competencies discussed here acknowledged the differences between beginning and experienced teachers and that each statement represents a range of knowledge and skills that correlate with the teacher's experience. Special educators should strive to learn more about assistive technology as they advance in their career.

In keeping with CEC's format for knowledge and skills, the competencies for assistive technology are organized into eight categories: (a) philosophical, historical, and legal foundations of special education; (b) characteristics of learners; (c) assessment, diagnosis, and evaluation; (d) instructional content and practice; (e) planning and managing the teaching and learning environment; (f) managing student behavior and social interaction skills; (g) communication and collaborative partnerships; and (h) professionalism and ethical practices. …

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