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Integrating Technology into the Standard Curriculum
Research Connections
Fall 1998

Extending Learning Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

"It is important to start with the curriculum and do a standard task analysis. From there, consider how low-tech devices can provide access to children before looking at more high-tech applications."
Mother of 1st Grader, Elizabeth Garcia
Current Federal laws require students with disabilities to have the greatest possible access to the general education curriculum in the least restrictive environment. According to Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, "Technology is an invaluable way to achieve access." In fact, the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) emphasizes the importance of technology and the need to share cutting-edge information about advances in the field. The law requires that assistive technology (AT) devices and services be considered for all children identified as having an exceptional education need.

These amendments mark a significant shift in how educators view assistive technology-which previously had been viewed almost exclusively within a rehabilitative or remediative context. Now, within the context of developing individualized education plans (IEP), technology is being considered as a viable tool for expanding access to the general education curriculum. As such, assistive technology has been expanded to include what has been traditionally thought of as instructional technology.

Denice DeCoste, Director of Assistive Technology for the Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, concurs that IDEA '97 has caused a shift in how educators have expanded their thinking about assistive technology. "We are receiving an increased number of referrals for children with mild disabilities in which the issue is access to the curriculum and productivity once in the curriculum." School-based professionals like DeCoste are finding that the "fix-it" approach taken with traditional assistive technology applications is not appropriate for these new types of technology referrals. "More often than not, instructional issues require us to start with the curriculum and then ask how tools might assist students in achieving the outcomes." 

Technology that supports students in accessing the curriculum does not need to be expensive or complicated to make a difference in learning. Both low tech and high tech applications have been used to ensure students' success in the general education curriculum.

How are educators meeting the challenge of the new law? How are educators expanding their use of technology to ensure access to the curriculum? In some cases, the shift is subtle. For example, let's take a look at an early childhood teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland, who found that the shift involved looking at the curriculum and determining how assistive technology could be a solution to integrating students into the classroom and connecting them to challenging learning goals.

When Considering Technology

ButtonLocate equipment where instruction and learning are taking place. Technology needs to be in the classroom and accessible to the child.

ButtonSelect low tech applications whenever possible. 

ButtonIntegrate the use of technology into lessons in a purposeful and meaningful way.

ButtonHave the same equipment used in the classroom available in the child's home to promote continuity of learning, if possible.

ButtonOffer training and technical support to classroom teachers initially. When the technology is available in the home, provide training to family members.

ButtonView the initial fiscal and human resources as an investment that the child will continue to benefit from in subsequent years. 

ButtonDon't reinvent the wheel each year-when possible use the technology that is already in place.

Promoting Access to Early Childhood Curriculum

Teachers of young children in Montgomery County, Maryland, are finding that a little technology goes a long way in helping students achieve curriculum goals. Take, for example, Robert Gitterman, who is included full-time in Jacqueline Daye's second grade classroom. "Technology use starts with instructional objectives-it is a tool for meeting curriculum goals," Robert's mother asserts. 

To accommodate Robert, who is non-speaking and has fine motor, neurological difficulties, a word processor, printer, and AlphaSmart (a portable word processor produced by Intelligent Peripheral Devices) were provided. "I wanted the technology chosen for Robert to be integrated into the classroom so that he could fully participate in all learning activities," Daye tells us. Daye describes an example. 

Typically, we have children this age do a lot of drawing and illustrating-an activity that is very difficult for Robert. When it came time to illustrate a book report, we considered the instructional objectives. The activity was modified so that Robert could use clip art to illustrate his report. This creative use of technology allowed him to participate with his peers.
According to Robert's mother, it would be impossible for him to learn and share his knowledge in the classroom without the use of a word processor and printer. "Robert's ability to think critically and learn higher level concepts dictated a more sophisticated tool than a simple, low tech communication device." Accordingly, Ms. Gitterman warns against using technology that is not matched to instruction. "There is a danger that AT will be too cumbersome to use...if it becomes too tedious or requires too much involvement by the child, AT can easily become an expensive problem." [see the sidebar for her suggestions]


"I don't want my children to miss out on the general education curriculum when they are with me, and so I am constantly developing technology applications."
Patti Fredericks, Special Education Teacher

Considering Assistive Technology in the IEP

Assistive technology can be an important tool for improving teaching and learning results. But while the results appear promising, there is still much work to be done to ensure that IEP teams consider the maximum benefits of technology use.

"The new requirements in IDEA '97 to consider assistive technology devices and services for all students with disabilities creates a massive task for school districts," reports Gayl Bowser, Coordinator of the Oregon Technology Access Program and President-Elect of the Technology and Media Division of the Council for Exceptional Children. "School districts are searching for tools that they can use to ensure that IEP teams meet the intent and the spirit of the law."

As part of an OSEP-funded project, Bowser and her colleague Penny Reed developed the Education TECH Point system which can be used by school districts as a tool to develop effective assistive technology delivery systems. The TECH Point system offers educators a strategy for identifying specific points in the planning process where AT should be considered. The TECH Points are

  •  Initial referral question.
  •  Evaluation questions.
  •  Extended assessment questions.
  •  Plan development questions.
  •  Implementation questions.
  •  Periodic review questions.
At each point, questions are posed that reflect issues that must be addressed. Bowser points out that the TECH Point structure "provides a way to effectively organize and monitor AT utilization while enabling programs to tailor activities to match each student's needs." 

IDEA also mandates that each student with an individualized transition plan must have AT considered as part of his or her required services. With OSEP funding, Bowser and her colleagues are expanding their work into the area of planning for transition. "There are certain issues-such as self determination-that make consideration of AT at this stage unique. For example, individuals should be involved in selecting their own technology, and should be provided technology that they can use independently." 


The potential of technology to improve and enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities is virtually unlimited. Progress in recent years has demonstrated the need for intensified support to facilitate technological development and innovation into the 21st century. In the next section, we spotlight several researchers who have studied the positive benefits of using technology in academic subject areas.

Check Out These Resources

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education has several digests and bibliographies related to AT. 

Assistive technology for students with mild disabilities.
ERIC Digest E529. Behrmann, M. (January 1995).

Readings on the use of technology for individuals with disabilities.
ERIC Mini-Bib EB16. (July 1996)

Resources on the use of technology for individuals with disabilities.
ERIC Selective Bibliography EB17. (July 1996)

Next: Promising Practices in Integrating Technology into the Curriculum

ButtonBack to this Issue's Contents

ButtonERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ButtonERIC/OSEP Special Project Page
ButtonCEC Home Page


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