NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
This is being written to inform our community of a recent travesty that has recently occurred in Oklahoma. For over 18 years the Oklahoma State Department of Education has had a program to provide assistive technology services to Oklahoma public schools.
These services include providing onsite assistive technology consultations to students with disabilities in school systems across Oklahoma and trainings to teachers and therapists on the latest research and advances. Assistive technology is equipment that allows a student to be more independent in school or at home.
Examples of assistive technology are wheelchairs to allow for personal mobility in school or a variety of communication devices to allow a student to communicate independently with his teachers, family or their classmates.
Communication is a basic component in our society - asking for a drink of water is a basic need, not a luxury.
An example of an outcome of this program is when a teacher sent in a consultation request for a 5 -year-old student with severe multiple disabilities from rural Oklahoma to receive a wheelchair evaluation.
This student was outgrowing her baby stroller that her family was still using for her to move about her environment.
A consult was requested and a therapist did the assessment at the school and funding alternatives were located and the student is now able to ride a school bus and interact and take part in school lessons, recess and family activities
Recently the Oklahoma State Department of Education chose not to reinstate an assistive technology program for Oklahoma schools therefore schools will be without these vital resources.
Teachers and professionals will not be able to rely on this program to request assistance for an assistive technology consultation or evaluation this new school year.
One has to wonder if the program is not in place because the Oklahoma State Department of Education apparently did not deem assistive technology services a high priority for the students in special education and their teachers or if some other reason impacted their decision.
This will leave Oklahoma to be reaching the bare minimum of reaching regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states are mandated to provide assistive technology services in schools. Teachers and local schools have been confined budget restraints for many years and relying on these services have come to be a great resource for them.
Along with providing assistive technology consultations the program an extensive loan library of assistive technology has been built for schools to checkout for trial before they purchase the equipment — a huge resource. Without this program this inventory will probably end up in a warehouse collecting dust instead of benefiting students.
Without such a program from the Oklahoma State Department of Education the travesty is going to fall in local districts and ultimately affect the lives of Oklahoma students. Local school districts will have to hire independent private consultants to do the assistive technology consultation — costing outlandish expenses to the schools.
We live in an age where technology has come to be an essential part of human necessity to interact socially, personally, but most of all educationally.
To have the agency entrusted with providing Oklahoma public schools these basic needs not have resources in place is the real travesty and students will be the ones that will suffer the consequences.
As this school year begins there will be no program for assistive technology in the public schools because the Oklahoma State Department of Education failed to see the importance of this needed resource for Oklahoma school children.
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