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Spec. Ed. 2.0


Among the wide range of skills needed by today’s special education teachers, proficiency with technology may fast be rising to the top.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, a growing movement known as “universal design” is spurring special educators to use advances in technology—whether in specialized devices or widely available Web programs—to give students with disabilities better access to mainstream curriculum units.

Examples cited include remote-control switches that help wheelchair-bound students operate machinery; oral readers to help students with reading disabilities keep up with texts; and an online program called Voice Threads that lets users create presentations with a variety of media, including voice and video.

There is a definite art to the way educators select and implement the technology, experts say, insofar as it must be tailored to the needs of the individual student for inclusion.

"We haven't left anyone out," said Madalaine Pugliese, director of the assistive technology graduate program at Simmons College in Massachusetts. "I think that's the real spirit of the work we're trying to do."


Universal design (formerly assistive technology) technology needs to be promoted better to special ed professionals, and gened teachers, too. IEP committees have an obligation to be aware of what UT devices can offer to special education students. Too often, special ed and gened teachers have no idea of what's available. Also, IEP committees have to include the use in individual students' IEP to provide impetus for school districts to purchase the neeed technology. Also too often, schools play the cost card, saying they cannot afford to buy the needed technology. That's bogus on multiple levels. If it's in the IEP, schools better get the technology or face a parent accompanied by an advocate threatening legal action. Schools need to do what they're legally bound to do without threat of lawsuit. The whole area of UT needs a big spotlight put on it.

Many times, Assistive Technology is included in the IEP, yet never implemented in the classroom because general education and special education teachers have no idea how to use AT.

AT often looks great on paper, but does little to nothing to help a student access the curriculum because it's simply never implemented.

I've read many IEP's where it's stated that the student will "have access to a computer" for all assignments. This means nothing. Having a computer in the back of the classroom technically meets the IEP definition. "Having access" doesn't mean that any of the student's assignments will actually be available on the computer. "Having access" doesn't mean the teacher will scan worksheets for computer completion, or give the student time to use the computer.

In one case, a student wasn't taught how to turn the computer on - yet somehow he was supposed to complete his work. Of course, he couldn't, and the classroom teacher then complained that the child was trying to avoid work!

Parents, if Assistive Technology is in your child's IEP, make sure the implementation, training, and follow through actually happens.

Really enjoyed this article. as I substitute K-Adult and see so many students falling through the cracks because teachers don't plan for each students needs!. Idle computers for what ever reason is not good use of time or budgets!

John and Clarissa--thank you so much for you comments. Clarissa particularly, you took the words right out of my brain. As a parent, I have insisted that services include UDL--and gotten the translation that "student will have access." It gets complicated as well when computer-phobic teachers don't have enough exposure to realize what an important teaching tool this is. They see it as something that some pushy no-nothing got put into the IEP. They point out that my student doesn't want to use the computer in the back of the room, because no one else is. My question is always--why is no one else in the resource room being provided with this valuable tool?

In one case, there was a requirement that we have an audio version of any reading. This meant that after a novel was assigned to the rest of the class, I might find out, and contact the OT, who would talk to the teacher on her next weekly visit--then visit the public library (I'm sure it was on her own time) and take out the audio version (if they had one available) in whatever format was available (tape or CD) and take it to the school on her next weekly visit. Instead of needed support, this was a two week delay in access.

I frequently find that teachers are using worksheets--that have been simplified (or dumbed down) to allow things like multiple choice, looping answers or matching in preference to open ended questions. Then they hand these oversimplified things to my student--who actually prefers them to trying to translate onto the computer. But what is missed is any higher cognitive involvement that he needs--and could well handle--if the teacher weren't so used to accommodating in the "old" way.

School systems need to have an Assistive Technology team that can support the training for all classroom teachers. This team should be made up of a group of teachers that is familar with students of various disabilities and has knowledge of all the assistive technology that is available.

I agree with the intense need for technology for all students, and particularly for students with disabilities. I also agree with the need to educate teachers in the use of technology. There is a considerable body of literature that supports technology use in the classroom.
ARD committees are not immune from systemic power imbalances. It has been my experience that teachers who speak out for the needs of their students can come into direct conflict with administrators and/or school psychologists, who sometimes place the budget above the child. In my opinion, the Response to Intervention model (RtI) has exacerbated these issues by delaying or denying needed services. NCLB, too, has contributed to a systemic hesitance to provide services, and is in direct conflict with the IDEA. Often ignored, too, is the considerable body of literature that supports early and research based interventions, including the use of technology.

I am a first year Special Ed teacher. I spent 25 years in corporate america before embarking on my last career adventure. I was amazed at the lack of technology in the urban schools and the fact that no one is listening. I hear a lot about raising student performance as the number one goal for educators. Technology has become (research supported)an in your face solution to pumping up the volume for student learning. This is especially true for many special ed kids. Kids love technology, and some are much more proficient that a lot of teachers. I was taught to work from a position of strength. There you have it. This year I was able to teach a cognitively low (could not read a word) 19 year old how to read (she had about 250 words when I left. This only happened due to a super slick software that provided supplimentary phonics support to a whole word reading program. The student enjoyed the software so much she would do her whole word work just so she could work on the computer. This computer was my own laptop. The computer in my classroom was a 15 year old Mac. I don't understand.

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Recent Comments

  • Nancy Special Ed: I am a first year Special Ed teacher. I spent read more
  • Kim, Teacher: I agree with the intense need for technology for all read more
  • Lorie: School systems need to have an Assistive Technology team that read more
  • Margo/Mom: John and Clarissa--thank you so much for you comments. Clarissa read more
  • Helen Jackson: Really enjoyed this article. as I substitute K-Adult and read more




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