Urbana Middle School is still struggling with getting students physical access to different parts of the building. Our school has a very diverse population of students with many students identified as learning disabled, some cross categorical students, as well as one classroom of severe and profoundly handicapped students. Our school is not accessible, but we are hopeful that planned renovations will occur and it will become accessible. For now, the adaptive physical education class holds its classes in the hallway, because the gym is not accessible. Students who need the stair climber to get to the computer lab or other classes must miss part of two classes, because it cannot be used during student passing times. Parents or other visitors must wait for upstairs teachers to come down to talk with them.
The first article concerns the issue of universal access to the highway of electronic information or to the many jobs that require the use of computers. The second article includes questions and answers about a school's responsibilities and the need for public schools to provide products that can be made accessible although there is no currently mandated access requirements for the manufacturer.
Project Archimedes is a a part of the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) at Stanford University. John Perry, a professor of philosophy at Stanford, is the Director of CSLI. Betsy Macken, Associate Director of CSLI, is the leader of the Archimedes Project. The Archimedes Project has an interdisciplinary team of twenty-seven researchers from Stanford and other universities. The institute has as one of its guiding policies that to be disabled is not necessarily to be handicapped,because handicaps can often be removed where disabilities cannot. When tools are designed exclusively for individuals with the average mix of perceptual and motor skills, handicaps arise from that design decision. They are committed to designed access rather than retrofitted access and to training the brightest graduates in the Silicon valley to influence the early design of tomorrow's technology. One of their projects, designed by Neil Scott, is a Total Access System which consists of an individualized accessor (that works with the individual's skills and abilities), an interface to a host computer, and a standardized link that connects them. The personal accessor would be small, portable and travel with the user. It would not become obsolete when systems change and would allow access to any computer driven technology that is outfitted with the interface called a Total Access Port (TAPS). The TAPS would connect through the keyboard and mouse ports and do the adaptations outside any host computer. TAPS would not interfere with anything running on the computer and the individual would be able to use any computer which offers more accessibility.
This is an interesting approach since we have many students with different kinds of disabilities that today are solved with individual devices that sometimes allow the student to use only his device rather than any computer. This limits what is available to the student. Another problem that we have at school is the problem of choices. We have one student at the present time who must leave his speech synthesizer downstairs because of its size when he goes upstairs to the computer lab. Although he is able to use the computer lab, he loses the ability to speak aloud. Other students in the past could only go to the computer lab at odd times because the stair climber cannot be used during regular passing times. If all computer were designed with the Total Access Port, all computers would become accessible to those with the appropriate accessor. If we had such a system for computers, this would make the world of computers rather like a world in which all buildings were handicapped accessible.
Educational Technology: Questions and Answers on Ensuring Access for Individuals with Disabilities
The information in Educational Technology: Questions and Answers on Ensuring Access for Individuals with Disabilities is posted by the Equal Access to Software and Information group (EASI) which is a part of the Teaching, Learning and Technology Group (an affiliate of the American Association for Higher Education). Dr. Norman Coombs, Rochester Institute of Technology, is the chairman of EASI. The home page is EASI's K to 12 Education Technology Centre. E-mail can be addressed to EASI@edu.com.edu.
This educational technology site has a series of question and answers to clarify and ensure that technology used in the schools can effectively be used by students and employees with disabilities. The introduction quotes President Clinton and his goal to make computers and quality software accessible for all. Questions discussed include the following:
Although the answers provided to the ten questions were all interesting, I thought the issue of how a school is to know if products are fully accessible was thought-provoking. Schools are accountable for providing software and products that can be made adaptable. However, there is no obvious way to determine if a product can be adapted and there are no mandated access requirements for educational technology. Many products have not been designed to support full access for people with disabilities. Common sense would indicate that a school should buy only products that can be made fully accessible. Reviews by the Missouri Assistive Technology Project are included in question ten of this site for some products, but the practice is not widespread. I was not aware that the products that the computer lab bought were to be capable of being made accessible.
The home page for this site is EASI's K to 12 Education Technology Centre. EASI is the acronym for Equal Access to Software and Information group which is a part of the Teaching, Learning and Technology Group (an affiliate of the American Association for Higher Education). Dr. Norman Coombs, Rochester Institute of Technology, is the chairman of EASI. E-mail can be addressed to EASI@edu.com.edu. The electronic resource manager is Dick Banks (email@example.com).
Students with disabilities who do not get a a firm foundation in math and science during the early years of schooling will be unable to be successful in advanced courses which eliminates them from careers in math, science, and engineering. Five issues are listed as problems that prevent students from getting that foundation : negative attitudes at school and home that students with disabilities can't "do" math or science; students are often waivered out of science or math or both; students do not get adequate training in adaptive computing technology; students may require extra help in transitioning from one level of education to another or to the workplace; and students and parents must learn to advocate for technology and other accommodations necessary for students to be successful. Tips for teachers who are service providers include: bringing information about adaptive computer technology and success stories about students with disabilities using that technology to the attention of school personnel; inviting staff to visit adaptive workstations; encouraging administrators to seek help from federal, state and private agencies to pay for adaptive training and equipment; and keeping informed of funding sources and resources.
