Voices of the Web: Expanding the Learning Horizons of Special Needs Students

Article excerpt

In each issue of MULTiMEDIA SCHooLs, the VOICES of the Web column highlights exemplary school Web sites that facilitate new communities of learners. Beginning with the September/October 1998 issue and continuing through the May/June 1999 issue, the themes for the year are as follows: parochial schools, special education sites, virtual schools, youth group sites, and international youth project webs. All sites highlighted in this column have been evaluated using the VOICES methodology described in the sidebar on page 78. Please note that this column appears in full text on the Information Today, Inc. Web site (www.infotoday.com/ MMSchools) with the featured Web sites hyperlinked. Please send your suggestions and comments to Kathy Rutkowski at kmr@chaos.com.

For a moment, imagine a world devoid of color, shape and form, a world without sound, with unreachable library shelves, and unnavigable school corridors. Imagine yourself as a child with a curious, eager mind trapped in a dungeon with no hope of escape, no way to communicate with the outside world, or no way to effectively demonstrate your intellectual and creative abilities. Imagine this child called inattentive, lazy, and stupid because he or she cannot read, write, or process knowledge as quickly or easily as his or her peers or perform as well on standardized tests.

It is hard, indeed impossible, for most of us to imagine such dire worlds and such difficult challenges, but for many children around the globe, the unimaginable is all they know. They are trapped by physical impairment blindness, deafness, crippled bodiesor isolated and rejected because of unrecognized or misunderstood cognitive disorders such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and attention deficit disorder. Over the years, inspired and dedicated teachers and parents have worked diligently to free these young minds with lots of love, attention, and innovative teaching methods. Today, technology is also assisting to break down the walls of the dungeon and allow those free minds to soar to new heights of learning and achievement.

Web technology is helping these special needs learners around the globe to expand their learning horizons and find a way to demonstrate their abilities to learn, think, and create. Not only does the technology allow these students to access vast global repositories of knowledge, but also provides them the means through which to interact on an equal basis with a diversity of students, teachers, and researchers. The technology is leveling the learning field and encouraging learners with all kinds of special needs to connect, collaborate, create, and communicate.

The technology is also helping teachers and parents of children with special learning needs to raise a societal awareness of the challenges these children face by promoting policies that will help these children more fully integrate into schools, workplaces, and society in general.

The three sites we selected exemplify the power of technology to reach out, incite, inspire, assure, and unite special needs learners, their parents, teachers, and others who care about equality of learning and opportunity. The sites serve to bring together those who can't imagine with those who dare to dream about new worlds of learning and discovery.

In this column, we reviewed hundreds of school Web sites targeting special needs learners, including those limited in functional areas such as vision, speech, mobility, and hearing and those limited in cognitive function. Special need schools are able to use the World Wide Web to target a global audience of special needs students, parents, and teachers. Many of these sites are using unique Web capabilities to cater to the specific learning needs of these special population learners. For example, some of the school Web sites intended for deaf students provide a sign language translation, and some school Web sites intended for visually-impaired students provide options for large print versions of the site. …