Conference: Technology is helping to ‘redefine … disability’

Assistive technology can expand opportunities for students with disabilities.

Assistive technology devices enable students with disabilities to express what they know, and rapid advancements in technology are helping to “redefine ability and disability,” says Milton Chen, senior fellow and director emeritus at the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Chen was an opening keynote speaker at the National Center for Technology Innovation’s 2010 Technology Innovators Conference in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15-16. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and housed at the American Institutes for Research, NCTI advances learning opportunities for students with disabilities by fostering assistive technology innovation.

Chen said he hopes that in the near future, observers will be able to peer into a classroom of students and will not be able to identify students with disabilities.

Assistive technology can help motivate students with disabilities who might otherwise become discouraged when traditional learning methods prove to be large obstacles, said John Kemp of Powers Pyle Sutter and Verville. Kemp has extensive federal law and legislative practice in the areas of disability, rehabilitation, health care, and nonprofit organizations.

Giving students with disabilities more choice in how they would like to learn and which tools they would like to use in their learning process can go a long way in motivating them, Kemp said.

It’s important that teachers who leave teacher preparation programs, as well as current classroom teachers, know what assistive technology is available and how it can help students, said Melody Musgrove, OSEP’s director.

One service that can help in this area is NCTI’s TechMatrix, a website that provides free information about educational and assistive technology products for students with disabilities, as well as English language learners. Earlier this fall, NCTI added science to the categories of products covered in the TechMatrix, which already included reading, math, and writing.

Now, the TechMatrix features information about more than 300 educator-reviewed products, searchable by subject area and grade level, as well as case studies and other implementation guidance.

In addition, a “Tech Expo” at the conference showcased a number of assistive technology products and solutions for students with disabilities.

For example, the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities demonstrated how “ACTIV 2.0: Adapted Captioning Through Interactive Video” can be used to make general academic content available for students with disabilities. ACTIV 2.0 adapts existing video clips with such features as alternative narration; regular, highlighted text; picture/symbol-based captions; verbal/visual cuing; interactive hyperlinks; and built-in quizzes.

TERC and Vcom3D showed how incorporating accessibility software called SigningAvatar into web-based and iPod Touch versions of illustrated 3D science and math dictionaries can help K-12 students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

And the Center for Literacy & Disability Studies demonstrated a new software program called Big Words, which is designed to teach students with disabilities to read polysyllabic words.

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