Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 11
Spring 1992
Technology revolutionizes special education

     The age of technology is empowering those with disabilities.
Machines now can read books aloud, and textured or vocal computer
keyboards are available for individuals who are visually impaired.
Portable devices can prompt the memory of persons who are severally
mentally retarded. Wheel chairs can be steered by whatever part of the
body is able to move, including the tongue. And computer keyboards can
be directed by laser-like lights attached to the ear, by an eyebrow
switch or by blowing through a straw.
     New inventions, which are constantly being refined, are
increasing the independence and employability of people with physical
handicaps, mental retardation, autism, learning disabilities or speech
and language impairments, according to Al Cavalier, associate
professor of  educational studies and director of the Center for
Assistive and Instructional Technology. The center is jointly
supported by the College of Education and the University's
Instructional Technology Center.
     However, along with the new technology and the trend to include
all students with disabilities in the regular classroom, has come a
heightened need to train teachers and other professionals, many of
whom received their degrees before this technology was available,
Cavalier says.
     The College of Education is answering this need. With a
three-year, $195,000 grant from the U.S Department of Education's
Office of Special Education Programs, the college offers 10 stipends a
year to teachers who work toward a master's degree in special
education technology.
     The teachers learn how to assess a student's needs, how to match
and use new technology with students with disabilities and how to
teach and integrate exceptional children into the regular classroom.
Before completing their degrees, they also obtain practical experience
in the schools.
     Placing children with special needs into regular classrooms was
not an option in the past. Teachers were ill-equipped to interact with
students with disabilities, so the problem was "solved" by exclusion,
rather than inclusion. In 1975, landmark federal legislation was
passed, mandating that all children receive a "free and appropriate
public education."
     At first, the legislation was interpreted to mean segregated
facilities for children with special needs, but a contemporary
interpretation includes these children in regular classrooms whenever
possible. Technological advances have made this a viable option for
many students, Cavalier says.
     Technology has changed education overall, not only for children
with disabilities but for everyone, Cavalier says. For example,
interactive videodiscs add new dimensions to classroom teaching.
     An extensive reference collection is housed in the college's
center, including journal articles, reports, books in an on-line
catalog, educational software and videodiscs.  Available for use by
undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, these
resources also aid research on educational technology issues.
     "Everyone in the classroom profits from appropriate use of the
new technology, but for students with disabilities, computers have
provided cognitive, physical and social access that would otherwise
not be possible. With technology and skilled professionals, productive
lives for people with disabilities begin in the classroom and continue
in the workplace and beyond," Cavalier says.
                                        -Sue Swyers Moncure