One of the many things I love about working for The Hello Foundation is the potential for a unique, challenging and uncharted contract position each year. From Hello There in Alaska and Montana to Assistive Technology consultant for a local Education Service District, these diverse opportunities are what keep me invigorated and loving what I do for a living.
Back in August Sharon Scheurer asked me if I’d be interested in interviewing for an assistive technology (AT) consultant position, something I’ve never done before. I contemplated, “Well, I love technology and AAC, so sure, why not?”. Unbeknownst to me, the job would be one of the most challenging and far reaching jobs of my 20+ year as a speech path AND I would be replacing not one but two AT consultants who ended up taking positions with neighboring schools districts. Boy, did I have some big shoes to fill!!!!
As luck would have it I learned that one of the exiting assistive technology consultants was a friend and former Hello Foundation contractor. She not only helped me prep me for the interview, but was allotted two days to impart her knowledge on all things assistive technology, which felt almost like a speed reading course. I had (and still do have) a lot to learn.
So, I bet you’re wondering what I do exactly, right? Great question! I provide AT consultation and evaluation for students in Functional Living Skills (FLS) classes at 7 different school sites, as well as 6 FLS Alternative classrooms in a brand new school for students needing both life skills and behavioral support. In addition, I also provide AT services for 8 different school sites in an ESD component district. This is a picture of me at my home base, where I share an office with 3 SLPs and 2 SLP-As, with 3 OTs, 2 COTAs, 1 PT and 2 PT-As across the hall for easy collaboration. My desk is chronically covered in AT devices that need programming or repair!
My AT services are as varied as the students I serve, from providing writing supports for students with learning disabilities to mounting eye gaze speech generating devices (SGD) on wheelchairs for students with orthopedic impairments. This is a photo of Wryleigh. She had just received a 4th fitting for a her new electric wheelchair (not shown) so her AT team met to make adjustments to the mount for her eye gaze SGD as well as her head switches. Wryleigh will be aging out of school in June and wants to work as a travel agent.
In this job, every week is different. I might . . .
- Hold SETT (Student Environment Task, and Tools) meeting for a student with Down Syndrome whose staff want a speech generating device (SPG)
- Program Accent 1000 and Vantage Lite as well as Dynavox Compass app and Proloquo2Go app on iPads
- Train teacher and ed assistants on how, where and when to use SGD in classroom
- Adjust wheelchair mount for iPad
- Download Co:writer app (word prediction tool) on several middle school students’ iPads and conduct tutorial on how to use the app
- Call PRC (Accent/Vantage Lite manufacturer) to initiate a device service repair
- Research visual calendar apps for a non-literate student in a transition program
- Attend monthly assistive technology PLCs to share resources, problem solve cases and create standards for AT services.
- Install touch screen software and touch screen to FLS classroom computer
- Create behavioral matching game and pragmatic communication book for student with autism
. . . and so much more!
As you might imagine, continuing education is a huge part of this job. Here is a photo of the last AT PLC where we had “celebrity” AAC/AT gurus Sam Sennott, creator of Proloquo2Go, and Eric Sanders, Pacific University SLP Professor, who unveiled their latest research and tools for individuals with autism and complex disabilities, Universal Design Lab. (This photo fully captures the nerdiness of the AT/AAC crowd.) I am excited that I will be able to pay it forward with my own presentation at our annual THF Winter Retreat on My Life as an AT Consultant. I’m looking forward to sharing low-, mid- and high-tech AAC devices as well as an array of apps to support academics and communication with my THF colleagues.
After four months into this new position, I find myself learning quickly and gaining confidence yet realize there is so much more to learn and discover in this cutting edge field. As my friend told me when I took this position, “Your head will be bursting with information, but you will love what you do.” I feel like a new SLP all over again.