Teachers for the Inclusion Classroom:
understanding assistive technology and its role in education
Terence W. Cavanaugh Ph.D.
University of North
College of Education and Human Services
exists a current need for teachers to have additional skills and abilities in
technology, specifically concerning the special needs student and assistive
technology. This need extends to all teachers, not just special education
teachers, as all teachers are now likely to have students with disabilities.
The current educational system encourages an inclusionary setting for all
special needs students, and this setting is supported by federal laws. This
paper provides information concerning laws, definitions, services, levels of
assistive technology, and the application of assistive technology in the
educational process. An overview is included of current NCATE (National Council
for Accreditation of Teacher Education) and ISTE (International Society for
Technology in Education) guidelines as they relate to assistive technology. The
current components of education degrees that include or require educational
technology and assistive technology are outlined. Federal legislation exists
concerning the application of assistive technology in an educational setting.
This federal legislation requires that schools consider using assistive
technology for all special needs students, and this legislation has implications
for teacher preparation, individual education plans, school budget, staffing,
and more. This paper proposes a model for addressing and improving the
integration of assistive technology and universal design to better prepare
teacher candidates and education graduates to meet the needs of students in the
inclusion setting. The goal of this model is to enhance teacher performance with
assistive technology and students with disabilities, enabling equal access to
educational situations and materials in the least restrictive environment.
Preparing Teachers for the
understanding assistive technology and its role in education
University of North
College of Education and Human Services
number of people affected by disabilities is larger than many may imagine.
Currently in the United States about 150 million people are impacted by
disabilities to some extent either themselves or through association. This
number amounts to approximately half the current US population.
According to the HalfthePlanet Foundation (www.halftheplanet.com,
2001) an organization that supports the application of technology, approximately
half of the entire planet’s population, which is an estimated 3 billion
people, is in some way affected by disabilities.
these statistics concerning the special needs population (IBM 2001; New York
State Council on the Arts, 2001):
million people worldwide are challenged by disabilities.
8 million Americans have visual impairments.
visually impaired Americans use Assistive Technology Devices.
million Americans consider themselves visually impaired to some degree.
3 million Americans are color-blind.
million Americans have speech impairments.
million Americans are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
million Americans use Assistive Technology Devices for hearing impairments.
% of school children are reported as having a learning disability, but an
estimated 15% of students are believed to have some form of learning
affects over 40 million Americans.
million Americans report some level of disability »
15% of the population.
than 15% of people with disabilities were born with them.
with hearing impairments equal the population of California.
of the large and increasing number of special needs students with disabilities,
assistive educational technology is growing in importance. Special needs students are also having a greater impact
on the general education teacher as, during the past 10 years, the percentage of
students with disabilities served in schools and classes with their nondisabled
peers has gradually increased. In the 1997-98 school year, US states reported
that 97.8 percent of students ages 6 through 11 with disabilities were served in
schools with their nondisabled peers, with 94.7 percent of students ages 12
through 17 with disabilities and 87.2 percent of students ages 18 through 21
with disabilities. These figures
represent a large increase when compared to just four years before when in
1993-94 the states were serving 43.4 percent of students with disabilities ages
6-21 in regular classrooms. As the percentage of special needs students served
in an inclusive setting along with nondisabled students rises, the number of
special education and regular education teachers prepared to provide an
inclusive environment must also increase (US Dept. of Education 2000, US Dept.
of Education 1996).
Percentage of Students Ages 6 Through 21 in Different
Education Environments During 1988-89 Through 1997-98
Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Data Analysis
rights leaders have said that the application of technology will be the
equalizer of the 21st century (Flippo, Inge and Barcus, 1995). Through the use
of assistive technology (AT) devices, many students can decrease their isolation
from a special class and become an important part of a regular classroom, which
is considered the least restrictive environment (LRE). Technology access
solutions do exist for students who need assistance with content material.
Screen readers that read aloud the text on the screen or web page can overcome
barriers to accessing electronic information encountered by students who have
vision disabilities. Captions built into multimedia programs can overcome
barriers for students who have hearing disabilities (RESNA, 2001). Assistive
technology then may be a basic tool in the educational process for any
individual who experiences a disability.
Impact on Educators
the growing focus to address the needs of all students, including those with
disabilities, inclusion is a component of school restructuring agendas (McGregor
& Vogelsbert, 1998). The
inclusion model has become the current education classroom standard.
Consequently all teachers have a need be trained and prepared for the inclusion
of special needs students in the general education population.
