How 1:1 Initiatives Transform Accessibility, AT, and UDL

24 05 2017

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Many school districts have 1:1 technology initiatives. I am SO blessed to work in a school district that has 1:1 devices for students in grades 1-12. When I started as an AT Specialist almost 8 years ago, we only had 1:1 initiatives in grades 7-8. In those 8 years, we have built capacity to provide a device for EVERY student in grades 1-12!

While 1:1 initiatives offer access to technology and a whole lot of other cool things, what our 1:1 initiative and subsequent expansion has done for the population that I serve has been nothing short of amazing. AT doesn’t become an “afterthought”. In fact, supports such as dictation, speech to text, word prediction, screen zoom, display resolution, and highlighters have become available to EVERY student in the district. EVERY student has access to these tools regardless of IEP, disability, learning style, or need. This means that if a student needs a particular strategy or support, it’s there.  This, quite simply, is UDL. To have a device that can be easily customized, that is the same as every other student takes some of the “stigma” out of having something that is perceived as “different”, which can lead to device abandonment.

For students that require speech to text, text to speech, word prediction, accessible educational materials (AEM), or some other support as is required on an IEP, 504 plan or another learning plan, having 1:1 technology makes it super easy to customize, and also helps the student build confidence in their skill set as they age. The younger a student has access to and employs a particular tool (ie dictation), the more comfortable and proficient they become when they are older. Practice and consistency of device have helped us in this way. In some instances, I have witnessed students that have used dictation or word prediction no longer need to use the tool because it’s just “clicked” for them. For students that may not have an IEP of 504 plan, but can benefit from providing access to text to speech, dictation, or word prediction, having these strategies and supports in place, as part of the 1:1 Initiative, provides equity. Not everyone may need to use the tools, but they are there if they are needed.

Who decides who should use a particular tool and who shouldn’t? It’s a team-based decision, really. It’s a philosophy of providing strategies and supports FIRST that will best benefit our children. Careful thought and consideration should be given, but it’s really cool to see a student that once detested writing suddenly have a voice and want to write. There’s power in empowerment, and it’s super cool to be able to provide that for students.

It would be foolish of me to just say “Hey! Go 1:1 and all of your problems will be solved!” That isn’t the case. Sometimes the device that the district provides is not the right tool for an individual student. That is where a comprehensive Assistive Technology Evaluation will help teams determine the most appropriate device will be for a student.  Matching tool to task is a critical piece of the process. That is where we are also fortunate in this district to have a 1:1 iPad initiative for our programs for our most significant learners.

1:1 initiatives are benefitting students in more ways than simply providing a device. It’s providing access to learning. It’s providing equity. It’s engaging students in the learning process in a way that is amazing to witness. It’s not necessarily the initiative itself- it’s HOW that initiative is leveraged to help meet the learning needs of ALL students.





It’s Not a Crutch: It’s UDL.

17 02 2017

The past couple of weeks I have encountered some interesting thoughts regarding the use of technology for helping students access learning. I’ve especially heard some thoughts regarding the use of text-to-speech, speech-to-text,  and word prediction for students to better access learning on grade level.

Here’s what I’ve encountered:

  • A belief that allowing a child to access Accessible Instructional Materials is a crutch.
  • A question of why a child would even access tools such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, or word prediction because that individual felt it was a “crutch”, making the child forever dependent on the tools, therefore diminishing the learning process.
  • A belief that by introducing technology as a support that educators would be “done away with” and technology would replace “good instruction”.

These encounters have made me think, take some deep breaths, send these people some love and understanding, It’s also strengthened my resolve to spread the word about how technology can be leveraged to support learning, make learning fun, and give students support when (and if) they need it.

Perhaps these statements are FEAR based. Fear that a child would be labeled. Fear that we are enabling our children. Fear that technology will replace the art and science of teaching. Perhaps it’s more of a lack of understanding or awareness on how technology can eliminate barriers to learning.

The role I play is a truly unique one. I spend time researching tools and methods to help students with special needs access learning. I use Assistive Technology to help with this practice. I have seen students flourish using technology as a TOOL to reduce or eliminate BARRIERS TO LEARNING. Learning becomes FUN for students. Or at least, not as hard.

I also see students that do not have special needs that could benefit from these tools before it’s too late. Before they are referred. Or labeled.

In the past 7 years of this work, a common theme emerges:

How can we provide strategies and supports as a forethought, and not as an afterthought?

The answer is UDL. Check out the video below:

Think about your Smartphone. If you access voice typing to compose an email or text message, you are accessing a tool that’s originally intended for a student with a disability, but you have access to it. Is it a crutch?

Or, do you use closed captioning when you watch TV in bed so that you don’t disturb your significant other who is sleeping next to you, you are also accessing a tool that’s originally intended for a student with a disability. Will you make the nightly newscaster obsolete by accessing it? Hardly.

Educators have a tough job. One where they are charged with ensuring that children are learning, growing, thriving, and flourishing. They work hard to ensure that this happens. But, what if we took a moment and looked at how we can support all learners, as well as support all teachers, of making sure that the necessary strategies and supports were put in place first, and not afterward? How would that look?  Would we be empowering our students and teachers? Why wouldn’t we want to give strategies and supports first and not later on when a student or teacher is frustrated, overwhelmed, or it’s too late?

In short, it’s not a crutch, it’s UDL.

If you would like to learn more about UDL:

http://www.cast.org

http://www.udlcenter.org

 





Back in the groove

18 09 2011

I’m blogging from my newly downloaded WordPress app for iPhone. I may have to do a review on this app in a future post.
What a busy start to the school year! I an excited to begin another year with amazing teachers, parents, and students. There has been quite a bit of goings on behind the scenes getting equipment moved, updated, and set up.
One of the things I’m most looking forward to is spending more time in classrooms. I enjoy seeing students using technology, apps, and learning from them what works.
Of course work around IOS devices and apps will be a part. I’m excited to see the ways iPads and iPod touches are being used in the classroom.
Keep checking in for updates on Assistive and Educational technology, apps, accessibility, and more.
Here’s to a great year!

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