Imagine not being able to communicate.
No email. No small talk. You can’t even tell someone when you’re hungry or in pain. And when emergencies happen, you have no idea what to do or where to go.
This imagined experience is a painful reality for some of your district’s students—perhaps even as you’re reading this article. When assistive technology breaks, it doesn’t just mean lost instructional time. For many students, it means not being able to access the world or communicate basic needs. Delays in repairing or replacing these devices can cause needless suffering and devastating learning loss. In extreme cases, districts might even face liability for failing to provide adequate IEP-mandated assistive technology.
And let’s not forget about the impact on teachers. Special Ed teachers have always been in short supply, and the pandemic has only amplified the problem. Lack of support staff and lack of compensation for the additional necessary qualifications are compounded by lack of reliable assistive technology. After all, would you stay in a district where you couldn’t teach your students as effectively as possible? Would you stay in a district that expected you to spend your critical planning time manually typing up braille handouts? Every educator yearns to be the best teacher possible and make a difference in their students’ lives. But to do that, they need basic district resources.
Keeping assistive technology in good working order is one of the most foundational (and legally mandated) ways to support your Special Ed classrooms. This one step can reduce the severity of many of teachers’ biggest pain points. Yet many districts fail at this through a combination of outdated technology, broken devices, and repair delays.
There’s good news, though: districts have more ways than ever to prevent all this. Here’s how to get started:
1. Make ticketing fast and easy.
Ticketing is the first step to replacing or repairing broken devices. The sooner IT teams know about a problem, the sooner you can fix it. With that in mind, your ticketing system should be as quick and user-friendly as possible. Here are a few key Incident IQ features as a starting point:
- Allow teachers to quickly submit support tickets on behalf of students
- Categorize student devices by specific teachers or classrooms
- Sync support visits with all popular calendar apps
- Automate responses and workflows
- Integrate with all mainstream SIS and MDM solutions
- Allow for custom fields to be added to ticket types, collecting all relevant data
2. Streamline service calls.
Every teacher is short on time right now. However, Special Ed teachers may have especially unpredictable schedules due to last-minute IEP meetings or itinerant (traveling) schedule changes. To keep working devices in everyone’s hands more often, consider features such as:
- Remote support and chat capability
- Automatic routing of tickets to a specific agent
- Smartphone app that can scan and deploy devices
- Smart inventory/asset management that supports spare device deployments
- Support scheduler that allows easy rescheduling
3. Include Special Ed teachers and assistive technologists in your school- and district-wide device purchase planning
Chromebooks can provide tremendous value while meeting the needs of most students. But while Google has taken great strides toward accessibility, Chromebooks don’t always meet the needs of students with disabilities. Students with developmental disabilities often thrive with iPads, for example, whereas blind and visually impaired students usually require Windows PCs featuring JAWS (screenreader software) and at least 8 GB of RAM. Before you make a huge investment in bulk devices, talk to Special Ed teachers and Assistive Technologists.
Expert input is even more important for assistive technology purchases. Districts are legally required to provide any technology specified in an IEP, and these devices are frequently expensive, fragile, and impossible to repair in-house. For example, RBDs (Refreshable Braille Displays) are critical pieces of technology for blind students, even in the era of YouTube and audiobooks. RBDs rapidly raise and lower tiny rods through a dotted display to create tactile braille. These intricate devices, which cost up to $15,000 each, allow Deafblind students to access the internet and communicate more easily. RBDs are also foundational to braille literacy—a skill only 10% of blind students master, yet one that is absolutely critical for reading comprehension, writing ability, and employment opportunity. (90% of all blind working adults are braille literate.)
Like most assistive technologies, RBDs come in a variety of sizes and offer a variety of different features. However, don’t rule out a spare pool for these devices just yet. When you consult with teachers and assistive technologists, you can often discover:
- Which brands or models of the device are currently in use across the district?
- What brands or models are the most common, and why?
- Which features and sizes are commonly required specifically in IEPs—and in which populations/grades?
- Which spare pool or loaner devices would meet the needs of the most students?
- Which features would be critical in spare pool/loaner devices?
- What repair or replacement timeframe is reasonable for the most commonly used assistive technologies?
- What legal pitfalls have the experts been concerned about regarding assistive tech?
- Should certain classroom types or assistive technology solutions receive priority IT support?
- Which brands or models have a great reputation? A terrible one?
4. Keep your spare pool and loaner devices stocked and inventoried.
Assistive technology can be expensive, even if through quota or bulk ordering. To further complicate matters, these devices are not always compatible with every operating system, and they often can’t be repaired in-house. That’s where loaner device inventory comes in.
However, even when you consult your district’s experts to determine what devices should populate your spare/loaner pool, actually managing your inventory can be a challenge. Many districts use spreadsheets or industry-neutral asset management solutions, and the results are chaotic. Worse, many out-of-the-box solutions cannot easily be customized to include assistive devices.
Here are some features to look for when considering an asset management or help-ticketing solution for your K-12 district:
- Custom fields for assistive devices or their unique properties (e.g., “number of braille cells,” “compatible with ChromeOS, Windows, not MacOS”)
- Smartphone scans of device barcodes for easy in-the-field lookup or management
- Approval workflows tool to streamline assistive technologist requests for specific devices
- Policy manager to distribute and collect Acceptable Use Policies
5. Utilize device use/ticketing repair data.
One of the most valuable features Incident IQ offers is robust data reporting. This data can inform future device purchases, justify staffing budgets, and even provide detailed reporting regarding the performance of assistive technology.
Whatever help ticketing and asset management platform your district uses, make sure it offers critical features such as:
- Device usage statistics
- Ticket response and closure times
- Assigned vs. actual student login on each device
- Detailed repair/replacement data by device and brand
- Cost to repair vs. replace devices
- Customizable reporting dashboards
Anyone working in education knows the struggles teachers and students are facing right now. Some of the problems are too big for one district alone to tackle—but access to assistive technology doesn’t have to be. With the right tools, experts, and IT workflow infrastructure, districts can improve students’ education and teachers’ willingness to stay.