Students Share How Inclusive Education Works At Hope Technology School

Inclusion in the classroom has become a topic of discussion in recent years. Though all students deserve to be included, those with disabilities often get overlooked or cast aside. Many theories and ideas have surfaced in regards to this, but successful execution of inclusive education is seen few and far between. One school that has effectively integrated the inclusive model into each of its classrooms is the Hope Technology School. As a K-12 school – including a Vocational Education program and a developing high school called “Learning Curve” – HTS is the embodiment of implementing inclusive education. Russ Ewell sits down with students and educators from HTS to get their thoughts on what inclusion means to them, along with practical ways to execute inclusion using technology in the classroom.

Episode References

The Digital Scribbler Season 1 (Disability & Technology) Episode 2: Education & Accessibility

 Hello all, my name is Russ Ewell, and this is The Digital Scribbler Episode 2. In this episode, I will discuss ways in which technology can open up the education system for children with disabilities.

To begin this podcast, I wanted to share with you a few statistics to put things into perspective. The high school graduation rate for students with disabilities is significantly lower than that of those without disabilities. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in 2013 concluded that 62% of people with disabilities graduate high school, as opposed to the 81.4% of American students as a whole that graduate high school. This disparity is significant and linked unquestionably to the inaccessibility of the American education system and its inability to serve students with disabilities adequately.

Now, to continue to add context, there is a history of work being done to make the education system more accessible; in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was put in place. This act, quote, “makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children. The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.”

Now, although this act aims to open the education system, it does not necessarily mean that sufficient means of accessibility and inclusion are available or offered to students with disabilities. It is excellent in theory, but rarely excellent in execution. Although legal measures ensure access to education at a very foundational level, the education system and classroom settings are still not geared toward those with disabilities. They often do not have the resources–human, technological, or otherwise–or the training to ensure that disabled students can make the most of their education. This is why I want to introduce some ideas for ways in which we can work, both on an individual and societal basis, to make the classroom and learning as a whole more accessible to students with disabilities.

So how can we work to change this? Technology plays a huge role in providing independence and learning equity to students with disabilities. Assistive technology comes in many different forms, ranging from everyday devices like keyboards and laptops to more specified devices like hearing aids and screen readers. Assistive technology is primarily defined as a type of technology that is used to assist a disabled person and give them the tools to succeed and procure independence, as most spaces educational and otherwise, aren’t typically designed with accessibility in mind. There are many assistive tools, and every day in our technological age more are being developed. These are significantly improving both the quality of life and access for people with disabilities and students in particular. However, even when students have the same disability, it does not imply that they need the same technology or tools to learn. Just as no student has exactly the same learning style, each disabled student has a different way of optimizing their access. Finding a system for each student is a highly individualized process, and often one that will only be optimized through trial and error.

I’d like to go over a few specific assistive technologies, and explain how they can have drastic impacts on the academic performance and engagement of a student with a disability. A particular tool that can benefit students with a wide range of disabilities is text-to-speech software, which, as the name suggests, converts text to speech. This is helpful for those who have difficulty reading print, including those who are blind, have dyslexia, have a learning disability, autism, ADHD, or a variety of other disabilities. This can open up the classroom and course material to students, while also giving them the ability to independently function when it comes to studying and reading materials, instead of having to either rely on someone else or not get the most of the material. Teachthought provides a breakdown of how this type of technology works, explaining that, quote, “The technology works by scanning and then reading the words to the student in a synthesized voice, using a large number of speech sounds that make up words in any given context. With the advances in speech synthesis, TTS technology is more accurate and lifelike than ever.”

There are also many tools and technologies available to students with autism. Although not particularly high-tech, noise canceling headsets can be used in the classroom for students taking an exam, quiz, or filling out a worksheet. This will drown out any background noise that has the potential to overstimulate them or disrupt their focus. Noise canceling headsets can also be a good option for those with ADHD or other disabilities that result in difficulty maintaining focus. In terms of autism, as well, there are an increasing amount of apps for the iPad or iPhone geared at helping autistic students communicate. For instance, Avaz FreeSpeech and Proloque4Text all aim to help nonverbal children communicate. They turn typed words and pictures to speech, as well as provide exercises for practicing using this system to communicate better.

There are also a variety of forms of technology that can help those who have difficulty with fine motor skills navigate the classroom. Recent devices, like the iPad or certain tablets, can be useful in allowing a student to circumvent the physical act of writing and still function independently. For instance, students can fill out worksheets on an electronic device for either math and language arts, that require clicking a correct answer, or an abbreviate to allow them to still participate in an exercise. Additionally, many alternative keyboards are available that can be created and programmed with features specific to students with accessibility needs. I’ll be attaching a link to a vendor that sells these type of keyboards below, so if you or a student you know is interested, they can quickly and easily find it.

This, of course, is just a brief dabbling in the wide range of technologies available. There are over 400 products that aim to make the world and classroom more accessible to those with disabilities. These assistive technologies and accessibility tools will undoubtedly improve the ability of the school system to accommodate students with disabilities and ultimately have numerous positive outcomes. On an individual level, it will allow students independence and equity when accessing the classroom, as well as studying and doing homework outside of the classroom. On a systematic scale, it will undoubtedly result in much higher statistics of students with disabilities graduating high school and college with better grades, as they will finally have equal access as their non-disabled peers.

At this point is not as much a matter of technology and devices being developed, as they already have. It is much more a matter of students all over the world having access to these technologies in a classroom setting, but also in a personal capacity. The major problem is that access to these resources is limited by many factors: whether that is lack of knowledge or financial barriers, we need to do better to remedy this problem without limiting students access to their education. A considerable part of this process is raising awareness and bridging understanding so that students with disabilities can be empowered and have access to the education system.

In the description of this article, I have attached a link to the tech matrix–this matrix is an extensive inventory of assistive technologies and is an excellent resource for those who are interested in researching them for either themselves or a loved one.