EASI Focus on Education
* EASI Street to Science, Technology & Math: Issues for K-12 Students with Disabilities
from Prof. Norman Coombs
Children who do not get a solid foundation in science and mathematics during Kindergarten through 12th grade will not be properly prepared to study science, math, engineering or technology (SMET) successfully in college. Too often students with disabilities fall into this group. There are several basic issues facing students with disabilities.
First, there is an attitude among teachers, administrators, and sometimes even parents, that students with disabilities can't "do" math or science.
Second, students with disabilities are often waived out of math and science course work in K-12, which means that they don't develop the basic foundational skills in these fields. This also makes it impossible for many students with disabilities to meet national standards in science and math.
Third, students with disabilities are not getting adequate training on adaptive computing technology.
Fourth, students with disabilities often require extra help in making the transition from one level of education to the other and from the educational setting to the workplace.
Fifth, students with disabilities and their parents must learn to advocate for the appropriate technology and other accommodations necessary for students with disabilities to succeed in education and the workplace.
Negative Attitudes and Awareness issues
The negative attitudes that K-12 students with disabilities face parallel those that adults with disabilities face. A 1989 study by the National Science Foundation (Changing America, 1989) reported that the single most significant barrier faced by individuals with disabilities are negative attitudes on the part of faculty and employers. This is particularly harmful because not only does it deny or limit some students' entrance into the fields of science, engineering and math, but it almost ensures that those individuals will never be able to enter science, engineering, mathematics or technology related careers when they enter the workforce.
A student in a wheelchair who can't pull up to a computer in a school lab because the table isn't adjustable should not be barred from becoming a scientist, mathematician or engineer. Unfortunately, many schools across the United States are still making excuses - and exceptions - for students with disabilities. When a school tells an 8th grader that his wheelchair doesn't fit in the computer lab so he can spend his computer time doing some other activity, that school is denying that student the right to learn about computers, and it may be denying society a engineer.
Parents, teachers and service providers can do a great deal to help students face and debunk those negative attitudes. Often, all it takes to get teachers, administrators and parents to believe that students with disabilities can do math and science is to show them the tools and accommodations available.
Tips for Teachers
Sometimes faculty and service providers must advocate for equipment and support services for their students with disabilities. These tips are aimed at service providers.
I. If no one at your school is knowledgeable or interested in adaptive computer technology, bring the information to your school. Research it yourself. Find a computer resource center in your area, and bring brochures and other information on adaptive computer technology to the IEP team, Disabled Student Services Office or Academic Computing Office.
II. Research and share success stories about students with disabilities who have benefited by using adaptive computer technology. See what other schools and universities are doing and suggest the same path for your school.
III. Discuss adaptive technology with teachers, campus computing center directors and professors, and give them information on picking accessible software and integrating the computer into the classroom curriculum.
IV. Invite faculty and staff to visit your adaptive workstation.
V. Encourage school administrators to seek help from federal, state and private agencies to pay for adaptive equipment and training.
VI. Keep informed of assessment and funding sources that are available to help obtain the best possible education for students with disabilities. In particular, there are many resources available for adaptive computing technology information and funding.
Lowered Expectations and Waived Requirements
The perception that students with disabilities are not capable of doing work in science and math is often reinforced by teachers and parents. Too often students with disabilities are not held responsible for the work that is being done by their peers, and teachers from preschool on will often have lower expectations for students with disabilities. Many teachers in the early grades are so pleased that a student with a disability can do any of the class work. "She is just amazing," is the attitude. And "We don't want to make her work harder than her friends" is the justification for lowering expectations and waiving requirements for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, many parents buy into this argument as well.
Later, after students have been cheated out of a full K-12 education because of those lowered expectations, no one understands why college classes or expectations in the workplace are too demanding for them. This mindset that creates lowered expectations and waived requirements is often a greater disability than is the physical disability.
Some schools have been experimenting with extending the time that elementary and secondary schools provide for students with disabilities to learn basic skills. This can include doing one year's worth of work in two years' time. However, some parents and teachers have raised the issues of the importance of having students move ahead with their social groups and of the perception that retention is only for students who are in real trouble at school. Perhaps it's time to rethink the issue and convince parents, teachers and school administrators that more time to master the basics is a likely option for many students with disabilities.
