Frequently Asked Questions

Topic: PaTTAN

Topic: English Language Learners

Topic: Technical Assistance

Topic: Response to Instruction & Intervention (RtII)

Topic: Paraprofessionals

Topic: Mathematics

Topic: Short Term Loan

Topic: Assistive Technology (AT)

Topic: Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

Topic: Deaf-Blind - 2012 Deaf-Blind Census


Topic: PaTTAN

What does PaTTAN do?

PaTTAN provides a full array of professional development and technical assistance targeted to improving student results. This professional development and technical assistance takes many forms in order to meet the varied needs of PaTTAN’s constituents. Week-long summer institutes, ongoing professional development series, webinars, on-site assistance, and individual student or teacher supports are some of the means by which PaTTAN provides support to schools.

What are the PDE, BSE and PaTTAN?

- Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) – Bureau of Special Education (BSE) – Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN)

The Bureau of Special Education (BSE), part of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), is responsible for the education of students with disabilities, ages 3 through 21. PaTTAN is an initiative of the BSE and works with the bureau and local educational agencies to serve students.

What is the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) mission?

PDE’s mission is to lead and serve the educational community to enable each individual to grow into an inspired, productive, fulfilled, lifelong learner. In order to achieve this mission, all PDE initiatives, supports, professional development activities, and plans have been developed and implemented with this goal as the focal point.

How many students are part of Pennsylvania’s education system?

• There are 1.8 million public school students
• Over 271,000, or 15.2 percent, are eligible for special education
• Pennsylvania has 500 school districts
• There are over 100 charter schools
• More than 46,000 miles

What is the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN)?

Pennsylvania’s large and diverse educational system requires that the PDE work closely with many partners to effectively support the diverse needs and characteristics of the commonwealth’s educators. One of the partners who works closely with PDE to build capacity is PaTTAN.

How does Pennsylvania meet Federal/State Regulations?

One of the major responsibilities of the PaTTAN network is to assist the Bureau of Special Education (BSE) with its role in meeting federal and state special education regulations. PaTTAN works closely with the BSE in developing the needed professional development and services for Pennsylvania to meet its requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Chapter 14 of the Pennsylvania School Code. These services include professional development that is linked to the 20 Indicators required in the State Performance Plan, the development of compliant special education forms, the annual collection of student data, and the monitoring system used by the BSE to address IDEA and Chapter 14 requirements.

In addition, PaTTAN assists the BSE in its response to complex legal cases. Most recently, PaTTAN provided the needed training and technical assistance to fulfill the requirements of the Gaskin Settlement Agreement, a five-year settlement agreement related to educating students in the least restrictive environment.

How does PaTTAN support Pennsylvania’s Standards Aligned System (SAS)?

Ultimately, the focus of PaTTAN’s work is on building the capacity of LEAs to provide effective instructional practices for all students. In order to do this, PaTTAN provides training and technical assistance that is framed by Pennsylvania’s Standards Aligned System (SAS).

The SAS is a collaborative product of research and good practice that identifies six distinct elements, which if utilized together, will provide schools and districts with a common framework for continuous enhancement and improvement. For more information about SAS, visit

How many PaTTAN offices are there?

There are three regional PaTTAN offices that work with intermediate units throughout Pennsylvania located in Pittsburgh (west), Harrisburg (central) and Malvern (east). To learn more about the PaTTAN offices and the intermediate units in each region, click here.

Topic: English Language Learners

How do you document ESL services on a student's IEP?

First, you have to check that the student has limited English proficiency under Special Considerations on page two of the IEP. On the same page, under Present Levels, you indicate all the present levels of the identified needs of the student, including how much the student is understanding, speaking, reading, and writing in English. Then, under Program Modifications, page four, you indicate that the student will be receiving ESL, how many times per day, for what purposes, etc.

Is it true that those students who are new to the US for at least three years cannot be referred for a multidisciplinary evaluation?

No. There is no minimum time of residency, required attendance, or instructional time within the general education system by students who are English Language Learners in order to begin a process. It is most important however that the following occur diligently prior to such actions:

1. ESL or bilingual instruction is conducted at the rate recommend in the Department’s BEC

2. Appropriate curricular and instructional adaptations be made

3. Language assessments be conducted in the students primary language by trained school personnel

4. Multiple measures be used to gather data

5. The MDT determines eligibility, placement and services.

Generally, a student who is an English Language Learner, who is eligible for special education, continues to receive English as a Second Language instruction through the general education program, as indicated in the IEP under Program Modifications.

What are Title III funds?

Title III funds are designed to support a wide array of educational services for limited English proficient and immigrant students and their families. The funds are to be directed to activities that assist ELLs in developing English language proficiency in comprehension, listening, speaking, reading and writing, and in meeting the same challenging state academic content and academic achievement standards as all students are expected to meet.

What certification is required to teach English as a second language?

