Like most school districts across the country, Blue Valley USD 229 strives to integrate technology into its schools and classrooms. Every summer, the information technology (IT) department worked hard to update computer systems, while the assistive technology (AT) department created programs to allow all students to access the technology that is being integrated into the classes. But every fall, problems arose as teachers returned to find that software programs for students with disabilities had been removed or that data from these programs had disappeared when the programs were reinstalled. Often, the programs the AT staff created over the summer were not compatible with the new system the IT staff had upgraded to, or the new software and/or hardware purchases made by the two departments weren't compatible. The two departments agreed that the problems were not complex or difficult to solve but required communication and coordination of efforts so that a solution that would work for everyone could be created.
Bob Moore, Executive Director of Information Technology for the Blue Valley USD, explains that "for years we had been operating as two separate entities and it was clear that this approach was no longer effective. As CTO, I would typically not be involved in nitty-gritty, operational issues, but it was clear to me that my IT staff needed to know that the support of AT and our special education teachers was an important priority for me. Equally important was for the AT and special education staff to understand that they were every bit as important a customer as were classroom teachers, administrators and support staff."
Moore set up meetings with key AT and IT staff members to discuss their concerns and needs with regard to the district's technology. The two departments began working together to plan upgrades and other purchases. Besides addressing immediate issues, they built long-term plans for the technology in their district. In addition, the two departments pooled their resources to hire an AT specialist for the IT department.
As Moore explains it, the "two departments working together-or even creating a jointly-funded position-is not much of a story. The real story is the vision we have for how IT and AT will come together to serve not only the needs of students with disabilities, but those of all students."
The Blue Valley Story is a promising practice for bringing IT and AT departments together in an effort to provide computing access for all students.