The truth is that students with disabilities will almost always have to work harder and take more time than their peers to get to the same place. The ADA cannot change that. Wishful thinking cannot change that. And, teachers who pass students on when they aren't prepared are doing them a huge disservice and injustice. It's worth it for students to take extra time when they are young to get the skills and foundations they need, rather than having to start college and enter the workplace unprepared.
Adaptive Technology - A Necessary Foundation
K-12 students with disabilities must be trained on adaptive technology as early and as much as possible. A basic foundation in using computers and special applications to make the computers accessible is critical for disabled children if they are to move into higher education and the workplace.
Adaptive computing technology, also called assistive technology, has two important uses. The first is to adapt general computers so that they are seable by people with disabilities. For instance, people with no hand movement are not able to use traditional computer keyboards. They can use a variety of tools, such as on-screen keyboards and pointing devices or voice input systems to manipulate computers. Computers can also be used as compensatory tools. In this way, a person might use a computer to accomplish tasks that aren't usually performed on computers. For example, a blind person might scan written material into the computer and then have it read aloud with a speech synthesizer and screen-reading program.
Students will need to meet basic math and science requirements in college, whether they specialize in those fields or not. It's difficult to introduce students to specialized adaptive technology at the same time that they're trying to get through a math or science class, which they may find difficult. Students who are taking the math or science as part of their core requirements, rather than as a major, have a particularly tough time learning special math or science software programs, and students who don't have a good math foundation are fighting a three-way battle.
Helping students learn adaptive technology early and comfortably will prepare them for the advanced technology they'll need in college.
Checklist for Service Providers
Teachers, parents, and service providers should continually evaluate five areas when planning and acquiring assistive technology and support for students with disabilities.
Consider the curriculum and goals of the student.
What kind of classes is the student taking?
What is the student's ultimate goal?
Evaluate the requirements of the student.
What is the student's disability?
What abilities does the student have?
What tasks does the student have difficulty with?
Make a detailed task analysis for each of the student's classes.
Exactly what is required for each class?
Does the student require assistance in reading, writing, listening, speaking, or organizing information?
Match appropriate assistive technology to each task.
What technology best fulfills each specific function?
What technology is the student most comfortable with?
Continually re-evaluate the effectiveness and practicality of the assistivetechnology.
Is there technology that is easier for this particular student to use?
Is there technology that is less cumbersome or more portable?
Is there a less expensive way to fulfill the same need?
Check out EASI's Web Page and the "All About EASI" brochure for publications on general adaptive computing and electronic information access.
Science and Math Computing Suggestions
The following products are "off-the-shelf,' items that work on standard PCs and Macs, and that you would be able to buy at most software stores. People who work with K-12 students with disabilities have suggested these readily available products as possible tools for students. This list is under development and is by no means complete.
Science Hardware and Software
A group at East Carolina University has designed a talking, whistling, large text laboratory workstation that consists of an IBM-compatible PC, the Team Labs Personal Science Laboratory (PSL, formerly made by IBM) with probes, an electronic balance, and a digital mu] timeter (DMM) equipped with a serial port. The workstation software runs under DOS, and uses the famous Creative Labs Sound Blaster sound card for output of speech, music, and other sounds. With this workstation, a blind student will be able to make independent measurements of mass, temperature, pH, light intensity, AC and DC voltages and currents, resistance, frequency, and capacitance. The first installment of the package, a talking balance program, can be downloaded from the Web at: http://people.delphi.com/LUNNEY
Math Software Suggestions
These products were suggested for K-12 students who are working in math. See EASI's videotape and manual called "EASI Guide to Math and Graphics" for other helpful solutions.
- Inspiration - http://www.inspiration.com
Inspiration is a diagramrning/brainstorrning tool that allows concepts to beorganized graphically and rendered to a written outline-excellent for some people with learning disabilities.
- MathCad - http://www.mathsoft.com
MathCad is a general mathematics program that allows generation of mathematical notation. It's useful for people who cannot write by hand.
