Switching on engagement! Occupational therapy and assistive technology in the classroom
Reilly, Mary Siberry
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Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment or product system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities" (21st Century Assistive Technology Act of 2019, p.9–10). Students with multiple disabilities in the US have insufficient access to the AT and related services that they need to develop their maximum skills and participate meaningfully in school (Schaefer & Andzik, 2016). Lack of training and resources is repeatedly found to compromise classroom AT access for students with complex needs (Egilson, 2009; Machalicek et al., 2010; Okolo and Dietrich, 2014; Rogers and Johnson, 2018). Recent literature reflects a variety of positive outcomes for students with multiple disabilities when they do have access to assistive technology (Talber, 2019; Stasolla, et al., 2015; Stasolla, et al., 2019; Desai, 2014; Mumford & Chau, 2016; Lancioni et al., 2014). It could be argued, if more school staff, in particular occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs), had the confidence and competence to routinely support student AT needs across least restrictive education settings, more students with multiple disabilities could be served in these environments. For OTPs to expand their familiarity and knowledge of AT and its application, vehicles to grow assistive technology competencies for current practicing therapists need to be available. Creating a program, such as Switching on Engagement (SOE!), that emphasizes using and applying assistive technologies, would be effective in promoting greater capacity. By focusing on the service delivery process of AT, OTPs will develop clinical reasoning in which integration of assistive technology use is inherent to the overarching student goal of increased participation (Griffiths & Price, 2011). School-based occupational therapy practitioners (OTPs) are an untapped resource to support classroom access through assistive technology service delivery. Participating in SOE! can help develop this resource. In his 2017 Eleanor Clark Slagle lecture, Dr. Roger Smith proclaimed “technology has a role in occupational therapy so fundamental, it must be considered an essential building block of occupation” and thus mandates technology’s daily presence in the future of our profession (Smith, 2017, p. 1). AOTA’s Vision 2025 charges OTPs to practice with intentional inclusivity (AOTA, 2019). SOE!, in aligning with the growth in scope and vision of the occupational therapy profession, seeks to expand the OTP’s capacity to provide AT service delivery to facilitate greater authentic participation by students with multiple disabilities in accessible school settings they justly deserve.