The Irene Howell Assistive Technology (IHAT) Center and EQUIPPED grant Co-Principal Investigators, Drs. Alana Zambone and Christopher Rivera, hosted the Assistive Technology (AT) Summer Institute during the week of July 18-22, 2016. The EQUIPPED Summer Institute was developed as a week-long professional development for seven graduate students through the OSEP Personnel Prep grant: EQUIPPED: Engendering High Quality Personnel Preparation for Educators Serving Students with Significant Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The EQUIPPED grant is designed to prepare initially licensed teachers (B.S.) and teacher-leaders in Special Education and Assistance Technology for NC schools and communities. The teacher-leader goal of the grant provides special educators with tuition and other financial support to complete their MAEd in Special Education – Low Incidence Disabilities Licensure Area and the Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology (AT). The participating EQUIPPED Scholars were Sara Farwell, Sara Graves, Katie Hancock, Morgan Kennedy, Jillian Kime, Brittney Roper, and April Vernon.
With a focus on assistive technology and best practices for working with students with significant disabilities, the institute started with an expert panel discussion of two district level assistive technology teams- Alamance Burlington Schools represented by Pat Byers, Amy Chinnici, and Sara Hammond; and Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools represented by Cindy Hall, Emma Sidden, Jennifer Kerr, and Adam Seipel. The teams shared their leadership journeys in their respective fields of education, speech language pathology, occupational therapy, and instructional technology. Furthermore, they discussed system processes and procedures that are used in their counties and tips for working collaboratively with other educators and related service personnel in the area of assistive technology. The following three days of the institute allowed for in-depth expertise training in the area of augmentative and alternative communication, which was facilitated by Lisa Erwin-Davidson of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill; AT for literacy, which was facilitated by Dr. Pamela Mims from East Tennessee State University; and AT for Math, which was facilitated by Dr. Melissa Hudson of East Carolina University and Julie Brickhouse of Pitt County Schools. In addition to the expert speakers, assistive technology vendors from Attainment and Tobii Dynavox also shared new technologies in AT. The EQUIPPED participants worked on a cumulative project throughout the week of trainings and completed presentations to their peers on the final day of the institute.
The EQUIPPED graduate scholars will return to their schools and communities to engage in AT assignments over the next academic year, including mentoring of new teachers, conducting professional development, and engaging in other leadership activities under the guidance of Dr. Laura King, Director of the IHAT Center, and Dr. Chris Rivera, Co-PI on EQUIPPED. The Summer Institute allowed the scholars to network with their peers in the cohort, as well as a variety of AT experts who work in assistive technology in a variety of capacities. A second EQUIPPED Summer Institute will take place in 2018 for the next cohort of EQUIPPED Scholars.