(Both Require System 7 or higher)
- John's Calculator - http://download.com
This would be helpful to students with vision problems because the font size can be adjusted. John's Calculator is an easy-to-use and powerful scientific calculator with many configurable options. Expressions are entered, edited, and evaluated in a large, scrollable scratch pad. This scratch pad fully supports standard text editor functions such as cut, copy, and paste. The size of the font used by the scratch pad can be set using the menu. All operations can be entered in the scratch pad by using the keyboard or calculator buttons. Buttons normally add parentheses and commas to their operations to show the number of arguments required by the operation.
- Arithmetic Review - http://download.com
This program might be helpful for students with learning disabilities, as it reinforces basic functions by showing them in print and spoken output. Arithmetic Review helps students master addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of whole numbers. Features include printed worksheets, performance reports, personalized printed certificates, spoken numbers, an advanced mental-arithmetic tutorial and wacky sound effects.
Transitions and Mainstreaming
When a student moves from one educational setting to another, it is a time of anxiety. If that student has a disability, the anxiety is multiplied. The new environment may have to be physically adapted. New classmates will have questions, and new teachers will need information on how to best help a student with a disability progress and become an interdependent part of the new classroom or school.
One of the main issues facing parents of children with disabilities is whether or not to allow their children to be mainstreamed - put into regular school classrooms. Many people see it as an equality issue. Others see it practically- some children aren't able to learn what they need to learn in regular classes.
Whether or when children with disabilities are mainstreamed into the general school population is an issue that must be addressed for each child. Some students do just fine entering the general population at a young age. Others benefit by going to special classes for a few years and then moving into mainstream classes. The important thing is to make sure that mainstreaming is right for the individual child, rather than being done as a policy decision.
Many parents agree that the most trying thing about having a child with a disability is the fight to get services and an appropriate education for their child.
One woman, who happened to be a special education teacher before she gave birth to a son with cerebral palsy talked about her exhaustion at fighting the system, which she was quick to point out, was actually trying to do the best thing for her son.
Linda's son is now 16 years old and entering high school. Because Linda's husband is a computer programmer, the couple has long been aware of the benefits of computers and special software programs for individuals with disabilities. Before Paul even started school, his father had set him up with a computer and worked with him to learn to use the computer to communicate and accomplish other tasks. Paul's parents also bought all the computer equipment he needed for school and made sure he had the appropriate adaptive devices and software packages to complete his school work. So, what's the problem?
As Paul moves into high school, the equipment that he has used will no longer serve his needs. He must have a laptop computer to take from room to room, and he needs other adaptive accommodations that will make it possible for him to use the computer in multiple classrooms. The school district isn't much help in coming up with a good mobile system, and Paul's father is left with the responsibility of making accommodations.
Fortunately for Paul, his mother is a special education teacher and his father knows computers. Most children with disabilities don't have the same resources available.
And that's where advocacy really becomes important. Parents and the students themselves must work to find what is legally mandated, to find the resources available, and to successfully lobby for the services they need. There are hundreds of organizations, funds and laws that support services for students with disabilities. The problem is that getting appropriate services doesn't usually happen automatically. Teachers and service providers can help students become good self-advocates both through encouragement and by helping them learn what their rights are.
EASI Post Office Box 18928 Rochester, NY 14618 Phone: 716-244 9065 Fax: 716475-7120 Internet: EASI6lEDUCOM.EDU
Dr. Nonnan Coombs, Chair Rochester Institute of Technology Phones: (716) 244 9065 Fax: 716 475-7120 Internet: nrcgsh62rit.edu
Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler, Vice Chair University of Washington Phone: (206)543-0622 Internet: Sherylb@CAC.Washington.edu
Carmela Cunningham, Wnter Phone: 562-983 5155 Fax: 562-983 5157 Internet: carmelac8?aol.com
Dick Banks, Electronic Resource Manager Phone: (715) 235-5718 Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
American Association for Higher Education One Dupont Cirde, #360 Washington, DC 20036-1110 (202) 293-6440
EASI is an affiliate of the American Association for Higher Education. EASI is working on a two-year National Science Foundation project to create and disseminate materials to help K-12 students with disabilities become prepared to do post-secondary and professional work in the math and science fields. For more information on EASI's K-12 project, check out EASI's K-12 corner.
is hearing a student say,
"Thank you for understanding me."
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