Key assistive technology group closes its doors

NCTI helped researchers and educators develop assistive technology solutions for students.

After 10 years in the assistive technology and educational technology fields, the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) closed operations with the end of its federal funding on Sept. 30.

NCTI served as a resource for special-education advocates, researchers, and ed-tech stakeholders. The organization helped bring together those different groups to create innovative assistive technologies and learning resources for students, especially those with special needs.

NCTI has received a no-cost extension through Dec. 31, after which time the grant that funds the center will expire. Officially, the center’s grant from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) expired Sept. 30, but the no-cost extension lets NCTI staff make upgrades to the organization’s Tech Matrix and close out any current work.

In a Sept. 7 eMail message, NCTI Director Tracy Gray informed NCTI supporters of the cease in funding.

“We greatly appreciate your leadership in the field of education and the application of innovative technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experiences for all students,” Gray wrote.

NCTI’s demise means that the organization’s Technology Innovators Conference will not be held this year, and the annual Tech in the Works Competition, which provides funding for short-term assistive technology research, will end as well.

The annual Technology Innovators Conference has met since 2006. Although the conference will not be held this year, materials from previous conferences, including speaker presentations, audio interviews, photos, and a virtual Tech Expo tour, are posted online. Those resources will remain archived online.

During its existence, the Tech in the Works Competition “has proven to be a successful collaboration between researchers and vendors that has resulted in significant, quick turnaround research related to the use of technology tools for students with special needs,” Gray wrote in her eMail.

Findings from those research efforts are posted online, and those interested in the competition might want to check out NCTI’s latest publication, “Assistive Technology Research Matters: A Research Primer,” a collaboration with ATIA.

In an interview with eSchool News, Gray said the American Institutes for Research, which houses NCTI, is committed to maintaining the Tech Matrix, a tool that helps users locate ed-tech products and assistive technologies for special-needs students. The free database contains 300 reviewed technology products relating to reading, writing, math, science, and assistive technology.

Database users can access “Ask the Tech Expert” questions and answers and can search by different criteria to locate appropriate resources for their students.

NCTI’s annual conference was unique, Gray said, because it served as a crossroads where special-education groups, assistive technology groups, researchers, and educational technology advocates were able to come together and combine their efforts and knowledge.

“The event was small, but so representative of the key types of people in the field,” Gray said.

NCTI staffers might reach out to foundations for funding assistance in the near future.

“We have been very fortunate to be able to provide valuable information to the field. OSEP and OSEP project officer Dave Malouf have been very supportive throughout the years,” Gray said, acknowledging that the move is “emblematic of the cost-cutting times—we feel OSEP has been enormously supportive and engaged with this project.”

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