Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Critical Issues in Advancing the Special Education Technology Evidence Base

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Critical Issues in Advancing the Special Education Technology Evidence Base

Article excerpt

When technological advances are viewed through a historical lens, change appears to be the result of a natural and logical series of advancements that is often called progress. To understand the history of technology, one must recognize the unquenchable tinkering of humankind to create new tools that solve problems and improve the quality of life (Kelly, 2010).

Nonetheless, when change is viewed through the lens of a generation, the nuances of technological change become more apparent. Consider, for example, how a routine task such as planning for a long-distance car trip might be completed by your parents, you, and your children--members of three generations who have experienced an array of technology tools that could be used to plan travel. Among the options, one could consult an atlas, use a paper map stored in the glove box of the car, use Google Maps to plan a route, call AAA to ask them to prepare a customized map, or simply get into the car and turn on the GPS. In contrast to generational change, change in the context of daily life is incremental and often imperceptible.

However, asking each generation to identify the best technology for the task may yield some interesting differences that reflect their previous experience and preference for trip planning tools, skill differences in using different types of technologies, the amount of advanced planning time required, ease-of-use, cost, and more. The significance of these many factors is not unpredictable given the significant body of research concerning variables that influence the adoption and use of innovative technologies (Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall, 1987; King & He, 2006; Moore, 1991; Rogers, 2003). Findings from the technology adoption research reveal that age is not a significant predictor of technology adoption behavior compared with a disposition toward gadgets or an interest in trading money for time.

Obviously, technology adoption models also apply to individuals with disabilities. But there is another fundamental factor that drives the need for the specialized technologies used by individuals with disabilities. Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education observed, "For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes things possible" (Edyburn, Higgins, & Boone, 2005, p. xiii).

Embedded in Heumann's statement are the five essential variables associated with special education technology: the person, the task, the context/environment, the technology tool, and the outcome (Cook, Polgar, & Hussey, 2008; Lenker & Paquet, 2003). In order to determine the best solution for an individual, interventionists are challenged to optimize the complex interplay between the variables. When successful, the result is that individuals are able to complete tasks that they previously could not complete, did slowly, or did poorly. Thus, the entire work of the field of special education technology can be summarized as searching, trialing, selecting, implementing, and evaluating technologies that augment, bypass, or compensate for a disability.

In this article, the term special education technology will be used as the construct that encompasses three types of applications of technology relevant to school-based applications of technology in special education: assistive technology, instructional technology, and universal design for learning (UDL).


The use of technology by individuals with disabilities has historically been known as assistive technology. Most citations of its definition can be traced back to passage of the Technology-Related Assistance Act for Individuals With Disabilities (Pub. L. No. 100-407, 1988). Commonly known as the Tech Act, the law defined two critical aspects of assistive technology: assistive technology devices and assistive technology services. …

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