Around 15 % of the world’s population has some form of disability, and there are almost 7 million students with disabilities in the US alone. Providing equal education to these students is essential to help them integrate into society and have a fulfilling life.
Now that National Special Education Day 2022 is approaching, it’s the best time to raise awareness on this topic and strive to remove the stigma of disabilities. Learn more about this day, its importance, and how teachers can create more accessible learning environments with the help of edtech.
National Special Education Day 2022: what you need to know
National Special Education Day 2022 will be celebrated on December 2nd, marking its 30th anniversary. The nation’s first federal special education law was passed decades ago on this occasion. Its origins can be traced back to 1975, and since then, the states have received federal funds to ensure access to education for children with disabilities.
National Special Education Day 2022 offers the perfect opportunity to dispel the myths revolving around students with disabilities. Often, these learners’ needs are misunderstood. The general misconception is that their learning disabilities make it hard or impossible to adapt to the public school system requirements. This is not always the case. Over 30% of children who attend public schools have a form of learning disability. This high percentage proves they can successfully achieve formal education goals with the help of special education teachers and edtech.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) enabled 7.2 million students aged 2-21 to benefit from special education services in 2021. Moreover, the percentage of children with disabilities in the US is on the rise, growing from 3.9% to 4.3% between 2008 and 2019.
These numbers prove that the public school system clearly needs special education teachers. Additionally, now, more than ever, educators can rely on learning technologies to facilitate access to education for students with disabilities. Explore a few accessibility features that help create inclusive learning experiences.
Creating accessible learning environments with edtech
National Special Education Day 2022 encourages us to reflect on the importance of accessibility in education and develop strategies that support it. While social media and mass media are fundamental for raising awareness, solutions such as intelligent learning platforms (ILP) can do most of the heavy lifting. There are different features these systems provide to create an accessible virtual learning environment. Here are some examples.
1. Text-to-speech features
Reading can be problematic for students with intellectual developmental disabilities or vision impairments. These learners might have to make an effort to read the content teachers provide either on paper or in a digital format. Learning software can make it easy for them to adapt this content to their capabilities.
Text-to-speech features can convert digital texts into audio content instantly. Learners only need to click on an icon to start listening to a course’s content instead of struggling to read it. Popular screen readers teachers can use to support vision-impaired learners include NVDA, VoiceOver, and JAWS. Applications like these integrate with learning platforms to facilitate reading for learners with visual impairments or other disabilities and actually help improve reading and writing for all learners, regardless of their abilities.
For example, here is how Microsoft Immersive Reader works in NEO LMS:
2. Voice Commands
Tools such as Alexa are handy for all students and teachers who use learning platforms. They only need to tell Alexa what class or assessment they want to access or what action to perform in their account, and the software immediately does what it’s told.
This feature is especially useful for learners with mobility or visual disabilities who find it hard to type, scroll down the page, or read. A learning platform that integrates with voice assistants allows students with disabilities to manage their school-related tasks more easily.
3. Instant feedback
Students benefit tremendously from a learning system that offers instant feedback. Instead of waiting for the next class to test their knowledge or get results, technology enables them to immediately assess their skills.
Learning management platforms automate evaluation, for instance, through quizzes that are graded right after learners submit them. This allows students with disabilities to get a better understanding of their current skill level, correct their mistakes, and retake assessments as many times as needed.
4. Diversified visuals
Students with learning disabilities can benefit from equal education if teachers have the right tools to design accessible and meaningful courses. Many learning systems are now able to offer graphic interfaces that facilitate learning.
Teachers can choose from different fonts and high-contrast themes to make content easier to follow for those who have vision problems. Zoom-in options also help these learners manage the content easier, read all the text, and understand all the graphics.
Visual content is invaluable for students who might find it difficult to read a PDF but can grasp its essence if it’s captured in a two-minute video or a sequence of images. With a flexible learning platform, teachers can simply drag and drop these elements to build engaging lessons.
Here’s what Cathi Allen, founder of the Inclusive Higher Education Certificate Program has to say about this feature:
The graphic interface that NEO provides us gives our students pictures and colors to go by, instead of just reading and reading lists of things, our students lose focus with that.
NEO allows us to really structure our lessons so that our students are familiar with what we start off with, what comes next, what’s expected of them, and when they’re done. Through this structure, we’re able to teach these students information that they typically wouldn’t be able to access outside of high school or even in high school.
5. Clear learning goals
All students find learning easier if they clearly understand what is expected of them. Educational technologies like intelligent learning platforms make goal setting and tracking easy. They allow teachers to define learning objectives and correlate them with the competencies students need to acquire.
Students have instant access to these goals and can track what they’ve accomplished and what they still need to work on. They can see their class and overall semester progress. This helps them self-monitor and become more aware of their progress.
6. Customizable learning experiences
Every learner is unique, and in a traditional learning environment, it’s next to impossible to adapt to each student’s needs. However, edtech makes it possible to accommodate everyone.
Different learning technologies support a personalized learning experience, starting with their graphical, customizable dashboards. Teachers can choose learning software that has an intuitive design and allows them to customize the information students see based on their abilities.
Personalized learning paths also make it easier for students with disabilities to study. These dynamic content sequences are tailored to each student’s skills and automatically adapt to their progress.
National Special Education Day 2022 is the perfect occasion for educators and the wider public to reflect on the needs of students with disabilities. Raising awareness on this topic is essential to help institutions better accommodate these students. However, what really caters to their needs is creating accessible learning environments.
Edtech plays a major role in designing inclusive learning experiences through accessibility features. To learn more, take a tour of the CYPHER LEARNING platform for K-20 institutions.