On December 2nd, National Special Education Day recognizes changes in federal legislation that led to the nation’s first federal special education law. To give some background:
- In 1971, the U.S. District Court case Mills v. The Board of Education ruled it unlawful to deny children, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), publicly funded educational opportunities.
- In 1986, additional protections were added to support parents and educators in creating an education plan for children with disabilities.
- In 1990, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and improved access for all children with disabilities. Throughout the years, the act has been enhanced to improve services and standards throughout the educational system.
Today, educational standards state that students with I/DD should be offered opportunities to realize their potential and pave the way for a bright future. Students with I/DD should have the same opportunities as their neurotypical peers. Modern technology and IT solutions help equip students with I/DD with the resources needed to take advantage of new opportunities.
The overall number of students with I/DD has dramatically increased over the past 10 years, and so has the diversity of support needs. This means there cannot be a one size fits all solution, because each student has different levels of support needs. Students with I/DD may need tailored assistive technology to help increase their learning experience and overall independence.
An example of assistive technology is speech generating technology for nonverbal students. This technology helps nonverbal students communicate with their peers and contribute to discussions in the classroom. When using speech generating devices, the user can create icons and shortcuts for common talking points and interests like “My name is…” and “I like reading Harry Potter Books.” Another example is text-to-speech technology where a computer or tablet reads the words on the screen out loud to the user, creating a multisensory reading experience for students who are visually impaired or have difficulty reading. There are various types of assistive technology which are listed at readingrockets.org.
Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled the data generation, processing, and storing on a large scale to support assistive technology like speech generating devices and text-to-speech software. IoT technology has evolved and improved the quality of life by enabling new ways to share and receive information in daily life. Overall, IoT has opened opportunities for students with I/DD, increasing inclusion and productivity in a learning environment.
Together, we can observe Special Education Day by understanding the history of the IDEA legislation and how it has impacted the lives of people with I/DD, today.