Lipsky and Gartner (1996) define inclusion as "the provision of
services to students with disabilities, including those with severe impairments,
in the neighborhood school, in age-appropriate general education classes, with
the necessary support services and supplementary aids (for the child or the
teacher) both to assure the child's success - academic, behavioral, and social -
and to prepare the child to participate as a full and contributing member of the
society." Teachers must be
prepared in the instructional setting to adapt instruction for an individual by
changing one or more aspects of the material being taught such as:
method by which the instruction is delivered to the student.
amount of content material to be covered
evaluation method or criteria
level of assistance provided in the learning situation
learning environment: and/or
instructional materials that are used by the student. (Beninghof &
The concept of an inclusion
classroom or school is based upon teaching students with disabilities in regular
classrooms, rather than in special schools, classrooms or pull-out locations.
Supported by court decisions, inclusion has been increasingly defined through
lawsuits brought by parents of disabled children around the country. In an
exemplifying case, Oberti vs. Board of Education of the Borough of Clementon
School District, the federal judge who decided the outcome of the case endorsed
full inclusion. The judge stated, "Inclusion is a right, not a special
privilege for a select few." This judgment, he said, was based his
interpretation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA), which calls for serving children with disabilities in the least
restrictive environment, and on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which
guarantees disabled people access to services provided by any entity that
receives federal funding. (Education Week, 2001)
IDEA regulation states: "Each State must establish procedures to assure
that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities ... are
educated with children who are not disabled, and that special education,
separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the
regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the
disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of
supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily." 20
federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its 1997
amendments make it a requirement that schools educate children who have
disabilities, in general education classrooms whenever possible.
With this charge is also a requirement that all students classified as
having any form of disability have an individual education plan (IEP) developed
specifically for that student. The
IEP will be developed by a team of people including teachers, administrators,
councilors, parents, outside experts (as needed), and even the student for whom
the plan is being developed. As
part of the federal IDEA amendments, there are statements that now require
assistive technology devices and services to be considered on an individualized
basis and become a part of the individual education plan if the child needs the
assistive technology or services to benefit from his educational program. The
IDEA statements that focus on assistive technology devices and/or services
require that the IEP team ask:
AT enable the student to meet the goals set for the education program that
cannot be met because of his/her disability?
the student need assistive technology to be involved in the general
curriculum, including participation in state and district wide assessments?
the student need assistive technology for augmentative communication?
the student need to be able to use the device at home or in the community to
achieve the goals of the IEP?
the team finds that any of the answers to the questions is yes, then the IEP
team must ensure that the needed AT devices and/or services are made available
to the student
Department of Education, 2000). Based upon the NCATE accreditation requirements
and ISTE teacher technology standards, it would be reasonable for a school
administrator to expect that an education graduate from an NCATE accredited
program would be able to effectively participate on a student’s IEP team.
These expectations would presuppose that such an education graduate be able to
make effective judgments and recommendations concerning assistive technology.
Assistance for Individual with Disabilities Act of 1998 (PL 100-407) gave the
U.S. the first legal definition of assistive technology devices and services. An
assistive technology device was defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or
product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or
customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional
capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” An assistive technology
service was described as “any service that directly assists an individual with
a disability in selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology
Educational Technology (AET) is the theory and practice of design, development,
utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources that are used
to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals,
with or without
disabilities, for learning (Cavanaugh, 2000).
The distinction between assistive and educational technologies is
becoming less clear as the concept of universal design is incorporated
into conventional technology.
Assistive Technology Levels and Categories
technology has the capacity for increasing student independence, increasing
participation in classroom activities and simultaneously advancing academic
standing for students with special needs, providing them the ability to have
equal access to their school environment.
Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North
America (RESNA, 2000) has identified twelve different areas where assistive
technology can be used; all twelve apply in some way to the educational setting.
Of the twelve, four are areas that would have a major impact in any
school situation, including: Work
Site Modifications, Instructional Material Aids, Seating and Positioning Aids,
and Sensory Aids. The other
assistive technology application areas are Aids for Daily Living, Communication
and Augmentative Communication Tools, Environmental Control Systems, Leisure
Time or Recreational Adaptations, Mobility Aids, Prosthetics and Orthotics, and
considering assistive technology in the classroom, the environment, the
individual, and the characteristics and levels of the technology must be
included (Gitlow, 2000). Assistive technology may be classified by technology
being high-, middle-, or low-tech. A low-tech assistive technology option is
usually easy to use, has low cost (under $200 US), and typically does not
require a power source. Mid-tech
assistive devices are also easy to operate but typically require a power source.
The high-tech device is usually complex and programmable, and includes
items that require computers, electronics or microchips to perform a function.
An example of the application of technology could range from having a voice
input word processor (high tech) to a student using an adapted pencil grip (low
tech) to assist during writing (ATEN, 2002).
with considering the level of the technology, consider the levels of how the
assistive technology devices or services could be applied into the classroom
environment. J. Judd-Wall (1999)
proposes that levels in applying the assistive technology that are concerned
with whether the item is personally, developmentally, or instructionally
necessary. Personally necessary
items are assistive technology devices and/or services that are used by an
individual student, such as a pair of colorblind glasses to enable a learner to
more effectively interact with his/her environment.
