For anyone seeking a career in the assistive technology realm, there are various educational options available that they can pursue to start their assistive technology careers. However, technology, especially assistive technology, has seen a paradigm shift in recent years, and continues to make great strides change to either: make great strides or perhaps continues to grow or continues to expand. With technology making such rapid progress without any sign of slowing down, how does one keep themselves updated and learn about the latest? How do they enhance their skills? Are there certifications available for assistive technology professionals that will help them market themselves? We know continuing education is important but can we be negatively impacted if we don’t continue to educate ourselves? How do we make sure that we get recognized for our skills, which will benefit us as assistive technology professionals and everyone we serve? Is there an organization that can help us with all of this and beyond?
Whew! That’s a lot of questions! However, for anyone seeking answers to these questions, a group of people, who are experts in this area, gathered together to answer these questions! As someone seeking to expand assistive technology skills, enhance marketability, and earn more credibility, you can go through RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America) – a not for profit organization that is dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of people with disabilities through increasing access to assistive technology solutions. RESNA is great for any professional who is looking to get continuing education in assistive, adaptive, or accessible technology. RESNA also provides certifications that can be truly valuable. Why? Because there are organizations out there that are looking specifically for RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professionals.
But how does it all work? RESNA’s Andrea Van Hook, along with the following RESNA-certified ATPs explain RESNA, continuing education, certifications, and answer important questions along the way!
Andrea Van Hook is RESNA’s Membership, Marketing and Communications Manager.
Daniel Cochrane, MA, MS, ATP, is chair of the Professional Standards Board (PSB), the RESNA committee that governs the certification programs. A special educator by training, he is the AT coordinator for a K-12 school district in the Chicago suburbs and also teaches an online course for the University of Illinois in Chicago’s Assistive Technology Certificate Program.
Diana Petschauer, M.Ed, ATP, is founder of AT for Education and Access4Employment, a consultant and AT trainer/ evaluator, and manager of AT professionals with a background in special education K-12 and postsecondary. Providing AT services nationally, Diana is also a RESNA PSB member.
Let’s start with the basics – what is RESNA?
Andrea: RESNA, the Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America, is a non-profit professional membership organization dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of people with disabilities through increasing access to technology solutions. RESNA members include rehabilitation engineers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, educators, researchers, technology developers, speech-language pathologists, assistive technology specialists, computer scientists, suppliers and manufacturers.
Who is it for? Why consider RESNA for professional development?
Andrea: RESNA is for any professional who works with assistive, adaptive, or accessible technology for people with disabilities. RESNA offers a wide range of continuing education for professionals and certified professionals, including webinars, courses, an annual conference, and a peer-reviewed scientific journal. RESNA also offers multiple certifications for professionals that provide direct services to people with disabilities.
Dan: The requirement for ongoing professional development is an important part of what makes professional certification valuable. ATP certified practitioners must renew their certification every two years by accumulating continuing education credits (see RESNA’s website for details). Consumers and employers will know that AT practitioners with RESNA’s certifications are deepening their AT knowledge and keeping up with new developments in the field. But continuing education credits for the ATP and ATP/SMS can be acquired from a number of different providers, not just RESNA. Although RESNA is the only membership organization dedicated to assistive technology, which is what I find interesting about it, other organizations have conferences and webinars too. These might be focused on specific sectors of AT practice, such as K-12 or seating and mobility.
Diana: Acquiring my ATP credential via RESNA and accessing RESNA’s professional development resources have been significant in regards to support for my position now as well as the services that I provide. Schools, organizations, and companies seek the ATP credential when hiring an AT consultant and I am happy to have it to demonstrate my background and current knowledge in this ever changing and evolving field. I appreciate collaborating with other ATPs with various backgrounds and expertise. Many of my consultants are ATPs or working towards the ATP certification while specializing in various areas such as Augmentative/ Alternative Communication (AAC), access, learning disabilities and literacy supports, aging and older adults, blind and low vision, physical disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing, etc.
Is RESNA certification available for assistive technology professionals?
Andrea: RESNA offers two certifications for assistive technology service providers who have met a national standard of job-based knowledge and experience. The Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) certification recognizes demonstrated competence in assessing and analyzing the needs of consumers with disabilities, assisting in the selection of appropriate technologies to meet those needs, and providing training in the use of selected devices. The ATP certification program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the accrediting body of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, which means that the program meets the highest quality standards in professional certification.
The Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS) certification is a specialty certification for professionals working in seating and mobility. In order to be eligible for the SMS certification, a professional must first be ATP-certified.
Dan: One of the interesting things about RESNA’s ATP certification is that it is not specific to one corner of AT practice. In other words, it’s not just for suppliers who work for seating and mobility vendors or just for physical therapists who work in clinical settings. Assistive technology is an interdisciplinary field that consumers can access in a variety of ways throughout their lives. Early intervention programs and public schools are required to consider assistive technology for children in their settings. Hospital and clinics provide AT services as part of healthcare. Private community-based organizations, such as independent living centers, home service providers, or independent businesses connect folks with assistive technology along with other types of services. Vocational rehabilitation programs help people find employment or get back to work with assistive technology. Federally funded Tech Act programs in each state help provide assistive technology at all stages of life. These are just some examples of the diverse AT service provision options and it seems I’m always learning about others. RESNA’s ATP certification applies to practitioners in all these settings. Although people tend to specialize in specific applications of AT, such as seating and mobility or augmentative communication, or they work in only one setting, such as a K-12 school system, the provision of AT services anywhere follows the same framework: assessment of needs and then feature-matching AT solutions to the person, the activity or task they need to do, and the environment where it needs to be done.
How much does the certification exam cost?
Andrea: The ATP certification exam fee is normally $500. However, RESNA is introducing a new, updated ATP exam starting in July. Candidates who take the new, updated exam between July 1 and October 31 2016 will receive a $100 discount off of the regular exam fee. The exam has been updated to reflect current assistive technology practice.
During the past two years, volunteer subject matter experts representing a variety of assistive technology specialty areas, practice settings, and professional backgrounds have contributed their time and expertise as part of a rigorous process to update the exam. At every step of the way, efforts were taken to ensure the new exam reflects the broad diversity of current assistive technology practice. The exam was previously updated in 2009.
More information about the new, updated exam and the discount can be found on the RESNA website at www.resna.org.
What career opportunities are available after getting RESNA certified?
Andrea: RESNA certification helps professionals establish their credentials as knowledgeable, experienced service providers. Many rehabilitation hospitals, clinics, school districts, durable medical equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and others recognize the value of the ATP certification and some require it for jobs that involve assessing and evaluating technologies for people with disabilities. In addition, Medicare and several state Medicaid programs require that a RESNA-certified ATP perform assessments for people needing certain seating and mobility equipment.
Dan: RESNA certification is different from certificate programs and from licensure although these options are easily confused, especially as they relate to career opportunities. Certificate programs specify the coursework needed to get a certificate, which is just like getting a degree. Once you earn it, it can’t be taken away. Professional credentialing, such as RESNA’s ATP, is something you might get later to validate your knowledge base and experience level. It usually involves an exam and other eligibility criteria but most importantly, it is something that the practitioner needs to maintain by meeting renewal requirements. Professional credentials expire or can be taken away for ethics violations. Licensure is when a governmental organization, such as a state, makes the professional credential a legal requirement for those who want to practice in a specific field. This is common practice in medical, educational, financial and other fields. With licensure, the professional credential is directly tied to employment opportunities. RESNA’s ATP certification, on the other hand, is not directly tied to career opportunities because it is not tied to licensure. However, as Andrea mentioned, it is required for Medicare billing of certain seating and mobility equipment, so employers in that sector require it. In other sectors, employers may prefer candidates with ATP certification for dedicated AT positions. But because AT practice is multidisciplinary, AT services may only be part of a professional’s job responsibilities. In these cases, ATP certification is not so much about opening career opportunities as it is about validating a practitioner’s expertise to the consumer and their family.
Diana: I started with my Master’s in Special Education as well as many years of hands-on experience with assistive technology with students of various ages and abilities. I attended certificate programs in postsecondary education that enhanced my knowledge of special education, disabilities, and AT use and implementation. I then applied for and took the RESNA ATP exam to show my knowledge and experience in the field to those who were hiring me. Now I seek consultants with this credential when I hire consultants for our company. As we acquire contracts and work with clients, they inquire about our credentials and expertise and specifically ask for the ATP. It is indeed recognized by Medicaid and Medicare as well as insurance and continues to be recognized and required for certain positions and funding options. Many other professionals in various fields such as seating and mobility specialists, OTs, SLPs, educators, etc., have initial degrees, professions and credentials and acquire the ATP to demonstrate their expertise for further opportunities and to be part of the supportive RESNA community of professionals and experts, as well as the resources for professional development. It is important to note that the AT certificate programs at colleges are as Dan mentioned, certificates, and can help an individual to prepare for the RESNA ATP, as well as further their knowledge of assistive technology. The certificates are not the equivalent of the RESNA ATP.