Starting with the 2004-05 school year, all ESL teachers must hold any Pennsylvania Level I or II certificate and the Program Specialist ESL endorsement. Emergency certificates may be issued to those districts requesting them.

What state funds are available to pay for English as a second language instruction?

There are no categorical state funds available. Supplemental services may be provided from Title I if students meet eligibility criteria. Districts may also apply for discretionary federal grants.

Major textbook publishers have texts and teacher reference materials for teaching English as a second language. Many have catalogs dedicated entirely to the subject. You may also access the web sites of the following organizations:

• Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
• National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
• National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE)
• Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA)
• Teachers to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
• US Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition’s National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs

Who is responsible to provide English as a second language instruction?

Each local educational agency (LEA) is responsible for providing each student who is identified as an ELL with appropriate English as a second language or bilingual instruction.

Topic: Technical Assistance

How do school districts access Assistive Technology and Accessible Instructional Materials?

PaTTAN maintains a short-term loan library, which offers a broad array of assistive technology devices. These assistive technology devices are borrowed by LEAs and are used to determine the appropriateness of a particular device for an individual student, prior to the LEA or parent purchasing the equipment. In addition, the PaTTAN Accessible Instructional Materials Center provides large print and Braille text materials to students who are blind or visually impaired. PaTTAN represents the Department of Education as the Ex-Officio Trustee with the responsibility of managing and coordinating federal quota funds with the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) for the purchase of text and educational supplies for students who are legally blind.

PaTTAN also maintains an annual census of children from birth through twenty-one who are legally blind and provides an annual report of eligible students to APH.

Topic: Response to Instruction & Intervention (RtII)

Doesn't intervention time and effort take time and resources away from regular education students?

No. Actually, the three-tier model provides additional resources to all students. Many schools set a time during which ALL students receive supplemental instruction/intervention. For example, students who perform above benchmark may receive enrichment, while others may receive targeted instruction. Resources are matched to student need. RtII is a service delivery model that organizes increasingly intensive, differentiated instruction for the greatest number of students possible, including students with disabilities.

We still have an Instructional Support Team. Will some tweaking of this lead to RtII implementation?

No. While IST may be a helpful process, RtII is a seamless, service delivery model that integrates and aligns general, remedial, and special education services. The resources and roles of personnel may be expanded or re-designed accordingly, however, all educators are responsible for educating all children.

Is RtII a pre-referral system students must complete prior to a special education evaluation?

No. It is a comprehensive, standards-aligned school improvement strategy and serves as the road map for PA’s Standards Aligned System. Implementation fidelity and sustainable practices and leadership will likely require ongoing adjustments to implementation efforts and processes relative to student performance outcomes. Consequently, schools will acquire a wealth of data required for eligibility decisions and SLD eligibility and determination, with the understanding that a parent may request an evaluation at any time.

Is RtII primarily a special education initiative?

No. Special education eligibility may be an outcome of the process for a few children, but implementation of the three-tier model occurs within the confines of the general education system using an interdisciplinary team of educators. General education must insure that ALL students are afforded meaningful access and receive high-quality, standards-aligned differentiated instruction. All students must participate in universal screening and be assessed using other measures to determine strengths and areas of need. Increasingly intense instruction and intervention is mobilized immediately for students who are falling below benchmark. When a student’s response to instruction and intervention is deemed “inadequate” despite provision of core and supplemental instruction/intervention, the eligibility determination process is enacted.

Where can we obtain funds to initiate RtII? We need an RtII teacher and additional interventionists.

RtII is a framework for using student performance data to allocate instructional resources to improve learning for the greatest number of students in the most effective and efficient way. The establishment of structures that support ongoing, context embedded professional learning as it relates to “improving implementation fidelity of instruction and intervention” have been shown to have significant promise relative to moving fidelity of RtII implementation and sustainable practices and leadership forward. Structures that support an investment in professional learning and collaboration among teams of educators are also cost-effective. The designation of an “RtII teacher” or “RtII class” would be seen as counterproductive to efficient and effective systems level improvement and better outcomes for students.

Who decides which students receive additional support?

The RtI process is data driven. Instructional decisions are generated by data analysis teams using a continuum of reliable and valid assessment measures. Teams of interdisciplinary educators determine goals and monitor progress of students within the entire grade level (grade level teams) and also analyze the need for “student specific” interventions that exist on a continuum of intensity (individual problem-solving teams).

Who serves on these data teams?

Membership varies from school to school, depending on district and building processes and resources. However, grade level teams are commonly comprised of grade level teachers and an administrator. Individual problem-solving teams typically include at least one classroom teacher, an administrator, and other interdisciplinary personnel. School psychologists and counselors, reading specialists or other personnel may facilitate these team meetings. Lastly, it is recommended that the building establish a core RtII building team. This team often assumes responsibility for monitoring systems level implementation, bringing key decision makers to the table to make action plans that can be carried out well, and to evaluate the effects of those actions on the outcomes of interest in order to sustain the change effort. The goal of the building team is to focus on cultivating knowledge, skills and the implementation of the framework within the unique context of the school.

