Technology gives disabled students a big assist

While some students scribble physics notes in their notebooks, Charlie Boyd just stares at his teacher. It’s his way of keeping up; diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Boyd is recording the lecture, which he will later transcribe on his iPad.

“[Technology] has changed significantly and only bettered Charlie with his ability to do work and carry out assignments,” said his mother, Ileana Boyd.

His school, Christopher Columbus High School, allows him to bring an aid to school, where he is placed in a normal classroom setting.

Sheila Miguel, director of assistive technology for Exceptional Student Education programs across Miami-Dade County, speaks about how technology is evolving in classrooms. (Photo by Alexandra Robertson)

Many disabled students are unable to keep up with the typical learning pace of their peers, feeling excluded regardless of inclusion in a normal classroom setting.

In recent years, however, assistive technology has been implemented to provide a unique experience for students with learning disabilities. This technology — any hardware, software, or product that improves the basic capabilities of students with disabilities — helps these students develop pacing, learning and communication skills.

Several learning types include visual, verbal and aural. Assistive technology is tailored to each type of learning for each student.

“It’s allowing them access to a curriculum that they could be excluded from due to their disability if they weren’t supported by the technology,” said Shiela Miguel, director of assistive technology for Exceptional Student Education programs across Miami-Dade County public schools.

Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was mandated in 1975, all public schools are required to provide a free and appropriate education for all eligible children. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than six million children between the ages of 3 and 21 are served under the IDEA Act.

Eric Revell is one such student. He falls on the autism spectrum with a hypersensitivity to sounds. Even though he is able to learn in an inclusive classroom setting among his peers, his hypersensitivity still challenges him.

“Some people with autism are sensitive to light, touch, or anything like that so [one] could get easily distracted when trying to concentrate in class,” said his mother, Kathy Revell.

Revell attended Bob Graham Education Center from kindergarten through eighth grade, where he had a full-time aid who coached him until he reached high school. During these years, he fostered a passion for science and believes that “as humanity learns more stuff, [it] has a better chance of surviving for much longer.”

Eric is now a part of the computer science track at his high school, utilizing technology to develop his interests.

His mother believes that Eric focuses better because he enjoys working with technology.

“The use of iPads has definitely evolved and more apps have come out that you could use and implement in the classroom,” said Gaby Martinez, a special education teacher at Kingdom Academy.

Technology in education is most effective when accommodated to individual needs and learning styles.

Miguel said there is a policy in Florida schools that allows the school official most comfortable with the student to lead the assessment. The ESE department released assessment forms to guide the leader through the multiple trial process.

“We don’t just place a device with a student, we look at the whole classroom and school factors that are going to support the student using it,” Miguel said.

At every Miami-Dade County public school there is a designated assistive technology specialist who attends workshops and serves as a liaison between the school and ESE department. This ensures each student receives adequate tools to pave the path of their education.

“We want to make sure that our students with disabilities have the same opportunities for graduation, access to college in the future, and access to society,” Miguel said.

Watch this video to learn more about her story.