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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

. . . bringing technology to you

AT Messenger Logo - Bringing Technology to You

Volume 14, No. 4, Fall 2006

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Access to Learning Through Technology

Beth Mineo Mollica
DATI Director

Many students with disabilities and their families are frustrated because the students' disabilities interfere with their ability to access the curriculum, participate in learning activities, and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Assistive technology can play a key role in helping students to participate and achieve in the educational environment, but there are still many barriers to be overcome.

One of these barriers arises from things commonly found in the classroom: print-based instructional materials such as textbooks, supplemental readings, and worksheets. Lots of students have difficulties with print materials, and we're not just talking about those who are blind or low-vision. A student with a physical disability such as cerebral palsy may not be able to manipulate the pages of a book. A student with a reading disability may have difficulty processing the print on a page. A student with attention deficit disorder may find it difficult to concentrate when confronted with dense passages of text. A student with an intellectual disability may find the vocabulary in the text beyond his level of comprehension. (See Dan Fendler's article for a more in-depth discussion of access to print.)

Another barrier arises when teachers and administrators are not aware of the tools and strategies that facilitate access to learning or do not know how to get them or use them in the classroom. Although our state's IEP form requires explicit consideration of a student's assistive technology needs, too often the assembled members of that child's team are not aware that there are tools that can help students access instructional content and demonstrate their competence.

Recent developments on both the state and federal level seek to ensure that students can derive maximum benefit from their educational opportunities. First, close to home, the Delaware Department of Education (DOE) emphasizes that all students should have access to the curriculum, and DOE is actively promoting this goal in a number of ways. Curriculum experts at DOE are themselves learning about how to design lessons in ways that make them engaging and accessible to all students. Also, since last spring, DOE has offered a mini-course titled Accessing the Curriculum for All Students to teams from any district interested in participating. The five-day course emphasizes the universal design of curricula and the use of differentiated instruction strategies to ensure a connection between the student and the content, processes, and products of learning. Districts interested in participating in the next round of training, which begins January 9, 2007, should contact Lori Duerr at DOE ( Participants are provided with lots of training, technical assistance, and materials to help them implement their new skills.

On the federal level, the release of the regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 brings with it some urgency in implementing the new National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. This new provision, which went into effect on December 3 of this year, reminds schools of their obligations to ensure that print disabilities shouldn't be a barrier to accessing curricular content. It establishes a new mechanism to help schools get more timely access to instructional content in appropriate formats. See the article on Page 6 for more information about NIMAS and its implications for students with print disabilities in Delaware.

With sustained attention to these issues at the state and federal levels, we should begin to see some fundamental changes to curriculum access in our classrooms. The DATI is committed to assisting students, families, and educators in this process. Please contact us if you would like to arrange for some training or consultation customized to your needs, if you would like to explore technology options, or if you would like to borrow some technology to try out at school or at home. Remember, there is absolutely no cost for access to devices for trial use through the DATI, and sometimes a piece of hardware or software can make all the difference in the world!

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