As back-to-school approaches, the amount of federal dollars to incorporate technology in the classroom — and prepare teachers to use it — is expected to rise this year. That’s good news for students with disabilities who can benefit from off-the-shelf technologies in addition to any hardware and software provided for them under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
According to The Wall Street Journal, the economic stimulus package provided $98.2 billion for everything from classroom technology, to school renovations to IDEA. Additionally, it restored $650 million in funding to The Enhancing Education Through Technology program that was authorized in 2002 as part of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.
However, local officials say it’s still not nearly enough to make up for several years of cutbacks, which has affected peripheral studies, such as music and art. But for the required classes, such as reading and history, the boost in technology spending will help students become more tech-savvy and collaborative — a big benefit for those with disabilities who are likely to rely on off-the-shelf and assistive technology in college and in the workplace.
Some schools are using the funds to buy mini note-taking devices and netbooks — small laptops — which can be used to take notes in class and enhance visual and audio learning. For kids with physical, mental and learning disabilities, these devices can be a lifeline in the classroom. For instance, students with dyslexia can install reading software that highlights a textbook’s words on screen as the teacher reads them aloud. When connected to a high-speed Internet connection, a deaf student can use their personal netbook as a translation service; a remote interpreter can transcribe live classes and events — in English or American Sign Language — and send it directly to the computer screen.
The more tech-savvy a classroom gets, the more students’ performance is likely to improve. And by using off-the-shelf technology combined with assistive technology programs, students with disabilities will benefit even more.