Do some kits require the installation of software on school district or agency computers?

A small percentage of STL kits require the installation of software in order for the technology to work (e.g., software driver for a touchscreen monitor).

Topic: Paraprofessionals

Do paraprofessionals have to attend PaTTAN trainings in order to get their 20 hours of instructional training?

No. PaTTAN trainings are just one of many ways that paraprofessionals can get training. Paraprofessionals can attend training through their district, agency, school, IU or attend courses through a community college or university. Training needs to be related to your job assignment and be approved by your employer.

How do I access my certificates for courses completed under the Credential of Competency?

Records of completed courses may be accessed on the website, under Certificates. PaTTAN will not keep a record of attendance at the online courses in the CourseWhere transcript system.

Topic: Mathematics

How do I know if the text I’m using is a quality tool?

There are a number of things to consider. One consideration is the text’s alignment with the school’s curriculum. Of course the school’s curriculum should be aligned to the PA Academic Content Standards and the Standards Aligned System (SAS) Curriculum Framework, which includes grade and course level big ideas, concepts, competencies, essential questions, exemplars and vocabulary. Another consideration is whether or not the text is based in research. There are two impartial websites that can be viewed to determine what research has been conducted in relation to the text. One website to consider is the Best Evidence Encyclopedia (

I teach students in the upper grades. What is the best way to remediate basic facts?

There are a number of options you will need to consider. First, you will likely want to assess the student in some way to find out if the student understands the operation in question conceptually. This is very important. If the student does not understand the meaning of multiplication (for example), then repeated activities to learn facts will only result in the student memorizing trivia. It won’t mean anything to the student. If the student does not have a conceptual understanding of the operation, then time must be spent developing the concept through various activities. Next you would likely assess the student to determine which facts are already known and fluent. By doing this you will be able to determine if there is a pattern to the facts the student knows and does not know. This will allow you to teach the student various strategies to assist in fact mastery and fluency. For example, you may teach the student the “doubles plus one” strategy if you see that this particular strategy will help the student learn facts that are not yet fluent. There are a number of commercially available programs that are designed to help students learn basic facts by spending about 10 minutes per day using the program.

I teach students with learning disabilities and many are unable to do basic computation accurately. Is it appropriate for them to use a calculator for the basic facts?

Please see the answer to the question, “I teach students in the upper grades. What is the best way to remediate basic facts?” It should be an IEP team decision (be sure to include the parents in the conversation and decision-making) to make a determination. It has been proven that fluency with basic facts will help students to learn higher-level mathematics. However, spending ALL math time on basic fact fluency does a great disservice to the child. The best scenario would be to spend time working on basic fact fluency while spending the bulk of time devoted to mathematics on the many other concepts and competencies that the student is expected to learn in his or her respective grade level. This could mean that 10 minutes per day is devoted to basic fact instructional activities and the remaining time is spent on the concepts and competencies expected of the grade level curriculum. The IEP team may also decide that the student needs basic fact instruction in a supplemental time period in addition to the core math instruction. While this instruction on the basic facts occurs, it may be appropriate to allow the student to use a calculator to enable him/her to access the grade level content that is being taught in math class. Keep in mind that our goal is to enable the child to think mathematically and to learn progressively higher-level concepts.

Is it appropriate to spend a lot of time drilling on basic math facts?

There is a difference between practice and drill. Practice includes teaching the student. This will likely start with activities to develop conceptual understanding and may also include strategy instruction. Drill refers to repetitive, non problem-based exercises designed to improve skills already acquired. Drill may be effectively used when the students have learned a strategy and know how to apply it to solve problems. Once a skill is in place, drill may be appropriately used to increase the fluency or automaticity of the skill. However, it is not appropriate to use drill as a means of teaching the facts in the first place.

Is it okay to supplement material that is missing from my textbook (e.g., an assessment anchor that my text does not cover) and where can I find good resources for supplemental information?

Yes, it is okay to supplement if the various data sources indicate that students are missing particular content or process standards. The curriculum drives instruction, not the textbook. The textbook is a tool to help the students access the curriculum. The curriculum should be driven by the PA Academic Content Standards and the SAS Curriculum Framework. If your school is implementing RtII, the process of looking at various data sources to determine the effectiveness of the core program is something that you experience in an ongoing manner.

Should I focus on skills or on problem solving, or a combination of the two? If the answer is a combination, approximately how much time should be spent on skills and how much time on problem solving?


