It addresses the needs of students by "proactively planning for instructional, environmental, and technology supports to allow all students to effectively access and engage in instruction (Basham, Israel, Graden, Poth, & Winston, 2010). Response to Intervention (RTI) provides tiered levels of support to all students, allowing for more intensive and individualized instruction. As Basham et al. point out, RTI and UDL share common features and purposes; they are both grounded in research-based practices and attempt to design both environments and solutions enabling all students to learn.
Riley, Beard and Strain (2004) discussed virtual manipulatives in an article that addressed special needs. Students with disabilities may have difficulty with teaching tools such as tiles, base ten blocks, geoboards, tangrams and the like; a number of interactive websites have been developed that allow students to work with on-screen manipulatives. These can be good for students like Amos (who is afraid of using rubber bands on the geoboard, for example, because he does not like when they snap against his fingers) but enjoyed equally by all the children in the class. Most 21st century students have computers and devices such as PlayStation at home; they are very comfortable using technology. When all students in the kindergarten classroom have access to the virtual manipulatives (there are three computers in the classroom, so they must take turns), then Amos is not singled out. At present, neither Amos nor his classmates have much awareness than he is different, but the UTL and RTI models help level the playing field so children do not feel different. This can be a problem when children progress through school and they and their peers realize they have special needs. It can be a terrible stigma that can negatively impact a child's self-esteem and subsequently his/her academic and social growth.
As Beard, Carpenter and Johnson (2011) point out, UDL is ideally in place in the classroom before any students arrive; AT is implemented at the recommendation of the IEP team. However, teachers are increasingly finding uses for AT with all students. Judge, Floyd and Jeffs (2008), for example, are proponents of what they term the "toolkit" approach, wherein a variety of AT devices and strategies are available to all teachers and paraprofessionals, along with proper training, to enable educators to be flexible in their approach to meeting students' needs. All students are alike only in the fact that each is unique, and UDL and AT can help educators reach their students, even if their needs have not been defined as "special" by experts outside the general education classroom.
The writer of this paper agrees that UDL and RTI can be combined with AT to improve instructional delivery and reduce the need for exclusive special needs support. Beard, Carpenter and Johnson (2011) point out that RTI has been described as an alternative to the "wait-to-fail" model and attempts to meet the needs of learners who are struggling but have not yet been identified as having special needs. An RTI is a "multilayered system" designed to improve instruction, either in the regular classroom or through special education services. In Amos's case, special education services are required. He needs speech and language therapy, occupational therapy (for gross motor skills) and the attention of a special educator who has specific training for work with children with autism spectrum disorders. However, various AT devices and strategies make it possible for Amos to spend more time in the classroom than a child with the same needs a generation ago. Social interaction is an important part of Amos's development. As his skills develop, he will be able to participate in classroom activities and engage more with his teacher and his peers.
Basham, J.D., Israel, M., Graden, J., Poth, R., & Winston, M. (2010). A comprehensive approach to RTI: Embedding universal design for learning and technology. Learning Disability Quarterly 33(4), pp. 243-255.
Beard, L.A., Carpenter, L.B., & Johnston, L. (2011). Assistive technology: Access for all students. 2e Kindle edition. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.
Judge, S., Floyd, K., Jeffs, T. (2008). Using an assistive technology toolkit to promote inclusion.
Early Childhood Education Journal 36(2), pp. 121-126.
Riley, G., Beard, L.A., & Strain, J. (2004). Assistive technology at use in the teacher education programs…