It’s the first day of your teaching career. The classroom is just how you imagined it: posters are neatly and strategically hung advertising your chosen content area, pencils are sharpened, your cabinets are full of construction paper and Elmer’s glue. The only thing left to do is to welcome your new students into a new academic year.
As you wait by the door, anxiously anticipating the arrival of your students you notice a merry band of special education students walking towards your classroom. No big deal you think to yourself, after all the special education room is located close to yours. As the students near, you notice that they represent the full spectrum of disabilities you learned about in the one and only special education class you took in college. Learning, physical, emotional and sensory disabled students walk towards you, happy to be there and happy to be together. As they walk ever closer, you realize that they are not heading towards their special education room…today their destination is YOUR room.
What goes through your mind? What do you do? Your first days activity hasn’t been modified for this group of students. The web-quest you had planned to do later may be too advanced. What about the student who is obviously hard of hearing? You do not have a microphone…your room isn’t set up for that. You begin to sweat, your palms become the equivalent of Lake Michigan. The bell rings.
Does this sound familiar? Is this just a fabricated story or is it true to life?
In 2001, President George W. Bush issued the No Child Left Behind Act to ensure that every student had the chance at a decent education. This includes students with disabilities. These students were, for the most part, taught in segregated self-contained classes. Now in 2012, students of all disabilities and skills are integrated into general education classes with other students. (Washingtonpost.com, 2008)
Special Education students pose new challenges for teachers who must find creative ways to meet their individual needs. There is help though! Assistive and adaptive technology is constantly being created, tested and revised that help students perform regular tasks such as reading, writing and spelling. In fact the technology has gotten so advanced that students can further interact with the class in the form of gesture based computing. This is all good and well but the technology that teachers, therapists and students use comes at a great cost to the school district and its tight budget.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, National center for Education Statistics “The number of students with disabilities attending higher education has increased. In a recent study, the number of postsecondary undergraduate students identified as having disabilities in the United States was found to represent 6% of the student body.” 95% of 6-21 year old students with disabilities were served in regular schools, others were placed in separate schools for disabled students and others in private schools. Even though there is a small minority of disabled students, The federal Government has strongly made it clear that school districts provide reasonable accommodations in order for students with disabilities to have access to education. Students of all skill levels should be able to participate in public education, no matter the cost!
There are critics, however, that would lead you to believe that such money is a ‘waste’ and should be directed in other needy areas. The fact of the matter is this: the technologies have the ability to “roughly pay for themselves as they allowed the children to stop attending expensive special schools” provided to them by the state(Gips, Dimattia, Gips, 2004). Not to mention that as human beings we have a responsibility to ensure that equality as our utmost priority.
Assisitve technology has the ability to effect students lives and this, in its purest definition, is what education boils down to for me. The cost than is secondary. Please watch this youtube.com clip that concludes my thoughts.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2011). Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 (NCES 2011-015)
An Institutional Perspective on Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Postsecondary Education Quick Information System, August 1999
Amy Gips, DiMattia, P, Gips, J: The Effect of Assistive Technology on Educational Costs: Two Case Studies. ICCHP 2004: 206-213