4 Strategies to Engage Families in Tech Partnerships

Empowering Families in the Digital Age: Building Inclusive Tech Partnerships edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Families are thirsty for information about inclusive technology that supports their children with disabilities. They want to understand and inform the tools schools use. They want to collaborate. Yet, while family engagement is essential—and promoted in the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—it is often not operationalized.

In the edLeader Panel “Empowering Families in the Digital Age: Building Inclusive Tech Partnerships,” technology and special education specialists shared ways to involve families in assistive tech decision making, acquisition, and implementation.

What Families Want

Panelist Dr. Angel Morgan, Assistant Instructional Professional at Arizona State University, in collaboration with the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES), conducted research underscoring the disconnect between what parents want regarding assistive tech and what happens in districts and schools:

  • Only 38% of families reported that school and district leaders asked about technology goals and planning.
  • Less than half of leaders ask families about hardware or software they need.
  • Families indicated a need for better communication about assistive and accessible technology tools for technology infrastructure.
  • Families want to be included in data-driven decision making to determine the quality and accessibility of technology before it is purchased.

What Families Provide

The data indicate that collaborating with families benefits assistive tech initiatives because they:

  • Know their children: Involving them in tech matters ensures students get personalized solutions.
  • Can speak to tech resources gaps, hurdles, and school training needs.
  • Are often tech savvy: Their engagement can steer schools toward appropriate technology.
  • Are the ideal source of student data, informing schools’ and districts’ data management and sharing.

Engagement Strategies

The panelists shared core engagement methods that have successfully involved families in critical assistive tech efforts. Consider using these strategies to jumpstart district/school and family collaboration: 

Gathering Data

Collecting data on families’ assistive tech needs and wants—and identifying the learning goals they have for their children—frames their engagement. Technology and special education surveys and focus groups, for example, can identify everything from parent capacity to support their child at home to the appropriate technology.

Activating Communication and Outreach

Regularly communicating with families drives student success at home and school. Communication methods can include:

  • Digital district and school newsletters with resources and training opportunities
  • Ongoing conversations with parents (e.g., managing complex learning support needs or lesson adaptation with technology)
  • Published resources on the website (emailing families links to that information)
  • Shared community resources that enable family access to Wi-Fi and technology at home.

And remember to ensure that communication is accessible to parents and caregivers with disabilities.

Conducting Training

  • Offer face-to-face and virtual workshops at varied times during the day. Sessions can focus on special education issues and concerns, introducing assistive technology tools and offering opportunities for parents to provide tech feedback that informs change to meet learner needs.
  • Produce and publish tutorials on school and district websites to help parents operate tools and apps.
  • Set up a hotline to help parents at home navigate tech challenges.
  • Establish a districtwide parent advisory board that meets monthly to raise issues related to students with diverse needs.
  • Use Title I parent nights or subject-related nights (math, for example) to give families “extra help.”
  • Organize a family engagement group to help parents support children using assistive AAC devices.

Practicing Empathy

Built into all family engagement strategies is empathy. It’s crucial to listen to families, identify their struggles and capacity to navigate their child with special needs and everything else they must manage, and provide socio-emotional support. Recognize that they want success for their child but require guidance. Get to know families to determine how to work with them.

Family engagement forms a solid network to link school and home. Teamwork motivates and keeps parents and caregivers actively engaged in their children’s education, especially those with diverse abilities. Technology can be a facilitator of such collaboration.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “Empowering Families in the Digital Age: Building Inclusive Tech Partnerships,” sponsored by Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems.

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Join the Community

Ignite Digital Learning is a free professional learning community where educators, librarians, and administrators can explore strategies and tactics for getting every child to be a better thinker, better reader, and better writer through the use of digital resources.

Center on Inclusive Technology & Education SystemsThe goal of the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) is to empower school districts to create and sustain inclusive technology systems that serve all students, including students with disabilities who require assistive technology or accessible educational materials. CITES is developing and disseminating a framework of evidence-based practices, aligned to the National Educational Technology Plan (2017) to enhance the successful use of technology by all students. We provide technical assistance to districts, educators, and families to ensure that students with disabilities are able to use the technology tools they need to foster learning and life success.

Join the CITES Community of Practice to learn more.


Article by Michele Israel, based on this edLeader Panel