Avoiding the AT Pinball Machine with QIAT

September 14, 2011 — Gayl Bowser

(This article was originally printed in the Friends of ATIA September 2011 Back to School Issue.  It is reprinted here in order to encourage candid discussion and sharing of strategies for AT Assessment services.)

Lately,I’ve been feeling like I can’t keep up with all the changes in assistive technology (AT). There are so many options it feels a little like being inside a pinball machine.  New assistive technology might come at me from any direction, and I sometimes feel like our teams are bouncing off the walls.  Should we focus on the use of a dedicated AT device? Is software the answer?  Are there apps that would work?

When I start to feel overwhelmed, I go back to the Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) Assessment (www.qiat.org).  They describe the essential features of a high quality assistive technology assessment and can help us avoid some common errors (like considering only what is familiar and available or, conversely, what is new and “cool”).

I find the QIAT Assessment Indicators especially useful this time of year.  Many of us are meeting new students, trying to identify effective educational strategies, accommodations and modifications and looking for tools that can help students with everyday routines and activities. We are also hearing from parents and other student advocates about new and exciting AT solutions that might be tried.  As result, there can be a lot of pressure to make AT decisions quickly, and sometimes without enough information.  When that happens, the QIAT Assessment Indicators can be used as a guide and bring the team together.


1.      Procedures for all aspects of assistive technology assessment are clearly defined and consistently applied.

2.      Assistive technology assessments are conducted by a team with the collective knowledge and skills needed to determine possible assistive technology solutions that address the needs and abilities of the student, demands of the customary environments, educational goals, and related activities.

3.      All assistive technology assessments include a functional assessment in the student’s customary environments, such as the classroom, lunchroom, playground, home, community setting, or work place.

4.      Assistive technology assessments, including needed trials, are completed within reasonable time lines.

5.      Recommendations from assistive technology assessments are based on data about the student, environments and tasks.

6.      The assessment provides the IEP team with clearly documented recommendations that guide decisions about the selection, acquisition, and use of assistive technology devices and services.

7.      Assistive technology needs are reassessed any time changes in the student, the environments and/or the tasks result in the student’s needs not being met with current devices and/or services.

The Importance of Consistency

All of these indicators are important. But recently one has surfaced as having the most influence on a high-quality assessment. According to the results of the QIAT Influence Maps project--which has been studying the issue--this is indicator #1:

Procedures for all aspects of assistive technology assessment are clearly defined and consistently applied

Why is this so important? The reason, we have learned, is that while procedures may vary from agency to agency, it is consistency in a well-designed process that ensures a full range of AT solutions is considered before decisions are made. A consistent process helps ensure that we address student needs with the end-goal in mind.  To help apply this indicator, I use the following list of guiding questions when I participate in AT assessments. 

  • What are the specific tasks the student needs to do?
  •  What is the student's level of performance at this time?
  • What is the student's level of participation at this time?
  •  What are the features the student needs?
  • ·         How does the solution  match student performance and needed features?
  • ·         What data do we have that the student can use this AT for the specific tasks?


For me, these questions help shape a process can be applied no matter what type of AT is considered or what the characteristics of the student may be.

Do you feel like your team is in the middle of that AT pinball machine?

I'm curious.  What are your strategies for addressing the "Pinball Machine" feeling?  Do you use a strategy like the Quality Indicators?  Do you have forms or district processes that you feel help your teams to make effective and ethical AT decisions?  What's your approach?