The focus should be on both. The true answer depends on your students’ competence and understanding of the involved skills and types of problems to be solved. The amount of time is an instructional decision that should be made based upon information provided from various assessments, but especially from ongoing formative assessment. When working on problem solving, keep track of the skills needed to solve the problems and compare that information with the skills the students are able to demonstrate. When working on skills, keep the big picture of problem solving in mind. The purpose of learning skills is to provide students with the tools needed to solve problems.

Students in my classroom have difficulty with addition and subtraction word problems. They take the numbers and add them up regardless of what is to be solved. What strategies can I use to assist my students with solving word problems?

Students can be instructed on the three problem types most often used in addition and subtraction: Change, a change occurs at the beginning set which results in a change in the end set. Group, which involves part-whole relationships and knowing that the whole is equal the sum of its parts. Compare, one set serves as the comparison set. To assist students in determining the kind of problem they are solving, they can draw a diagram of the pertinent information. Once students have become proficient at determining the type of problem, they can solve them by focusing on the specific information provided in the text.

The time allocated for math never seems like enough. How do I know what is important to teach?

Please visit the Standards Aligned System-Mathematics ( Here you will first see the process standards that students must learn (problem solving, communication, representations, reasoning and proof, and connections). These are how the mathematics content can be learned and used. We do not learn math just for the sake of memorizing facts. We learn to think mathematically so that we can use the concepts to solve problems in life. In addition to the process standards, you will be able to click on a specific grade level. By grade level you can view the Curriculum Framework. The Curriculum Framework provides you with the big ideas, concepts, competencies, essential questions, exemplars and vocabulary that are critical for a given grade level. These tools will provide you with the information that is needed to determine the most important things to be taught.

Topic: Short Term Loan

How are STL kits shipped and returned?

STL provides delivery and return of borrowed kits at no cost to eligible borrowers; however, we can only ship to an eligible school or early intervention program. The borrower will receive an email message one week before the end of the loan period with instructions for returning a kit. At any time during the loan period, the borrower may return a kit by clicking the Returning STL Kits Link in the Useful Links box on the right near the top of the STL webpage (

How can requesters minimize delays of STL shipments?

When requesting a STL kit, you can help minimize shipment delays by providing complete information in the Ship to Address Information and the Student Information sections of the Online Order Form:

1. In the Staff/Teacher Name field, enter both the first and last name of the Ship To

2. In the Facility/Building Name field, enter the full name of the school, IU, or agency
    where the kit is to be sent. UPS prefers full names, rather than abbreviations. If the kit
    is being shipped to a private residence of the therapist (e.g., EI provider), put private
    residence of therapist in the Facility/Building Name field. The responsibility of the
    receipt and the return of kits falls on the facility/building where we ship kits.

3. In the Address Line 1 and Address Line 2 fields, enter the address of the school, IU, or
    agency; do not enter the name of the school, IU, or agency in these fields.)

How many STL kits may I request at one time for a student?

Once selecting a kit, and clicking “Add to Cart”, then this takes you to your cart where you can select Continue Shopping or Checkout. If you want to order more kits, select Continue Shopping.
 You may request up to five kits for a student at one time. If requesting multiple kits, prioritize them by clicking the small up and down arrows to the right of the red “Remove” word.
Remove a kit by clicking the red “Remove” word to the far right of the kit title.

What are STL timelines?

We ship AT kits for a student one kit at a time. If the borrower ordered multiple kits when we receive a kit that a student has trialed, we will ship the next available kit. We generally loan STL kits for a six-week period. Frequently, there is a waiting list for popular kits. Borrowers can return kits earlier than the due date.

What do I do if I have additional questions?

Please send an email to

What is Short Term Loan (STL)?

The PaTTAN Short Term Loan (STL) program is a lending library of assistive technology (AT) kits for assessment available to local educational agencies (LEA) for a trial period of normally six weeks.

What types of kits are available?

AT kit categories include AT for augmentative and alternative communication, blindness/visual impairment, computer access, deafness, hard-of-hearing/deafblind, switch access/environmental access, and technology for print/reading/writing support. Borrowers can view kits by selecting a category or view an alphabetical list of all kits. Find more information about kits at

Who is eligible to borrow?

Pennsylvania educators employed or contracted by an intermediate unit, school district, charter school, approved private school, or state early intervention program (county infant/toddler early intervention program or MAWA preschool early intervention program) can borrow from the STL program. Educators are encouraged to conduct AT trials with the participation of the child’s/student’s multidisciplinary team, including families, in the decision-making process.

Will I be contacted if there is a waiting list for a kit I requested?

Yes. STL will send you an email if there is a waiting list for a kit you have requested, and we will attempt to update you every two weeks on where you are on the waiting list.

How do I cancel a kit request?

At this time, you have to email and request to cancel your order. You will need to include your name, the kit name, and for whom you ordered the kit.

How do I search for a STL kit on the PaTTAN website?

