The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 mandated that education professionals consider utilizing assistive technology for students with disabilities in the K-12 environment.
Under this provision a student with diagnosed learning disabilities should have an assistive technology evaluation. The outcome of the evaluation helps to determine which technologies would be best suited to help the student reach the desired learning outcomes. The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, offers assistive technology evaluations.
A Successful Student
According to Christopher Lee, PhD, of the Alternative Media Access Center, the key to being a successful college student who uses assistive technology is to begin using the assistive technology as early as possible in a student's career. "Linking the alternative media and assistive technology opens students to a world of knowledge and prepares them with the tools for a lifetime of success."
By becoming an early user of technology, a student will become what Dr. Lee calls a "digital native," or somebody who utilizes technology effortlessly throughout his environment. The technology can then be transferred seamlessly to the learning environment.
Having weathered the storms of adolescence, few parents need to be reminded that being "cool" is often their student's primary concern. Students with learning disabilities have often endured years of being "different." But technology is changing that. Nobody knows that a student is listening to textbooks on his iPod or reviewing for a test using accessibility features in Microsoft Word.
Assistive technology vendors have even created bundles of accessibility products. For example, Premier Assistive Technologies has created an entire suite of adaptive programs including a screen reader, talking calculator, and PDF converters that can be plugged into any computer via a USB drive. Add a pair of earphones and nobody will know that this student has a learning challenge.
"We are seeing more and more vendors develop tools which coincide with Microsoft applications, which will, in the long run, help to make assistive technology part of the mainstream of society," Dr. Lee states.
According to Mark Richert, Executive Director of the Association of Education and Rehabilitation for the Blind and Visually Impaired, "The most significant area of improvement in IDEA concerns the provision of textbooks in accessible formats for individuals with print-related disabilities."
Children coming up through k-12 today will expect those materials to be available in the post-secondary environment. Colleges and universities are responding by making course materials available through new technologies like WebCT and podcasts.
Headed for College?
Armed with the self-knowledge of learning disabilities, learning style, and assistive technology needs, students and parents can begin searching for colleges that are supportive and known for providing technologies and support to students.
Begin the college search by consulting guides for students with disabilities such as College Guide to Learning Disability Programs 2004 by Aliza J. Sokolow or Peterson's Guide to Colleges for Students with LD or ADD. Tune in to the discussion on the Disabled Student Service in Higher Education listserv sponsored by the University of Buffalo. On this list you'll be able to interact with disability service providers across the nation, ask questions, follow trends, and search the archives.
Visit potential colleges and make an appointment with the disability services office. Bring a copy of the assistive technology evaluation and ask how that college offers assistive technology and alternative media to students. The following are some questions regarding technology for the disability services office:
- What types of technology are available?
- Where is the technology available? In the classroom? In a computer lab only?
- Will the student be able to take the technology to the dorm?
- Can the technology be taken off campus?
- How early can students place orders for alternative media in order to receive it prior to class?
- What type of user support and training is offered by the college?
- What are the rules for using and returning alternative media?
If your student has become comfortable with a particular technology platform ask if that same platform is available and supported by the college. Is your student willing to change to what's available? If not, find a college that will support his learning preferences.
For articles, recommended books, and links to additional information on selecting a college for a student with learning disabilities, visit LD OnLine.
Technology has transformed the educational landscape and continues to open new avenues to education for individuals with learning disabilities. As succeeding generations grow up in the digital age their proficiency with technology ensures colleges and universities will expand their technology services.
For additional assistive technology resources, including those mentioned in "A Chance to Read," click here.