Ideas on Outreach
This document shares ideas on how to reach out to leaders who can help you solve systemic AT problems. Some AT issues are not ones you can solve on your own. For example, when new devices or software are deployed for all classrooms, they may not be accessible to all students. AT tools that may be useful to a broad range of learners, may not be available across all schools. Typically, these are not issues AT teams can control. But AT teams can reach out to leaders to help solve these concerns. It is essential for AT teams to move outside of their AT comfort zone and look for ways to create top-down change.
Multiple individuals have contributed to this list of ideas about documentation and accountability to enhance AT services and supports. If you have an idea that you would like to share, please contact the NATE Network at firstname.lastname@example.org .
What does outreach involve?
Outreach is proactive rather than reactive. For example, periodic meetings with IT can yield discussions about tools that are needed to support a wide range of learners, as well as discussions about future technology tools. Reaching out to curriculum development staff can lay the groundwork to include more AT supports in the online curriculum (e.g., providing digital classroom readings for use with text-to-speech tools, conferring on multiple ways that students can express what they know, developing a site where digital materials adapted for students with moderate disabilities can be shared, etc.).
Media specialists are often keystones within a school and so outreach to media specialists can be really helpful. They are often tasked to evaluate and select educational materials, including instructional web-based subscriptions. You can work with media specialists to build awareness of accessibility features in web-based educational tools.
Relationship building in outreach efforts should be mutually beneficial. For example, analyzing the AT features of online subscriptions such as Encyclopedia Britannica and sharing this with media specialists helps media staff support all students within a school.
One way to develop an outreach plan is to use a graphic organizer to brainstorm all the issues affecting the implementation of AT, and then link these issues to the stakeholders who can help solve systemic concerns. (Contributed by Denise DeCoste, MA).
Why is stakeholder outreach important?
AT specialists are part of a larger system. Working with supervisors to discuss internal problems in relation to the system and make decisions on the best way to network should be an ongoing conversation. Networking helps you broaden your expertise. You learn about new initiatives and absorb the language in which to embed AT topics. You better understand your role in the context of student support when you are aware of and connected to the other programs in the system. You also develop relationships that can yield long-term benefits as staff move up to higher level positions within the organization. You position yourself as a thought leader for students in the margins, while advocating for all students. (Contributed by Denise DeCoste, MA)
A Successful Outreach Example
Outreach is working with other programs, departments and district initiatives to identify and solve issues that affect both groups. One of the characteristics of a good outreach program is that the shared efforts are mutually beneficial. Here’s an example. An AT specialist I know had arranged for one of the students she served to use a software program called “Join Me” which enabled him to see the work that the teacher was doing in front of the class on his own iPad device. With this, he was able to pay closer attention to what was being taught. It was a successful application, but the district’s IT department subsequently banned “Join Me” because it did not meet their Internet privacy and security guidelines. The outreach effort began. IT and AT needed to have some conversations. IT wanted networks that protected student privacy and safety. AT wanted students to be able to use a successful strategy. AT and IT worked out a solution that met both goals. In the long run, both IT and AT agreed that they needed a better process to check on Internet security for any specialized software that students were using and find work-arounds when there were issues.There are many examples of this kind of need for outreach. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser, OR)