In order to borrow STL kits, educators must first register on the PaTTAN website ( and then log in. Registration is required only once.
Borrowers can search for STL kits in several ways:
  • Use the search box under the top picture on the STL webpage to locate AT kits. In
the Search Short Term Loan box, search by title by entering the kit name, or part
of the kit name.
  • Under “Filter by Assistive Technology:” use the pull down arrow to view all kits
  • in an AT category. To view all STL kits, do not select a category.
  • After locating desired STL kit, click “View more Details” to see a description and
contents of a kit or click “Add to Cart” to request the kit. This will take borrowers to their carts.
Click the Checkout button and complete Requester Information, Ship to Information, and Student Information on the Order Form”. Finalize the request by clicking the OK button.

How many STL kits may I request at one time for a student?

A maximum of five kits may be requested at one time for a student. However, only one kit is loaned for that student at a time.

What if an item is missing, malfunctioning, or broken when I receive a kit?

Upon receipt of the kit, click Contact STL on the STL main web page to send an email. In the body of the message, indicate the kit ID# and kit name, and describe the issue.

If possible, STL will replace the missing, malfunctioning, or broken items. If an identical item is available, STL will send it to you. If an identical item is unavailable, return the kit to STL. Parts will be ordered and the item will be repaired or replaced. The kit will then be sent to you. If you are unsure if the item is malfunctioning or broken, you can contact the manufacturer’s technical support department to see if the problem can be resolved over the phone or by email. In addition, make sure to cross-check the contents of the kit with the contents list before returning the kit to STL.

How can requesters minimize delays of STL shipments?

When requesting a STL kit, you can help minimize shipment delays by providing complete information in the Ship to Address Information and the Student Information sections of the Online Order Form:

1. In the Staff/Teacher Name field, enter both the first and last name of the Ship To

2. In the Facility/Building Name field, enter the full name of the school, IU, or agency
    where the kit is to be sent. UPS prefers full names, rather than abbreviations. If the kit
    is being shipped to a private residence of the therapist (e.g., EI provider), put private
    residence of therapist in the Facility/Building Name field. The responsibility of the
    receipt and the return of kits falls on the facility/building where we ship kits.
3. In the Address Line 1 and Address Line 2 fields, enter the address of the school, IU, or
    agency; do not enter the name of the school, IU, or agency in these fields.)
If you are a MAWA provider, private consultant, or employee of a charter school, you can expedite shipments of kits by providing complete information in the Order Notes Field in the Ship to Address Section.

Should I request more than one kit for a student?

YES: If there are more kits you think the student should trial, and it does not matter which kit the student receives first.
NO: If it does matter which device the student trials first. When the STL has multiple requests for a student, we send the first kit that we have available and the student will not be eligible for a second kit until we receive the first kit back.

Will I get a confirmation email after requesting a kit?

Yes. When you request a kit through the STL website, you will receive a confirmation email indicating that your order was successfully submitted. If you do not receive a confirmation email, the order was not received by STL and you will have to resubmit the request. Contact STL if you do not receive a confirmation email after a second attempt. Also, save your confirmation emails until you receive requested kits.

In addition, you will receive an email to verify your email address once your order has been imported into PaTTAN’s database.

How do I request a loan extension?

We consider requests for loan extensions on a case-by-case basis. We will grant a short extension once and ONLY IF NO ONE ELSE IS WAITING FOR THE KIT
Request for a loan extension can be made no more than one week prior to the loan due to be returned date. Email extension request to, or reply to the return reminder we send.

How do I request a STL kit?

In order to borrow STL kits, educators must first register on the PaTTAN website ( and then log in. Registration is required only once.
Borrowers can search for STL kits in several ways:
  • Use the search box under the top picture on the STL webpage to locate AT kits. In the Search Short Term Loan box, search by title by entering the kit name, or part of the kit name.
  • Under “Filter by Assistive Technology:” use the pull down arrow to view all kits in an AT category. To view all STL kits, do not select a category.
  • After locating desired STL kit, click “View more Details” to see a description and contents of a kit or click “Add to Cart” to request the kit. This will take borrowers to their carts.
  • Once taken to their carts, borrowers can select Continue Shopping or Checkout.
  • Borrowers may request up to five kits for a student at one time. If requesting multiple kits, prioritize them by clicking the small up and down arrows to the right of the red “Remove" word. Remove a kit by clicking the red “Remove“ word to the far right of the kit title.
Click the Checkout button and complete Requester Information, Ship to Information, and Student Information on the Order Form”. Finalize the request by clicking the OK button.

What happens when I requests more than one kit for a student?

When you receive a kit for a student, the database removes the student from the active waiting lists for any other ordered kits until the you return the loaned kit, which the student has trialed.
One week prior to the due date for the first loaned kit, STL will send you an email asking if you want the other requested kits. When you reply to the email, specify the kits you still want to receive. Once the kit is returned and checked in, other requests for kits for the student will be reactivated. However, the reactivated requests go to the bottom of any waiting list(s). The reason for this policy is to give other students who have not received loans from STL a fair chance of receiving a kit in a reasonable amount of time.