The author of the article explains that by lowering expectations and waiving requirements the school and parents make it impossible for the child to attend college or to be successful in the workplace, because the the student has been denied a full K-12 education. He states, "This mindset that creates lowered expectations and waived requirements is often a greater disability than is the physical disability." He concludes that it is time to rethink the time that students may need to gain basic skills and that some schools are allowing students with disabilities to do one year of work in two years.
The article also includes a list of questions for the service provider to answer in order to provide the best service to the student and a list of off-the-shelf math and science software that can be helpful.
The last issue mentioned is that of mainstreaming versus special classes. The article concludes that the decision should be made for the individual child rather than by policy decision.
This article would be controversial at an Urbana School District # 116's Program Council meeting. A subcommittee has discussed and studied retention of students for two years. Very, very little retention for any reason is done from K-8 in Urbana. There seems to be a strong feeling, particularly at the elementary school level, which is supported by some research, that students should not be kept an extra year no matter what the program or circumstances. When students with low level or missing skills and low participation reach high school , they are suddenly faced with repeating courses or they are often placed in low level, non-college preparation classes. Some of these students do have disabilities and we have discussed the fact that the students are removed or not required in some schools to take certain classes or have pullouts during the time that a certain class meets. There is a feeling among middle and high teachers that many of these students are capable of average or above average achievement, but they lack skills and have not had enough experience of working on their own. Although I have not had many students recently who have not had science, in the past, I had students who were taking their first science class in the eighth grade.
I also think of how much adaptive technology has changed in the last ten years. Nine years ago, I had an outstanding blind student who was totally mainstreamed. I had no training and no adaptive science equipment technology to help this student. I was very nervous and concerned about including him in the class. During one of the first weeks of school, I was presenting information on ocean currents with an overhead projector. I remember looking for a three dimensional map and after not being able to find one, resorting to trying to describe aloud what it looked like as I was showing the class on the overhead. I was trying to describe the projection of land that comes from California and goes southward that is surrounded by water on three sides. He raised his hand and asked, "Would that be the Baja Peninsula?" Despite our having only a Braille writer at school and the text on tape, he participated and excelled in science. Later that year, he designed a working traffic stop light that he improved and made adaptations for the blind during his high school years and won top prizes in competitions throughout the state. This spring there was an article about his work at the University of Illinois as a computer engineer working on making Web pages accessible. Obviously, he had the skills and the advocacy of his blind parents who had very high expectations for him, but his science experience would have been richer with the adaptive technology that exists today.
Accessible design strategies for students at our school would of course depend on the disability of the student, but the following include general solutions that can be built into the design of all Web pages to make the information accessible to more. These are also included in Activity 2B.
All Thing Web
This site has many sections with tips and techniques for building reader friendly Web pages. These are simple things that students and teachers should use in designing Web pages. Among those sections are Accommodating Imperfection. This section encourages Web authors to anticipate imperfections and design to accommodate them. To accommodate visual impairment avoid the use of red and green since 6% of the population suffers from some degree of color blindness; use color sparingly, use meaningful ALT tags; avoid using absolute font tags so that browsers may display the text in a certain size or font they find more legible; and don't be afraid of white space. To accommodate motion impairment make sure that the graphic navigational tools and links are ample-sized. The author suggests testing your design by using the non-dominant hand to test if the links work quickly and easily.
Another good section is The Rules which are ten things that every Web author should know. These rules increase the accessibility for all browsers by reminding the novice authors of Web pages of such things as what you see is not what everyone that browses gets; not everyone browses graphically; good original content is the key, and fast-loading pages with small graphic files make happy browsers.
Tips for Creating Accessible Web Sites
This site explains some of the most common problems that make Web pages inaccessible. The site includes examples of how it would look in Lynx browsers and other special browsers as well as including examples of good and bad designs. The four problems that the site addresses in detail are the following: alternative text for all images and image maps, using frames and tables and making sure that navigational graphics are intuitive and easy to read. Alternative text for images is one of the easiest things that can be done to increase accessibility. If it is not included and a text-only browser is being used, students will not be able to know whether the image was decorative, navigational or important to the content. Frames can be very difficult for students with mobility problems to navigate and activate sites. Users should be given a choice on the opening page to choose an alternative "frameless" site. Tables present a similar problem. Screen readers may read across or read two columns at a time rather than down columns individually. Students with low vision may not be able to raise the font size without ruining the table or chart. Students with severe dyslexia may also have difficulty reading tables. A way for Web authors or teachers to check material is to try raising the font size. If it is not easily readable, then one should consider providing an alternative page without tables. Icons used as navigation aides should have descriptive text underneath because they may not be intuitive for all students nor are they able to be enlarged for students with low vision.
NYISE Blindness Resource Center
The New York Institute for Special Education Blindness Resource Center has many links to very specific information for the visually impaired. Among those are special links for the teaching of math, science, and engineering to the visually impaired. It has disability list servers and many links for specific technology for the blind such as Lynx, EMacSpeak, UnWindows, and Net Tamer .
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