My personal philosophy regarding assistive technology, Universal Design for Learning, and teaching and services for adults with developmental disabilities is quite simple; each person is treated according to his or her own needs, and AT is considered and implemented for everyone-whether you think they “need” it or not. Since this is a broad philosophical statement, I will break down my personal philosophy into three areas of interest: assisted and independent living, school-elementary, secondary and post secondary settings-and employment.
Assisted and Independent Living
My belief is that every individual with a developmental disability should be evaluated for assistive technology in their home or living arrangement. Assistive technology can take many forms in a home; however, I will limit my personal focus to voice-controlled and touch-screen computer systems.
Many devices exist to make independent living easier. Wheelchair ramps and body lifts can help individuals live more independently. Special shower heads and tub inserts can be installed. Electronically adjustable desks and ergonamically designed furniture can be added to the living space. Electronic thermostats, light dimmers, and Internet shopping can make independent and assisted living more manageable for individuals with developmental disabilities. Individuals can speak and command their computer to order certain grocery items. They can control their lights (on and off, brightness, color and hue) and other electric devices with the sound of their voice. For those who are non-verbal, speech-generating devices may be used-either with text to speech software or prerecorded phrases. It is not cheap to equip a home or room with these AT devices. However, as a professional, I believe in advocating for these devices until they are common considerations and implementations for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Every individual in elementary, secondary or post-secondary education should receive an evaluation for assistive technology. An evaluation should take place each year when the individualized education plan (IEP) is renewed for elementary and secondary education students. For post secondary education students, I believe assistive technology should be considered every year as part of personal support plans. Many teachers and support coordinators may feel lost as to how to fulfill this vision–and mandate according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004). I always refer parents and professionals to the Georgia Project of Assistive Technology at www.gpat.org and to the Assistive Technology Training Online Project through the University of Buffalo at http://atto.buffalo.edu.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is intended to reach all students, regardless of interest or skill levels in various subjects. UDL is best when it is built into the curriculum instead of an instructional afterthought. Many schools are incorporating STEM or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) in the classroom and curriculum. STEAM is a great start to UDL and embedding instruction to reach all students affective, recognition, and strategic networks. Every student needs to be treated as an individual learner, and UDL allows this to take place in large classrooms.
Community and Employment
The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines substantial gainful activity (SGA) as “a level of work activity and earnings. Work is ‘substantial’ if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.” If that sounds vague to you, it’s because it is vague. In layman terms, SGA is any work in which you earn compensation of equal or greater value than approximately $1,100/month. Many individuals with developmental disabilities fail to reach SGA qualifications and are on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the SSA. However, many of these same individuals could meet SGA-or come closer to it-by utilizing AT. I want to see AT considered for every adult with disabilities in employment settings.
Smart homes are becoming more common as the years go by. You can have a home set up to have lights turned on, food ordered, entertainment played and cleaning started all from the sound of your voice or a few touches on screen. Doors can be locked and security activated with a simple touch or swipe. Not all of these devices are cheap; however, they are well worth the money for individuals with mobility limitations. One day the technology will be so affordable that there will be no excuse to not put these assistive technologies in the homes of individuals with developmental disabilities. I want to see mentalities and philosophies of professionals change, so that we are considering these technologies and getting them in homes now instead of waiting, hoping for better.
Universal Design for Learning for Adults
It should come as no surprise by now that every individual has unique learning styles and preferences. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is typically referenced in the context of educational environments (e.g., public and private elementary and secondary schools). However, I believe UDL is needed for all individuals at every stage of life. We never stop learning-regardless of disability. Outside of school, I tailor my learning to personal interests, preferred methods of engagement, and share my knowledge with people of my choosing and in ways I like best. Professionals can-and should-do the same when providing services to adults. Don’t just babysit; teach. Teach in such a way that every individual can learn and express skills in ways that match their natural strengths.
Visit CAST.org to learn more about UDL and their philosophy (which matches closely with mine).
Functional Life and Social Skills
Many skills fall under the categories of functional life and social skills (even social skills can count as a “functional life skill” but generally they are separated). Quite frequently, adults with developmental disabilities have their money managed by family members or service agencies. They need help learning hygiene routines, resume and interview skills, social interaction skills, etc. No adult is too old or has a disability “too severe” to benefit from functional life and social skills training. It may be challenging for professionals to have this mentality for every individual they come in contact with, but it is the philosophy any responsible professional ought to have when working with adults with developmental disabilities.