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Defining Concepts

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Defining Concepts

Changing classrooms | Computer technology

What Is Assistive Technology?
Assistive Technologies are the tools and strategies that act to liberate
the use of technology for all students as well as to provide new ways to "assist" interactions and learning. They act to "augment abilities and bypass or compensate for a disability" (Lewis, 1994).

AT is anything that makes "it" easier for a student to...

  Turn things on: use an extra large remote to turn the TV on
 Get dressed, eat, or bathe: to get bathed, use an adaptive bath chair
 Read: use a bookholder to read
 Write: use a specialized keyboard to write
 See: use a magnifying glass
 Get around or move: use a bicycle with adapted pedals to get around
 Communicate: use a picture phone to call someone
 Play: use a card holder to play

Changing Classrooms

link: IDEA Annual Report
23rd Annual Report on IDEA
link: National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
link: In the classroom
In the classroom

As we enter the twenty-first century we find that recent legislation and technology innovations are changing the ways teachers teach and children learn. Since 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has mandated that "to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities. . . are educated with children who are not disabled".

Over the past 10 years, the percentage of students with disabilities served in schools and classes with their non-disabled peers has gradually increased and continues to grow. In fact, approximately 95.9% of students with disabilities, ages 6-11, receive their education in regular education classrooms/resource rooms (OSEP, 2002). The 1997 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) calls for providing access to the general education curriculum in order to improve outcomes for all students.

The majority of students with disabilities are capable of participating in the general education curriculum to varying degrees with some adaptations and modifications. As inclusive schools become the norm, schools are becoming more accessible to all students; standards are being set and creative designs employed.

As instructional issues arise regarding how to meet the individual learning needs of all students, new tools are being investigated. Educators begin with the curriculum, and then ask how existing classroom tools, materials and activities might be re-designed to assist all students in achieving learning outcomes. School districts are searching for viable tools that will expand access to the general education curriculum for all students.

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Computer Technology

Another major classroom change is the use of computer technology. Computers have become an essential literacy tool in our society; its use crucial for future success in the workplace. Over 76% of American students use a computer at school; 83% use one at home for school assignments/word processing (NCES, 2001). Internet access in public schools has increased to 78%, with 27% of classrooms with Internet access (NCES, 2001). However, to best take advantage of the potential of technology, teachers and students must have adequate and equitable access; schools must build the capacity to use technology, develop a technology plan and offer adequate training and technical support; and teachers and students must use technology in effective ways (Jerald, 1998).

With increased access to education technology, it can be used to create more accessible curricular materials in fast and easy ways for students with disabilities (Research Connections, 1999). As classrooms materials are created in digital format, they can then be accessed and manipulated in a variety of ways to be heard, seen and manipulated. For example students can change how they interact with digitized materials by:

  • Enlarging the size of the text
  • Changing the color or font of the text
  • Having the text read aloud
  • Hearing labels read of pictures/simulations
  • Speaking into a computer microphone to write
  • Using alternate input options: trackballs, larger keyboards, touch screens, etc.

Software companies are designing programs that meet a wider range of needs. CD textbooks and e-Books are just two examples. Universal Access features are embedded in programs that present content in alternate ways, with multiple options for student control (i.e. text-to-speech, enlarged fonts and tool bars with large, well labeled buttons) (CAST, 1998). Other characteristics promote student engagement, interest, and motivation. These "built-in" options make learning more relevant.

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