Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2013. Jacqueline Hess, an expert on assistive and instructional technology, talks about how FHI 360 is advancing technology solutions for learners of all abilities through the new Center on Technology and Disability (CTD).
What is the Center on Technology and Disability and how is it unique?
FHI 360’s Center on Technology and Disability is a collaborative effort with American Institutes for Research, PACER Center and an experienced team of researchers and practitioners. Together, these partners strengthen the ability of individuals and institutions to understand and embrace evidence-based technology, tools and strategies that level the playing field for children and youth with disabilities in the United States.
The scope of FHI 360’s collaboration is unique in terms of audience reach and the breadth and depth of professional and personal development activities. Individually, each organization has made major contributions to technology and education. Combined, the CTD team will make available to the field the most influential and knowledgeable thought leaders in assistive and instructional technology. CTD will provide accessible information resources and universal and targeted technical assistance to children and youth with disabilities, families and service providers, state and local education and health agencies, teachers, teacher preparation programs, researchers, parent training and information centers, and family advocacy organizations.
How does CTD’s work fit into the fields of assistive and instructional technology?
A powerful and exciting convergence is taking place in technology right now. Historically, assistive technology included any device or tool that might help an individual with a disability perform tasks that he or she could not perform otherwise. For years, those devices were single-purpose, expensive and available from limited sources. School systems tended to use them only with students in special education classes, which isolated those students from their peers.
Enter iPads, Androids and other mobile devices created for a broad consumer market. They, and the apps they support, increasingly reflect principles of universal design so that people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities can use them effectively. The result is that, for much less money, we have a new set of powerful tools that can be used in both an assistive and instructional capacity. One of the key goals of CTD is to help individuals, organizations and education systems understand and effectively use those tools to promote positive learning and development outcomes for all children.
How does CTD use technology to help learners of all abilities?
We are developing a web-based “Open Institute” that will use leading-edge tools to deliver a robust schedule of professional and personal development events, connect people and make available high-quality, accessible resources. This virtual institute will have three key components: a library, a café and a learning center. The library will offer guides, research papers, fact sheets, videos, webcasts and more. The café will be an engaging space for interactive forums, organized by topic and audience. The learning center will offer a wide range of personal and professional development events, organized and conducted by a national faculty of experts. The faculty will provide both short webinars and in-depth courses for which teachers and providers can receive continuing education credits. They will hold “office hours” to field individual questions and participate in providing universal technical assistance to state and local education agencies. The Open Institute will allow us to reach many more people than we could through a physical center. All CTD activities and products will reflect principles of universal design so that learners of all abilities can benefit.
What do you think will be the greatest impact of CTD?
We expect CTD to shorten the distance between research and practice in the assistive and instructional technology field. We hope to see systemic change within education systems by providing training and technical assistance to policymakers, teachers, service providers and other key stakeholders. Ideally, we will help families become effective advocates for technology acquisition and use. If we succeed, the ultimate impact will be on children and youth with disabilities — allowing them to participate fully and successfully in school, at home, in the community and in the workforce.