Accommodating Special Needs with Online Education Technology
I had an interesting phone call from a Learning Coach recently. The parent asked if he could modify a journal-writing prompt. His student was struggling to write from the perspective of a disabled person because he didn’t know anyone with a disability. Could he write about a person coping with a broken leg instead?
After giving my approval, I hung up the phone and smiled. You see, that dad and his student know me, and I have a disability. I have a hearing impairment and wear two hearing aids to correct it. These tiny but powerful digital electronic devices tuck behind my ears and feed sound into my middle ear. Having hearing loss is an important part of how I face the world: how I work, how I use a phone, and how I listen to and interact with others.
I’ve never kept my hearing loss a secret from employers, my coworkers, or my students. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this month, businesses and public venues are required to provide “reasonable accommodation” for people who have disabilities. For example, my hearing aids are my own responsibility, but I can ask for hearing-aid-compatible headsets and phone attachments.
I am fortunate that “reasonable accommodation” is all I need to keep doing what I love: teaching online. Before the ADA was in effect, a person with a disability had no legal rights to request assistive devices or to fight discrimination related to a disability. Now these rights are the norm.
Legislation has also benefitted children who have special needs. In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Part B) was passed to provide federal funding and ensure services for children ages 3–21 who have disabilities. Through IDEA, states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million children.
Today, the parents of children who have disabilities have many choices in education, including virtual schools and blended learning options. Online education technology can be a great equalizer for students who have special needs. For example:
- Students who have a chronic illness might complete schoolwork and work ahead when healthy so as not to fall behind when needing treatment.
- Students on the autism spectrum might do better academically when social issues are separated from coursework.
- Students who have trouble staying focused may benefit from watching a recorded lesson more than once in order to absorb all of the facts.
- Students with frequent medical treatments and appointments can bring schoolwork along, as many hospitals offer Wi-Fi.
With ADA and IDEA in place, today’s young adults have grown up side by side with their disabled peers. This has helped many students look beyond the wheelchair, the white cane, or the hearing aids to see friends, classmates, and teammates instead of disabilities. As for me, if my students don’t remember that I’m hearing impaired, I’ll take that as a compliment! It means my disability doesn’t interfere with the way I teach.
How has virtual school or blended school enabled you to adjust learning to suit your child’s unique needs? Share your story in the comments.