How do you build capacity for accommodating the access needed for ALL students? Last night I was reading a post on adding access options for students and designing a plan to make it happen on the SpeEdChange Blog by Ira Socol. I have been challenged this year by his writing to work towards more accessibility for ALL students in our region of the state - not just for students on IEP's. I have nods of agreement every time I say, "I have teachers that tell me they have students in their classes that are NOT on IEP's that are struggling far worse and have more issues than some of their students that are on IEP's."
I believe that all students need to be given the tools they need to succeed, and have them available to use anytime. They need to be informed and educated on what is available to them, what short-comings they might have that can be supported to level the playing field for them by using those tools, and the freedom to choose them in front of everyone else without feeling singled-out. If the culture of the classroom is to grab what best suits each person to do the work, whether they are a top honors student or a student that has to work harder than everyone else to get a C, then students will make choices to use support tools.
I am in the process of presenting a list of free computer downloads that are part of the toolbar on the browser for Internet support or a floating toolbar for use with any open application so students get more dictionary support, a dyslexic spell checker, text to speech support for writing and reading, a virtual on-screen keyboard for orthopedic impairment access, and a magnifier that floats on the screen to see small type and details for the visually impaired. I even found the ZAC browser for delivering online content in an autistic -friendly and supportive environment. (See the June 4, 2008 post on it). There are so many incredible and free tools now. There is no excuse for not providing this support anymore.
These are some of the beginning steps I am taking (this is not a be-all, end-all list):
1. Get a uniform set of accessibility tools on ALL computers so everyone knows they are standard equipment to use anytime.
2. Show ALL students how they work, how they make life easier and how they make learning more rewarding. Don't make distinctions on who needs to use them and who doesn't. Demonstrate use for everyone so no one gets singled out and scared to self-accommodate because of what others might think.
3. Get instructor buy-in to implement these tools, and train them on how to use them. If the students never know about them or are provided the opportunity to use them, it will all be a "great idea" that stays an "idea."
4. As an administrator as well as a specialist I have a unique opportunity to use the "pinch method." That is, to work from the top down while I also work from the bottom up.
For example: Demonstrate and empower students to start using the tools whenever the chance arises. Get the instructors using them and get them seeing the power of having these tools available to students. Work on the district and regional level to motivate towards these options and give good documentation to show why it is in the best interests of everyone to design an implementation strategy. Share with students and show them how to choose tools for themselves and why they make sense. Talk to superintendents and principals, while you are training Title I specialists and writing instructors.
I have begun to incorporate the implementation of accessibility and the tools to accommodate learning into everything I do. I find their relevancy in every conversation, meeting and instructional setting. I don't think I have folks saying "Oh no, here he comes to rant and rave on his soapbox again." I honestly share these in a spirit of support and assistance - not threatening the principal with unlawful non-compliance. I believe I am being well-received because I am offering a missing link to what is needed to support higher achievement and academic success.
Isn't that what everyone from student to superintendent wants to see? NCLB continues to raise the bar and the stakes each year for what defines student success. In response, we all need to work together to create an environment for multiple learning strategies and the tools to go with them.
All the best to you!