Learning is cooperative and there is much to gain by sharing it with classmates. Special needs students had the right to merge with normal students in a regular classroom, according to advocates of inclusion (McCarthy 1994). Technology could make that happen, the advocates contended. Special services and resources could be integrated into the regular classroom and allow the ideal learning environment to develop for both types of students. Computer technology could realize the dream of alternative visual, aural and interactive modes of learning. The advocates said it would require serious and distinct collaboration between special education teachers and regular teachers. Regular teachers who would participate would also need some special training (McCarthy).
The Webster Elementary School in St. Augustine, Florida incorporated an inclusion program for the use of special needs students (McCarthy 1994). Its team teachers preferred software, which did not rely too much on texts. Many of its students, whose age ranged from 5 to 9, had reading deficiencies. Hence, the team used programs with lots of visuals and features handicapped students or learners could use on their own. These included user-friendly programs, like MacPaint or talking books on a Mac or CD-ROM. Software to suit special students would also include game-like features, which they and the teacher could work on. The team asserted that learning is a cooperative endeavor. The members of a group and the groups helped one another. This gave all of them the signal that it would be all right to be helped themselves (McCarthy).
A victim of stuttering was helped by a computer course to control his problem and turned the benefit back by running a column to help other disabled learners (Williams 2000). Readers of the column endorsed it as an invaluable resource for disabled teachers and students. An example was a student who could not use a regular keyboard. The former victim of stuttering sent the student a list of companies, which manufactured large-key keyboards. Another student could not move his muscles from the neck upwards. The columnist supplied the student and his teacher with a recommendation, which worked. Other teachers who read his column also asked about funding for assistive products (Williams).
Statistics revealed that 8 to 12% of students in American higher education suffered from some disabilities, which required special attention (Roach 2002). In response, colleges and universities in the last three decades have been developing resources and facilities to respond to the need. The explosion of knowledge through the internet necessitated the development of assistive technology by higher education. This technology would be information-and-media-oriented and suited to the needs of students with disabilities. In 2001, federal agencies and federally affiliated institutions and organizations mandated the use of electronic and information technology or EIT for disabled persons. Section 508 amendments of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 fixed new standards in the six areas of technology. These areas were software applications and operating systems, web-based information and applications, telecommunication products, video or multimedia products, information appliances, and desktop and portable computers (Roach).
Assistive technology professionals pointed to the problem of training college and university personnel who would extend or provide disability services (Roach 2002). Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act attracted more attention to accommodations. The University of Pittsburgh, for example, had close ties with the wheelchair industry. George Mason University in Fairfax had links with research centers, which developed educational programs and services for the disabled. George Mason's Helen a. Keller Institute for Human Disabilities manufactured products, services and programs for students with special needs. The Institute linked up with 37 Virginia counties and other Virginia colleges and universities. These schools needed more people to be trained in assistive technology (Roach).
In addition to developing training for disability service workers, assistive technology specialists must also function as advocates and activists within the university and their college and in their university systems. The level of awareness that existed at grassroots level was insufficient. Specialists must allot and spend much time educating senior administrators on disability matters and issues. They confronted both the special needs of students and the need to push the school to become more proactive in assistive technology (Roach).
Of the two theories, constructivism fits the requirements of students with special needs better. These students have limited physical capabilities to cope with tedious data and harsh methods used in the positivistic mode of learning. Their disabilities limit their very capability to perceive the external world, which is the assumed source of reality, truth and knowledge by the positivist world. In the constructivist classroom or mode or learning, the special-needs student constructs his knowledge or learning within the best limits of his capacity. The teacher can guide him in pursuing what type of sense data the two of them find possible and suitable to his needs. The teacher, however, may direct his attention to suitable information, which he can perceive through functioning senses in lieu of the deficient one. In addition, constructivism allows the handicapped student to develop his inherent faculties in processing new information and in adjusting it into his store of experiences. With the teacher's able, objective but sympathetic guidance, the handicapped learner can optimize the incorporation of new information in the most productive and meaningful way he decides.
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