Can private, for profit, or parochial schools or organizations used PaTTAN's Short Term Loan services?

They cannot unless a local educational agency has sent a student having an Individualized Education Program there, or they have a contract with the county to provide Early Intervention services.

Topic: Assistive Technology (AT)

I am not sure what assistive technology would be most helpful for my student. How do I begin?

Multidisciplinary teams should look at how a student participates in each activity or daily routine. Identify what the student is able to do now, and then look at what is preventing or limiting him from full participation. Simple, low-tech, ideas should be tried first to increase the student’s participation. When low-tech devices do not sufficiently allow full participation in an activity or routine, the team should determine what high-tech AT devices will allow the student to participate.

I can understand my child but most people cannot. Does he or she need a communication device?

If a student has a significant communication impairment that prevents speech from developing normally, consideration should be given to the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Becoming an effective communicator allows the student to expand his or her relationships and share information with others. The use of AAC may help prevent or decrease frustration and associated behavior problems while natural speech skills are developing.

If a student begins to use AAC, will that keep him or her from learning to talk? Should I wait to be sure that he or she really will need it?

Do not wait! Research has shown that the use of a language board or other Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device or system (e.g., sign language) does not interfere with the development of speech. (Burkhart, L. (1993), Total Augmentative Communication in the Early Childhood Classroom.) In fact, the use of AAC actually may result in an improvement in speech. Also, devices that have vocal output (that is, they produce a spoken message) provide a consistent speech model for the student to imitate and may help him to learn to say words more clearly.

Once it is determined that a particular device(s) is appropriate for a student, how is that device purchased? Who pays for the device?

If included on the Individualized Education Program/Individualized Family Service Plan (IEP/IFSP), AT must be provided at no cost to the family. In some instances, however, the team may be interested in exploring ways to fund the device by other sources. For further information on alternate funding sources such as medical assistance, private insurance, charitable or private sources of funding, family-driven funds, or other community or state funding possibilities, refer to the PaTTAN publication Assistive Technology Acquisition in Pennsylvania.

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) refers to any device, system or method that improves the ability of a student with communication impairment to communicate effectively.

AAC may be used to describe communication devices such as communication boards, voice output devices, or communication systems such as sign language. AAC can also include the use of facial expressions, vocalizations, or gestures. AAC is considered when a student does not develop communication in a typical fashion or experiences a significant delay in language development.

An AAC device is not merely a substitute for how the student is currently communicating. Ideally, an AAC system includes more than one mode of communication and it often includes the use of some natural speech.

What is the HELIX Conference?

In November/December of each year, PATTAN sponsors a HELIX (High Expectations for Low Incidence Disabilities) Conference. The HELIX conference is the reimagining of the Low Incidence Institute by focusing on preparing ALL students, especially students with low incidence disabilities, to be college or career ready when they leave Pennsylvania’s schools. HELIX has an added focus on strategies and supports for students with intellectual disabilities and students with complex communication needs.

How is AT documented on a student's IFSP or IEP?

Specific AT devices should not be listed on the Individualized Education Program/Individualized Family Service Plan (IEP/IFSP), instead the IEP/IFSP should include statements reflecting the student’s needs and the features of the AT devices that will assist the student in meeting those needs.

The features of the AT device may be listed as part of the intervention strategy, the specially designed instruction, or the means for the student to obtain a goal or outcome. The AT device itself is not a goal to be accomplished. It is important to document how and when the student uses the assistive technology.

For more information on including AT in the IEP, refer to the PaTTAN publication Assistive Technology in the IEP.

How do I introduce the device to the student and evaluate the effectiveness of the borrowed device?

Look at the activities and routines in the student’s day. Begin trying the equipment during a favorite activity or routine. Keep a record of where the device has been tried and how it worked within the activity or routine. Be sure to note what features of the device worked well and which ones did not. It may take the full six weeks of a trial period to determine if the device will be useful and to understand the circumstances where it is most helpful. Many students may need more than one device to participate fully in all activities and routines. For example, a student may use a picture communication board during school activities but a switch-operated voice output device may work better when riding in a car.

When should Assistive Technology (AT) be considered for a student?

Assistive technology should be considered for a student when it is needed in order to allow a student to benefit fully from his or her educational program. The team (including the parent(s) and others who are on the Individualized Family Service Plan [IFSP] or IEP team) should identify the academic and social activities in which the student is currently unable to participate, and then assess how AT can help the student participate.

Where can I get additional training?

The student’s Individualized Family Service Plan/Individualized Education Program (IFSP/IEP) team, including the family, may receive training and technical assistance through the AT consultants at the intermediate units or through PaTTAN’s AT consultants. Specific training courses on assistive technologies will also be listed on the Training Calendar. Training on how to operate specific high-tech devices is provided by the manufacturers of the systems. For more information, contact the AT consultant at your local intermediate unit.