Developmentally necessary devices and/or services may be shared among
individuals. These devices and/or
services help meet an educational need which may be based on some developmental
delay, which in the future would be overcome, eliminating the need for the
assistive device or service in an individual’s future.
Lastly, instructionally necessary devices and/or services are those used
with a modification of the instructional process in a subject area course or
grade level. Such a modification
would not need to accompany user as her or she progresses to the next academic
level, and would instead remain at the course or grade level.
As you compare these necessary levels, you will find that the materials
used are much more likely to be shared among various students at the
developmentally necessary and instructionally necessary levels.
the personally necessary level, a student must have the technology to be able to
function, and the technology is only for them. An augmentative communication device such as a speaking
keyboard would be a good example of a personally necessary item. The
developmental level would imply that while the technology is currently necessary
for an individual, he or she should through time and assistance progress or
develop out of its need. A developmental device and/or service could then be
used by any number of individuals who may be experiencing the same developmental
lag. Consider a student who is having trouble with vocabulary, possibly due to a
learning disability or the fact that English is his or her second language. The
student currently uses a talking portable dictionary to look up new words and
their listen to pronunciation. As he/she grows more familiar with the new words,
he/she no longer looks them up as often, gradually progressing to independence
from the talking dictionary.
the instructionally necessary level, the technologies are needed in order to
fulfill the requirements put forth by the class or grade level. A student may be
in a science course and needs to manipulate equipment, such as a microscope, but
an injury may cause trouble with his/her fine motor skills. By adding
extensions onto the microscope controlling knobs or by using a digital camera
microscope, the student can fulfill all the course requirements with
accommodations, much as any other student. These material accommodations and
adaptations would also be available to any other student in the class interested
in using them. This application to
all students becomes a basic component to inclusion education, by allowing any
student better access or access in a more appropriate alternative format to the
information being taught.
Example Application of Assistive Technology
Consider a sample application of assistive educational
technology in the area of augmentative or alternative commutation devices: the
use of text-to-speech software. A
text-to-speech software program, is also known as a screen reader or voice
output system. Using such a system
will allow a user to have his/her computer read selected text aloud through the
computer's sound card or other speech synthesis device.
These programs analyze given text and then using a phonetic algorithm,
restructures text to a phonetic system, and then reads the text aloud. The
computer calculates the pronunciation of each word (with certain software and
systems working better than others) and then says the word in its context.
As reading and writing are understood to be basic components of an
educational program, providing alternative formats, scaffolds and supports for
those activities are necessary to be able to reach all students. The use of the
screen reader can enable students with disabilities such as poor or no vision to
access the information that they need, but it can be applied to all students,
with or without disabilities. The educational theory of multiple intelligences
suggests that there are a number of distinct forms of intelligence that each
individual possesses in varying degrees, with the implication of the theory
being that learning/teaching should focus on the particular intelligences of
each person (Gardner, 1983). Text-to-speech
technology provides users an additional avenue for receiving the information. The presentation of information through multiple avenues
accommodates to learning styles, individual differences in abilities and
multiple intelligence (e.g., Gardner, Guilford, Sternberg) (TIP Database, 2002).
Through the use of the text-to-speech program, the student has increased
chances of "learning" the information. In application to a writing
activity, text-to-speech software relates to Miller’s Information Processing
Theory in that students can use the software as a tool for editing and
self-evaluation of their work as the computer reads back the work to the
student. According to CAST
(1998), in order “to reach learners with disparate backgrounds, interests,
styles, abilities, disabilities, and levels of expertise,” the educational
materials should be flexible and adaptable for all learning styles. Through the use of assistive technologies, like
text-to-speech software programs, teachers can provide tools that assist all
students in their endeavors.
Inclusion and Assistive Technology in the Teacher Preparation Program
education programs are being encouraged to change to include the concepts of
inclusion through their accreditation agencies, such as Interstate
New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
In NCATE’s (2002) latest set of unit (college) standards, as part of
the vision for professional teachers for the 21st Century qualified
teachers should teach every child. The
standards also state that new teacher graduates should be able to “apply
effective methods of teaching students who are at different developmental
stages, have different learning styles, and come from
diverse backgrounds.” A
commitment to technology is also needed to ensure that all teacher candidates
are able to use educational technologies to help all students learn. INTASC states, in its Model Standards for Beginning
Teacher Licensing, that teachers should “know about areas of exceptionality in
learning--including learning disabilities, visual and perceptual difficulties,
and special physical or mental challenges” (1992). NCATE and INTASC both expect teacher candidates to
“understand language acquisition; cultural influences on learning;
exceptionalities; diversity of student populations, families, and communities;
and inclusion and equity in classrooms and schools.” With exceptionalities
defined as a physical, mental, or emotional condition, including gifted/talented
abilities, that requires individualized instruction and/or other educational
support or services are necessary (NCATE 2002).
area professional organizations, including the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE), have standards for all teachers and
administrators regarding assistive technology (ISTE, 2001).
