Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Special Education and Rehabilitation

Department name when degree awarded

Special Education

Committee Chair(s)

Alan M. Hofmeister


Alan M. Hofmeister


Garth M. Eldredge


Marvin G. Fifield


Pamela Hudson


Ron Thorkildson


Deanna Winn


Assistive technology allows students with disabilities opportunities for greater independence, improved productivity, and increased functional capabilities. It removes obstacles, helps students overcome disabilities, and holds great promise for enriching educational outcomes and affecting the lives of students. However, for over 90% of special education students, assistive technology is not part of their education. One reason for not applying assistive technology to help students is the lack of a clear vision of what assistive technology is, what it can help students accomplish, and how to appropriately access it through individualized education programs (IEPs).

In this study a comprehensive concept analysis clarified key assistive technology concepts, and identified critical relevant and critical irrelevant attributes of assistive technology. Multiple focus groups and a survey of 191 special educators validated the concept analysis. The survey also provided valid and reliable data about the relevant and irrelevant critical attributes identified in the concept analysis. The survey identified discrepancies between understanding of the concepts and actual applications of assistive technology. The study applied a unique combination of concept analysis, focus group research, and survey research methods.

The appropriate application of assistive technology considers (a) the role of technology, (b) how technology meets students' unique functional needs, (c) the appropriateness of assistive technology applications, and (d) the use of technology to expand the environment of the student. Although special educators agree these concepts are critical, they seldom apply them. Other irrelevant, misconceived attributes often dictate the nonapplication or misapplication of assistive technology.

Although the IEP is the programmatic method whereby students with disabilities access special education services, 86% of IEPs do not consider possible technology applications. This oversight occurs because IEP participants lack valid information, do not have assistive technology assessments available, perceive funding as a major obstacle, lack training, and/or there are not polices and procedures in place concerning assistive technology. Recommendations for special education providers, local education agencies, and parents are included.