Who can help with Assistive Technology?

The student’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP) team often need additional help from individuals with specific knowledge about AT, such as information about available devices, ways of teaching a student to use a device effectively, or obtaining devices. In Pennsylvania, the AT consultants at the intermediate units are available to support the child’s IFSP or IEP team. In addition, PaTTAN AT consultants (both school-age and early intervention) are available to help facilitate AT needs.

Who is a candidate for AT and what can I do to begin the assessment process?

A student should be considered a candidate for an AT device when the student is unable to perform activities that typical peers are doing, and his or her inability to perform these skills is negatively impacting on participation in activities and routines. Once an AT device is being considered for a student, the student’s Individualized Family Service Plan/Individualized Education Program (IFSP/IEP) team begins an ongoing process of assessment that takes place over a period of time and includes observation of typical activities and routines. The assessment process should focus on the student’s strengths and needs, and AT device features should be matched to those strengths and needs.

The following steps are recommended during the assessment process:

•Document the AT tried with the student and family, including low- and high-tech devices and the results of each of the trials
•Facilitate the trial usage of AT in the school setting
•Develop an implementation plan for how the device will be integrated into the routines and activities in which the student and family participate
•Promote team participation in the selection, training and use of the AT device

Once we have some ideas for AT devices that may work with a student, do we have to purchase a device in order to try it with the student?

No, you do not have to purchase the device. You should always try devices with a student before you purchase them. AT may be expensive and students’ needs vary greatly, so it is important to make sure the features of the device meet the needs and promote curriculum participation. To obtain a device for evaluation you can turn to:

• PaTTAN’s Short Term Loan program, developed by Pennsylvania’s Departments of Public Welfare and Education. This program provides AT equipment and resource materials to teachers or therapists. The equipment may be borrowed for evaluation for six weeks for any child from birth through age 21.
• Pennsylvania’s Assistive Technology Lending Library (800-204-PIAT), lends devices to people of all ages across the commonwealth. The library’s website includes a catalog of available devices, instructions on how to borrow, and information about training opportunities.

Should we teach students what the symbols mean before we start using the AAC device for communication?

Both professionals and families often are concerned about using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices that have symbols representing the messages. Objects, photographs, symbols or written words may be used to represent communication messages. The choice of which is best for a student is made after considering the student’s motor, cognitive, and visual skills. As you begin to use AAC, however, it is not necessary to teach the meaning of the representation system. The student can associate meaning with symbols as he uses messages and sees how it impacts the behavior of people around him. For example, the student uses a message on a communication device to ask for a cookie and she gets one, she will start to associate that message with getting a cookie. Learning the meaning of the symbol occurs as she associates symbol selection with the desired response.

Topic: Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)

How do teams obtain textbooks in Braille format?

To obtain materials in braille format, LEAS are encouraged to contact the PaTTAN AIM Center. Staff in Production Services can assist LEAs in identifying conversion options for NIMAS and other files.

IDEA 2004 requires that LEAs provide AIM in a timely manner to students who need these materials. What is meant by timely manner?

As required by IDEA 2004, Pennsylvania has defined timely manner in the recent update to PA special education law. Chapter 14 states that Agencies act in a timely manner in providing instructional materials if they take all reasonable steps to ensure that children who are blind or other persons with print disabilities have access to their accessible format instructional materials at the same time that students without disabilities have access to the instructional materials. Sections 14.106, 711.45©

What disabilities qualify a student to be served with NIMAS-derived accessible textbooks?

IDEA 2004 includes a definition of students who may be provided with accessible textbooks created with NIMAS-conformant files from the NIMAC. The definition used within the legislation is “blind or other persons with print disabilities.” This means children served under IDEA who may qualify in accordance with an earlier act entitled, “An Act to provide books for the adult blind,” approved March 31, 1931 (2 U.S.C. 135a; 46 Stat. 1487) to receive books and other publications produced in specialized formats [674(e)(3)(A)].

Why Accessible Instructional Materials?

Textbooks and other print materials are a primary means of accessing curriculum in schools. Many students with disabilities have difficulty with these standard materials, seeing them, manipulating them or perhaps decoding or comprehending them. These students need accessible instructional materials (AIM) in order to access the general education curriculum. Provisions within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) require that textbooks and related core instructional materials in specialized formats be provided to students who need them in a timely manner.

What are NIMAS and NIMAC?

To make this easier for schools, IDEA 2004 also established a standard file format that all publishers of K-12 textbooks will provide upon request when textbooks are ordered. The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is intended for use in the preparation of electronic files suitable for efficient conversion into specialized formats. Further, the National Instructional Materials Center (NIMAC) was established as a repository for those files. When LEAs order texts for all students, they will request that a NIMAS file be deposited in the NIMAC for later conversion into specialized formats needed by individual students using that text.

