Ideas on Promoting 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)
Outreach Pays Off in the Long Run
Gayl and I agree that when it comes to outreach, start with folks that need your input. Often folks that are initially reluctant, find that the information resonates and will reach out to you later. Also what we’ve found is that all the local outreach you do (.e.g to media specialists, content teams) reaches the upper levels of the administrative hierarchy as time goes by when those same staff are elevated to higher level positions within the district.(Contributed by Denise DeCoste, MA)
A Successful IT 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)
IT and Library Collaborations
I have had good success collaborating with our IT department. I have teamed up with a couple of techs who are interested in AT and they have become our go to people for troubleshooting some of the unique problems that arise with AT. These techs have been given extra time and AT has become part of their assignment. This collaboration has helped the IT team be more efficient with their AT related tickets and they are appreciative of our relationship. I also think that they enjoy supporting AT. The IT department works behind the scene, but working to solve AT issues often brings them into direct contact with our students and it has given members of the IT team a nice connection with individual students and purpose that they wouldn’t otherwise get. They can see how their efforts directly affect student lives and that has given a heightened sense of meaning and purpose to the IT department. They are proud of what they have been able to do for our students.
I have also had very good success working with our library staff to provide AEM. They easily see the benefits to students. Librarians are all about getting students to read and when they see the impact of AEM and the provision of alternatives to print materials on getting students into the library and accessing books, they feel a sense of accomplishment.(Contributed by Theresa McGeary, MT)
IT and Librarians
IT and Librarians are great places for everyone to start with outreach. If you haven’t already worked with the Librarians in your region, I used to teach a college level class for school librarians about accessibility for people with disabilities. I’ll never forget the first time I talked with them about AEM. One of the Masters’ level librarians said, “WHY has nobody told me about this? You are talking about my job. It’s my job to make reading accessible to people of all sorts. And it’s my job to understand copyright. And it’s my job to encourage people to enjoy reading.” I need to know this stuff. As a result, our state’s association of school librarians really began looking into accessible reading options. It’s always nice when your outreach really does meet the needs of the people from whom you also need help. (Contributed by Gayl Bowser, OR)
IT and AT
It has taken some time, however, I now have a GREAT relationship with our IT department. At first, no one really understood what AT is. Now, we have a really good system in place to help our two departments work closely and seamlessly. We have a monthly meeting with a couple of individuals from the tech department as well as the Director of Technology. This is a place to troubleshoot issues and bring up things going to roll out. Additionally, I have a couple “go to” people in the tech department for me to contact between meetings. This has been a GREAT asset to my position. I love having a collaborative relationship with the tech department. It helps both of our jobs go smoothly. (Contributed by Riley Pec, IL)
Education is trending toward 1:1 devices (i.e., one computing device per student). This district initiative is a great opportunity to implement or reinforce the UDL framework. Still, you may find that teachers are not teaching their students about the full range of tools that are built into devices. This is the issue when teachers do not understand that there is no such thing as average and that all students need multiple ways of receiving and expressing information. One thing that helped us is ensuring that digital reading assignments, videos etc. are a link within online curriculum (another opportunity to apply UDL). This required more outreach to academic department heads (e.g. head of English or social studies curriculum). AT providers could not provide this level of curriculum support on their own, but they can collaborate with curriculum leaders. This takes strategic outreach and it can take time to fully develop true collaboration. (Contributed by Denise DeCoste, MA)
I often hear from folks that their district administration avoids AT to avoid legal issues. We actually did the opposite. We said bring it on. Solving legal issues around AT can be a good district motivator! We reached out to parent advocates even to explain the role of AT. We also created a parent’s page on our AT website to clarify AT for parents. We even had mediation meetings where the parent’s attorney corrected the district’s attorney on who is responsible for AT service delivery, i.e. all staff in order to make it happen in the classroom. (Contributed by Denise DeCoste, MA)
- Community Outreach (live trainings provided to parents/community members after school at a local library or place with open Wi-Fi):
- Listen to Learn: Using text to speech and audio to improve reading comprehension
- Mastering your Chromebook!
- Mastering your IOS device!
- AAC Partners Skills for the Home
(Contributed by Aaron Marsters, DODEA-Germany)