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in essence
requires that assistive technology be addressed within teacher education
programs via the ISTE teacher technology standards which include
(II) Planning and Designing
Learning Environments and Experiences and (VI) Social, Ethical, Legal, and Human
Issues. To meet these standards
teachers should have the ability to plan and design effective learning
environments and experiences supported by technology. Additionally teachers must
be able to design developmentally appropriate learning opportunities that apply
technology-enhanced instructional strategies to support the diverse needs of
learners. Teachers must also understand the social, ethical, legal, and human
issues surrounding the use of technology in PreK-12 schools and apply those
principles in practice. For this standard, teachers should apply technology
resources to enable and empower learners with diverse backgrounds,
characteristics, and abilities in order to facilitate equitable access to
technology resources for all students (ISTE, 2000).
guidelines and standards for educational computing and technology leadership
programs are even more specific, stating that a graduate of such a program
should “demonstrate awareness of resources for adaptive assistive devices for
students with special needs.” A graduate should also be able to “identify
and classify adaptive assistive hardware and software for students and teachers
with special needs and locate sources to assist in procurement and
implementation” (NCATE, 2000).
A review was conducted of instructional technology
programs within the colleges of education across a large state university
system. The analysis of the published programs of study showed that none of the
state colleges of education offered a course specifying assistive technology in
its title or available description. A similar limited review was conducted of
universities nationwide that offered graduate programs in educational or
instructional technology. This survey found that fewer than 20% of the colleges
provide courses focusing on assistive technology as part of their educational
an analysis of general education teachers who have been found to be successful
with inclusion, resources, time and training were found to be determining
factors (McGregor & Vogelsbert, 1998).
Based upon this knowledge general teacher education programs should be
designed to include content related to inclusion concepts, including assistive
technology. General inclusion
concepts and strategies could be taught throughout the core required and content
method classes. Due to the
technology requirements it would be difficult to integrate assistive technology
concepts and methodologies into general education courses. Currently, assistive technology is, for the most part, only
discussed as a small component of other technology integration classes, or is
thought of as only needing to be part of the “special education” section.
There exists the need for the addition of the application of assistive
technologies and awareness to a course that is a required part of general
teacher education programs. Many
colleges of education now require or encourage their students to take an
introductory or survey course in educational technology or computer applications
to which the addition of assistive and adaptive devices and assistive technology
education concepts would be an excellent match.
This course could present strategies for students who are physically or
mentally impaired, and may be in an inclusion or mainstreamed situation. The
purpose of the course would extend beyond learning about how use technologies to
include information on technology applications to overcome handicaps and improve
functionality. Course topics could include: basics of assistive technology;
legal/ethical issues associated with assistive technology; assistive technology
and the individual education plan (IEP); levels of assistive technology;
technology adaptations; Windows and Macintosh built-in accessibility tools;
text-to-speech and speech-to-text; universal design and the Internet; and
physical and learning disabilities. An additional facet of such a course could
be the evaluation of material for universal accessibility, covering such topics
as web pages accessibility and choosing content area software that is
accommodating for special needs. The course should include active hands-on
experiences with assistive technologies.
The Future of Education
the education of all students occurs more frequently within the standard
classroom in the inclusion environment, the concepts of teaching and learning
that incorporate assistive technology approaches and accommodations become more
important. This change in population will have the impact of changing the
learning goals, the teaching methods, and the means of assessment for all
students. Assistive technology is a wide-ranging educational tool that is
growing in its use and importance, and is required for consideration for all
students classified with any form of disability and must be included on that
student’s individual education plan (IEP). Current and future teachers then
"..need to be focused on classroom-wide and building wide contexts,
reflecting an alignment within special education as well as between special and
general education" (McGregor
& Vogelsbert, 1998). General
teacher education programs must restructure themselves to include content for
those teachers concerning special education methodology and pedagogy along with
student modifications, accommodations, and assistive technology.
Assistive technology tools
can make a significant difference for students with disabilities (Rose &
Meyer, 2000). Assistive technology
tools can allow access to information and activities that otherwise are
inaccessible. An added benefit is
that the tools can also make information and resources more available even to
those who don’t have a disability or have not yet been identified as having a
disability. The exceptional
education teachers are not the only ones who need awareness of assistive
technology. All regular education
teachers are likely to encounter mainstreamed special needs students, and the
purpose for using the technology ideally is to allow and support the student in
the general student population. From
discussions with professionals in the assistive technology community, I found
that integrating the concepts into a preservice education course is needed, as
it would better prepare the future teachers for the reality of today's
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