What do we mean by specialized formats?

Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) are versions of standard curricular content in specialized formats that can be used by and with print-disabled learners. They include Braille, audio, large print, and electronic text.
• Digital Text or E-text (electronic text) include files produced by word-processing programs, rich-text files (RTF), ASCII, HTML and Digital Talking Books. Such files can be transformed into multiple accessible forms by using varied font size and colors, text-to-speech tools, and other text enhancements that provide access to the text.
• Braille is a series of raised dots that can be read tactually by people who are blind or whose eyesight is not sufficient for reading printed material. Braille materials provide the content as standard print, embossed on specialized paper or, when provided digitally, through specialized refreshable displays.
• Large Print format provides content as standard print, in larger, often simpler font type or page sizes to enable those with visual impairments to read more easily.
• Audio formats include tapes, CDs, MP3 files, text-to-speech programs, and other auditory alternatives to printed texts.

What should schools do when ordering textbooks?

When ordering textbooks from publishers, LEAs should include the following language in the purchase order to ensure that a NIMAS file is deposited into the NIMAC. By agreeing to deliver the materials marked with “NIMAS” on this contract or purchase order, the publisher agrees to prepare and submit, on or before a certain date a NIMAS file set to the NIMAC that complies with the terms and procedures set forth by the NIMAC. Should the vendor be a distributor of the materials and not the publisher, the distributor agrees to immediately notify the publisher of its obligation to submit NIMAS file sets of the purchased products to the NIMAC. The files will be used for the production of alternate formats as permitted under the law for students with print disabilities; This is page __ of __ of this contract or purchase order.

What should IEP teams do to make sure that the need for AIM is considered?

When IEP teams meet to review current data, teams should identify whether a student requires accessible instructional materials and, if so, in what format. Teams may review learning media assessment data (for students who are blind or visually impaired) as well as data from assistive trials, including use of digital text features (such as text to speech) in the context of meaningful text comprehension tasks.

How do teams obtain textbooks in alternate formats other than Braille?

To obtain materials in other alternate formats, LEAS are encouraged to explore the services available from national-level accessible materials producers and distributors such as
• Bookshare for electronic texts. (Note that Bookshare is free to students with IEPs.)
• Learning Ally (formerly RFB&D) for human voice audio texts.

Topic: Deaf-Blind - 2012 Deaf-Blind Census

Where do I get more information?

Please contact Kristen Parsons at or you may locate more information on Deaf-Blindness and Pennsylvania specific child count data at the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness website:

Is Early Intervention (Birth to 3) Included?

In addition all infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who have vision and hearing loss need to be identified and represented on the census. This includes all “children who are experiencing developmental delays in vision and hearing, have a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delays in hearing and vision, or who is at risk of having substantial developmental delays in hearing and vision if early intervention services are not provided.”

Why is it important to participate in the census?

Funding for technical assistance and training is based upon the number of children identified.

The Pennsylvania Deaf-Blind Initiative provides technical assistance, training, and support for families, service providers and educational teams working with children and youth who are deaf-blind. Project staff, work closely with school districts and Intermediate Units throughout the state, early childhood agencies, and families to identify these children.

Who qualifies for the census?

The child does not have to be completely deaf and blind; in fact the majority of those identified have some degree of functional vision and hearing. It does not matter if the child is classified by the school district under another category such as multiply impaired, as long as they meet the requirement of having vision and hearing loss in addition to their other disabilities. Children who have cortical vision and /or hearing impairment should also be included in the census count.

What is the Federal Definition of Deaf-Blindness?

“…children and youth having auditory and visual impairments, the combination of which creates such severe communication and other developmental and learning needs that they cannot be appropriately educated without special education and related services, beyond those that would be provided solely for children with hearing impairments, visual impairment, or severe disabilities, to address their educational needs due to these concurrent disabilities.”

How is the information used?

The information is used to track and monitor the incidence of Deaf-Blindness across the country, as well as in each state. The information provided also helps each state plan for appropriate training and technical assistance activities to meet the needs of the children and youth, families, service providers, and educators within each state.

Once a child is identified, the Pennsylvania Deaf-Blind Initiative can then initiate and respond to any requests for technical assistance and training on behalf of that child.

How is the information reported?

Once the Project has compiled the information requested on each child, it is then sent to The National Technical Assistance Consortium who compiles it by state, for the US Department of Education. The report is kept confidential and no personally identifiable information is sent, such as the child’s name, address, etc.


What is the 2012 Deaf-Blind Census?

All state Deaf-Blind projects that receive federal funding are required to complete an annual registry or “census” of children and youth, birth through 21 years of age, who are deaf-blind or otherwise known as dual sensory impaired. The data is compiled into a confidential report and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by April 1st of each year.