AT Research

Research has many benefits. It can help guide our decision making about AT for an individual student. It can help us determine what appropriate goals might be for a student’s use of AT and reasonable criteria for success. Additionally, basing AT decisions on research helps comply with IDEA. IDEA requires us to use peer reviewed research as much as possible when selecting interventions to help a child advance appropriately toward attaining annual goals.

Section 300.302 of IDEA states that the IEP must include:

A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child—IDEA, 300.320 (a)(4)

IDEA also states that AT can be part of special education, related services, or supplementary aides and services. It is logical to assume that this requirement in IDEA would apply to AT services as much as any other services provided to the student with a disability.

Knowing the research is invaluable in answering the tough questions we often face, such as:

  • Will providing a speech generating device to this child keep him from learning to talk?
  • Will using powered mobility keep this child from learning to walk?

Research Answers many Questions

Many AT service providers struggle to get others to use AT with their students. Sometimes these providers wonder why it is so difficult to convince their colleagues of the value of AT. Lack of training may be the reason. Ashton, Lee, and Vega (2005) conducted a survey of teachers and found that training about AT is critical. Respondents who had over 40 hours of training felt AT was essential to students’ daily routine and felt comfortable in identifying and using AT to ensure educational access. Respondents without AT training felt AT was not important to students’ daily activities, and they were not confident in identifying and using AT. Nearly 90% of the respondents felt preparation programs did not adequately emphasize AT use.

A study by Kelly (2009) found that AT was provided more often if parents are highly involved. Kelly reviewed the findings from a national study of AT use by students with vision impairments (VI) and found that 59 to 71% of students who could be expected to benefit from AT, did not receive it. This percentage did not improve over the five years of reported data. Kelly concluded:

  • AT not provided to majority of students with VI who could benefit from it.
  • AT more likely to be provided if parents are highly involved.
  • AT more likely to be provided if student is in residential placement.

Since most are served in local placements with itinerant support, need to insure that we are providing AT appropriately.

Another study answered the general question of whether AT works to help students make progress. Watson, Ito, Smith, & Anderson (2010) found that AT was an effective intervention to make progress on IEP goals. In fact, they found that AT’s contribution was greater than any of nine other intervention strategies that were tried in the study. They also concluded a team approach is the most effective.

Does research support the use of AT with students with severe disabilities?

Yes, in their book on Teaching students with moderate and severe disabilities, Spooner, Browder, & Mims (2011) found that research supports the use of AT for all of the following:

  • Mobility,
  • Positioning,
  • Daily living,
  • Hearing,
  • Vision,
  • Communication, and
  • Instruction

After a large review of evidence-based practices for students with severe disabilities, they concluded that there is research evidence to support broad application of AT for this population, that the largest body of research for these students is on the application of AAC to quality of life improvements, and that research supports teaching both low and high tech AAC.

Does research support the use of AT with students with high incidence disabilities?

Yes, Bouck (2016) reviewed data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 comparing postsecondary outcomes of students with high incidence disabilities who reported receiving assistive technology (AT) in high school to those who reported not receiving AT. She found that 99.8% of the students who received AT graduated while only 79.6% of those who did not receive AT did so. 80.9% of students who received AT attended a post-secondary institution, while only 40.1% of students who did not receive AT attended a post-secondary institution. And 80% of those who received AT had a paying job after high school while only 50.8% of those who did not receive AT had a paying job. This data strongly supports the use of AT for students with learning disabilities.

Additionally, the provision of AT is identified as a High Leverage Practice, meaning that it is an essential educational practice that should be known and used by all K-12 special educators. It is evidence based and the use of it improves the results for students with disabilities (McLeskey, Barringer, Billinglsey, Brownell, Jackson, Kennedy, Lewis, Maheady, Rodriques, Scheeler, Winn, & Ziegler, 2017).

The research that has been reviewed here is grouped under the following headings: