Electronic Text IssuesOne of the most frustrating things many students with disabilities encounter is the inability to read material. While capable of understanding the content, the written word prevents them from accessing the information. New technologies such as ULTimate Reader, which provides highlighting, pacing, and text-to-speech features, allow students with learning, attention, and physical disabilities to become independent learners. The students are able to read materials from the Web because it is in the form of electronic text or e-text. Unfortunately much of the material students need to read is not e-text. While universities have begun the task of converting materials into e-text, most secondary and elementary schools have not.
The Spring, 1998 issue of Interface, the journal of CAST: Center for Applied Special Technology, discusses the reasons for and the difficulties created by the lack of resources in electronic form. Many publishers have been reluctant to provide e-text materials because they are worried about booksales. The publishers who have put books online have found that sales have increased. The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1997 states that teachers no longer need a publisher's permission to alter material in order to make it accessible to students with disabilities. This is a good first step, but it brings a new set of problems to the fore. The process of digitizing materials can lead to formatting problems, typographical errors, and problems with graphics.
Some special education professionals such as Donna Palley, the Director of Special Education in Concord, NH, are encouraging publishers to provide e-text for their materials. CAST is helping to establish e-text standards for publishers. Texas already requires that educational materials be provided in e-text for blind or visually impaired students. CAST is working to expand this rule in Texas and into the rest of the nation to apply to all students with disabilities. In addition, many e-text projects like Project Gutenberg and a grant to the Library of Congress to put some of its printed matter online are helping to make materials available. At the end of the article is a resource that provides links to digital libraries including two sites for children.
EASIEASI: Equal Access to Software and Information has the goal of making information available to all students by making technology accessible to students with disabilities. EASI's K to 12 Education Technology CentreHomepage makes it easy for teachers to access information about technology, too. The page begins with a glossary of adaptive technology, handbooks for hard and software, and information about advocacy. EASI also talks about the essential topics of funding, IEP's, and service delivery.
Special education professionals can usually determine what kinds of interventions are necessary to help a student be successful in the classroom, but determining the most useful technology can be a challenge. Time is most often at a premium. Being able to find information about products, ways to use the computer as a tool to facilitate inclusion, or to get information for parents helps the educator provide his students with a classroom that meets the students' needs.
Dick Banks, EASI's Electronic Resources Manager, researched resources for special education students in the areas of science and math. His K-12 Science, Engineering, and Math Resources link has a very short list of sites. This is because Mr. Banks discovered that there are few resources geared toward special needs students and many that are are not written in an accessible format. This reinforces the idea proposed by CAST that more materials need to be available in electronic format.
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