Accessible Education through Assistive Technology

Article excerpt

ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY have had a direct impact on the individual student's educational process. Schools report that technology is having a positive effect on children's learning and their perception of themselves as learners, which is why children with disabilities benefit from the use of assistive technology. The implementation of assistive technology is dependent on the knowledge, skill and inventiveness of the teachers who use what they have learned from higher education, their teaching experiences, and their attendance at continuing education programs and in-service classes.

An increasing number of students with learning difficulties are now being identified. Of the 8.5 million children who have disabilities in this country, learning disabilities are the most commonly addressed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Jans 2000). In the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1998, assistive technology is divided into two categories:

1. "Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

2. "Any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology service" (Cavanaugh 2001).

Teachers are increasingly confronted with how assistive technology can be used and, in particular, how learning disabilities can be successfully addressed. However, teachers are generally not aware of most of the assistive technology devices and services available for students with learning difficulties. When a student's Individualized Education Program requires assistive technology equipment and software, a teacher must know its application and use. In addition, the training of a student's parents or guardians in the use of assistive technology is critical. Time is an important issue; any delay between acquisition of technology and its actual use by the student reduces their learning time and enthusiasm.

Higher Education's Role

Teachers, especially beginning instructors, have many demands on their time, so it's important for them to be knowledgeable about assistive technology and its applications. Universities are realizing this as they begin integrating assistive technology into their education courses. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the International Society for Technology in Education require that higher education programs include the use of assistive technology (Cavanaugh 2001). Some universities, such as the California State University system, University of Kentucky and North Carolina State University, now offer degrees in assistive technology. Graduates receive a master's in educational assistive technology and are equipped to specialize in this area.

George Mason University offers a master's degree and a doctorate in assistive/special education technology. This program prepares educators and other professionals to work with the disabled, service providers and family members. Graduates use technology to assist individuals in functioning more effectively at school, home and work, as well as in community environments. Students complete a set of core courses in technology, consultation, research and special education, as well as gain practical experience through internships. The university offers courses such as "Emerging Educational Technologies," "Educational Consultation and Collaboration," "Clinical Psychoeducational Assessment in Assistive Technology" and "Augmentative Communication."

The Johns Hopkins University offers a master's in assistive technology for communication and social interaction. This program prepares special educators, speech and language pathologists, as well as occupational therapists to integrate assistive technology to improve communication and social interaction of students with disabilities. …