Science, Technology and Math Issues for K-12 Students with Disabilities

By Cunningham, Carmela | Information Technology and Disabilities, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Science, Technology and Math Issues for K-12 Students with Disabilities


Cunningham, Carmela, Information Technology and Disabilities


Children who do not get a solid foundation in science and mathematics during Kindergarten through 12th grade will not be properly pr epared to study science, math, engineering or technology (SMET) successfully in college. Too often students with disabilities fall into this group. There are several basic issues facing students with disabilities.

First, there is an attitude among teachers, administrators, and sometimes even parents, that students with disabilities can't "do" math or science.

Second, students with disabilities are often waived out of math and science course work in K-12, which means that they don't develop the basic foundational skills in these fields. This also makes it impossible for many students with disabilities to meet national standards in science and math.

Third, students with disabilities are not getting adequate training on adaptive computing technology that would allow them to work in the technical fields.

Fourth, students with disabilities often require extra help in making the transition from one level of education to the other and from the educational setting to the workplace.

Fifth, students with disabilities and their parents must learn to be advocates to lobby for the appropriate technology and other accommodations necessary for students with disabilities to succeed in ed ucation and the workplace.

NEGATIVE ATTITUDES AND AWARENESS

The negative attitudes that K-12 students with disabilities face parallel those that adults with disabilities face. A 1989 study by the National Science Foundation (Changing America, 1989) reported that the single most significant barrier faced by individuals with disabilities is negative attitudes on the part of faculty and employers. This is particularly harmful, because not only does it deny or limit some students' entrance into the fields of science, engineering and math, but it almost ensures that those individuals will never be able to enter science, engineering or mathematics careers when they enter the work force.

Parents, teachers and service providers can do a great deal to help students face and debunk these negative attitudes. Often, all it takes to get teachers, administrators and parents to believe that students with disabilities can do math and science is to show them the tools and accommodations available.

LOWERED EXPECTATIONS AND WAIVED REQUIREMENTS

The perception that students with disabilities are not capable of doing work in science and math is often reinforced by teachers and parents. Too often students with disabilities are not held responsible for the work that is being done by their peers, and teacher s from preschool on will often have lower expectations for students with disabilities. All too often teachers in the early grades a re pleased that a student with a disability can do any of the class work. "She is just amazing," is the attitude. And "We don't want to make her work harder than her friends" is the justification for lowering expectations and waiving requirements for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, parents often buy into this argument as well.

Later, after students have been cheated out of a full K-12 education because of these lowered expectations, no one understands why college classes or expectations in the work place are too demanding for them. This mind set that creates lowered expectations and waived requirements is often a greater disability than is the physical disability.

Some schools have been experimenting with extending the time that elementary and secondary schools provide for students with disabilities to learn basic skills. This can include doing one year's worth of work in two year's time. However, some parents and teachers have raised the issues of the importance of having students move ahead with their social groups and of the perception that retention is only for students who "are dumb.

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