SOESD / Special Education / News
Accessibility for Students With Disabilities
By Sandra Heinzel Crews, Director (Special Education Services)
In this edition of Learning Matters, you will see articles that describe some of the many ways our talented and dedicated special education staff help ensure that students with disabilities have the accommodations and modifications they need. You’ll read about how SOESD staff are helping launch RTI (Response to Intervention) as a new way of making instructional decisions, what we’re doing to help districts work with students with TBI (traumatic brain injury), providing transition services as students move from school to adulthood, serving as interpreters in mainstream classes, guiding field trips (like rock climbing), using visual supports (such as object or picture schedules), adapting P.E. (Physical Education), and fostering friendships with typically developing children.
As advocates for children with disabilities—and as professionals who are passionate about and committed to the success of those children (both in school and in their post-school pursuits)—we in the Department of Special Education Services feel strongly about our work in early intervention and special education. Essentially, we have two foci as we either work directly with children or train or support others (professionals and families) who work with them. One focus is the development of skills, including communication, academic, motor, daily living, social/emotional, and compensatory skills. (Compensatory skills are specialized skills needed to compensate for the adverse effect of a disability. Examples are Braille reading for those who have visual impairments and signing for those who are deaf.) The second focus is accessing the general curriculum.
Accessibility is most often used to describe facilities or conveniences to assist people with disabilities. This can include Braille signage, wheelchair ramps, audio signals at pedestrian crossings, walkway contours, and website design. When we refer to “access to the general curriculum,” however, we are talking about a definition that means “easily approached or entered” (American Heritage Dictionary): helping the child advance appropriately toward attaining his or her annual goals, to be involved and progress in the general curriculum, to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities, and to be educated and participate with other children with disabilities and nondisabled children in those activities.
We support their access to the general curriculum in a variety of ways:
- Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability,
- Related services to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education,
- Supplementary aids and services to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate,
- Modifications in instructional level, content, and performance criteria (what the student is expected to learn and/or demonstrate),
- Accommodations (alterations) in how instructional material is presented or responded to (could be alterations in presentation format, response format, setting in which instruction takes place, timing, or scheduling), and
- Support and training for school personnel necessary for effective implementation of the IEP.
Helping children with disabilities successfully access the general curriculum will improve their performance, enhance the ability of school personnel to help them learn, improve the evaluation of their progress throughout their academic career and, ultimately, succeed as adults in the world.