Does RESNA provide resources for continued education and professional development?
Andrea: RESNA offers a wide range of continuing education for professionals and certified professionals, including webinars, courses, an annual conference, and a scientific journal.
Diana: The RESNA webinars and continuing education courses are excellent and can be found on the website. I also like the RESNA job board that allows employers to post current employment opportunities on the RESNA website to find just the right employee from the vast array of professionals associated with RESNA . In addition, those searching for employment in the assistive technology field may, at no charge, create and post their professional profile for prospective employers to search. Click here for the Job Board
Once you get RESNA certification, how do you market your credentials?
Andrea: RESNA offers certified professionals a marketing toolkit, which includes logo guidelines, sample press releases, and tips on how to market yourself as a certified professional. In addition, as an organization, RESNA continuously promotes certification to the public, employers, and others.
Are there University programs or classes available that will prepare me for RESNA certification?
Andrea: On the RESNA website, there is a webpage devoted to “Preparing for the Exam.” There are links to third-party providers that offer classes which may help candidates focus their study and gain additional knowledge that would be useful for exam preparation.
Dan: I certainly benefited from completing an AT certificate program before I applied for the ATP credential. I already had years of hands-on experience in the school system where I work and knew a lot about certain aspects of AT. But I wasn’t tuned into the relevance of AT across the lifespan because my work is with K-12 students. Nor was I familiar with sectors of AT application that fall outside my scope of practice, such as seating and mobility. I took a 3 credit graduate course in this area and learned a lot. It’s still a practice area that is outside the scope of my professional training as a special educator, but I now understand how seating assessments work and know what to advocate for when I see a student whose seating and mobility needs are not being met.
What are the benefits of becoming a RESNA member? What type of memberships are available?
Andrea: RESNA membership, which is separate from certification, offers many benefits. By joining RESNA, AT professionals become members of the premier professional organization dedicated to assistive technology. RESNA is the only professional home for everyone that works in assistive technology.
We offer individual, consumer, and student memberships, as well as organizational memberships for non-profit and for-profit organizations. For those new to RESNA, we offer a new member discount for the first year. Individual memberships are $165 a year, new members are $150, consumers are $80, and students are $60.
With membership, AT professionals enjoy discounts on continuing education, including webinars, courses, and the annual conference, as well as a free, online subscription to the organization’s peer-reviewed scientific journal, Assistive Technology. RESNA members can also join up to 14 members-only online communities organized around specialty interest areas or professional specialties, networking, exchanging information, and exchanging referrals. RESNA members can also use the Member Logo on their business cards, email signatures, and in their own marketing; and can access any member for advice and consultation through the members-only directory.
Dan: I want to add that another benefit of RESNA membership is the opportunity to become involved in committee work that impacts the field of AT. While other organizations have great conferences you can attend once a year, they have no on-going opportunities for collaboration with other AT professionals. RESNA, on the other hand, provides multiple ways to get involved. Sometimes you end up chairing a committee, as I did! But there are other levels of involvement through participation in professional interest groups or professional specialty groups. These sometimes sponsor white papers or other projects that help advance the field. I find it professionally motivating to have the opportunity to be part of this important work.
Diana: I enjoy being part of RESNA’s ongoing committees and groups to help support and promote the AT standards and practice in the industry as well as collaborate with other ATP’s and members in the field! I personally find others with the ATP to maintain and continue professional ethics and standards of practice which I share and help to make others aware of.
So, there you have it! A great guide to continuing education and important RESNA certification information that hopefully gives you all good insights on how you can steer your career in the right direction by becoming a certified ATP, keeping yourself up to date on the latest & greatest, continuing to build skillsets that are in demand, while standing out in the industry as a true expert. If you want more information on what RESNA offers AT professionals, including certified professionals, feel free to send a message to Andrea at avanhook[at]resna[dot]org.