Assistive technology (AT) is tearing down the barriers that limit disabled students’ abilities to pursue full academic potential. Transitioning from a segregated, self-contained environment to an inclusive classroom is supported by the use of AT.
One of the many challenges of mainstreaming disabled children is accurately identifying student disabilities prior to initiating a transition to more traditional teaching environments. Technology is available today to assist students with cognitive, physical, psychological and learning deficiencies on multiple levels.
There were 64,810 students with disabilities during the 2009-2010 school term, according to a report issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Disabilities ranged from severe emotional dysfunction to vision impairment. Other classifications included:
Innovative communication technology is one area that has benefited students greatly. Such technology includes:
Assistive technology in the classroom allows disabled students to build on their strengths and address their challenges. Audio components that read assignments and instructions to students out loud eliminate barriers created by visual deficiencies and learning disorders such as dyslexia.
Speech-recognition programs are used to help students convert the spoken word into printed documents when physical limitations prevent standard keyboard entry. Special software programs are available to proofread documents, perform numeric calculations and allow hands-free navigation on portable laptops and desktop computer systems.
The ability to participate in classroom discussions to ask questions or offer personal insight empowers students and reduces the feelings of alienation that some students experience when communication is limited. In short, including disabled students in all appropriate activities in an inclusive classroom is essential to fostering successful outcomes and promoting self-efficacy.
Some experts suggest that raising the expectations for all students, including disabled students, will increase academic performance and improve participation and comprehension. Educators committed to raising academic standards have come together in a collaborative effort called the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project (TCICP). According to the project’s website, students on a more traditional special education track face the negative stigma of being in segregated classes, but they also face challenges of overcoming low expectations the system has established.
Assistive technology can play a vital role in raising the bar for disabled students by giving them the tools necessary to expand their knowledge bases and gradually move into a more rigorous environment for learning.
The transition to inclusive classroom instruction can be a gradual process that is structured to fit each student’s ability and comfort level. One approach is to first introduce a disabled student into a single mathematics or English course that is of particular interest to him. Building on success in one course opens the door for additional courses to be added as the situation warrants.
In schools across America, students are gaining access to educational opportunities and changing their futures with assistive technology in the classroom. According to Dr. Richard Nyankori, deputy chancellor for special education at the District of Columbia Public Schools, assistive technology breaks through the barriers of academic success and future employment opportunities. In an article published in 2011 on the DCPS website, students said the devices made the difference in being able to read the assignments or not.
Empowering students with tools that aid in communication, mobility, transcription and calculation opens the door to brighter futures. When coupled with introduction to inclusive classrooms, AT has the potential for changing lives through rigorous instruction and increased student engagement.