Get Your Special Education Brain in Gear

Article excerpt

Special needs students-those with physical, behavioral, cognitive, and learning disabilities- represent a diverse range of learners. Because of the nature of our job, we media specialists must provide resources that meet their needs.

RECENTLY, a friend of mine was overwhelmed by the task of packing her household for a move to another state; panic set in for a few days. But a few days later she was completely organized because, as she told me, "My special education brain just kicked into gear."

I've been thinking about my friend's special education teacher mind-set. Her practical teaching ideas and helpful nature benefited our middle school's fledgling media program when we began to change a 1960s-era school library into a modern media/technology program. She always had an idea and an abundance of energy. Her strength was in taking a lesson apart and breaking it down into meaningful, doable parts that worked with her students. At the beginning it meant adding a simple, basic technology experience to a basic lesson. Her ideas spread beyond special education; they added new dimensions to mainstream classrooms and our growing middle school media program. Her evangelistic teamwork and practicality led to technology-infused units and projects. Our collaboration was a prosperous melding of program growth, and it raised my awareness.

MEDIA SPECIALISTS AND SPECIAL ED

Special needs students--those with physical, behavioral, cognitive, and learning disabilities--represent a diverse range of learners. Because of the nature of our job, we media specialists must provide resources that meet their needs.

Former AASL president Helen Adams, author of Ensuring Intellectual Freedom and Access to Information in the School Library Media Program (Libraries Unlimited, 2008), has noted that school library professionals have a responsibility to provide access to resources and services in library media programs for students with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities. For students with special needs, access to these resources and services is an integral part of their intellectual freedom. In January 2009, the American Library Association Council voted to approve a new Library Bill of Rights interpretation, "Services to Persons With Disabilities: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights." This newest interpretation will speak strongly to your school community about its legal and ethical responsibility to provide such access.

There are many ways to meet this goal, making connections to a broad range of learning needs and working with a broad range of teachers. The situations described here are primarily about students who are not severely disabled.

AGE- AND ABILITY-APPROPRIATE RESOURCES

Connecting learners with age- and ability-appropriate resources is a first step in meeting student needs. It may range from identifying high interest easy-reading books or websites, large print books, or audiobooks to purchasing and supporting adaptive technology applications. It may mean providing text-to-speech software, adaptive keyboards, or even ebook readers such as Amazon Kindles, as some media specialists are beginning to do.

For instance, one media specialist and her school's special services director are considering Kindles not only to encourage reading but to build motor-skills dexterity and to provide a dictionary immediately available for use. Intervention at the right time might help students utilize easily forgotten features of web browsers and computer operating systems that can make using technology easier.

Media centers and the information-finding process can be daunting for special education students who are simply looking for a good book to read or trying to complete a class project. In her book Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services (Libraries Unlimited, 2004), Carol Kuhlthau addresses this need when she challenges us not to forget the emotions involved in the research process in her writings about the information search process. …