Technology Can Revolutionize Education for College Students with Disabilities

Student Voices Discussion

Secretary Duncan listens to students from Montgomery County Public Schools (Md.) and Project Eye-to-Eye based in New York State (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood).

Having a disability should not stop any student from pursuing higher education. And through a unique program in Montgomery County, Md., high school students are proving that a disability is not an obstacle to a college education.

Several students from Project Eye-to-Eye recently visited ED as part of the Secretary’s monthly Student Voices series, where they joined Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Alexa Posny, to discuss college equity and accessibility for students with disabilities.

During the meeting, the discussion kept coming back to inclusion in K-12 schools. Research shows that when students with disabilities attend the same courses as their peers, they will have a better chance of attending college.

At the college level, issues in educating students with disabilities are often different from those affecting K-12 education, and the instructional climate is changing. Taken together, these trends call for a systematic method of accommodating diverse learning needs at the postsecondary level, even though the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not apply to higher education.

“With reasonable accommodations, I have succeeded in college,” said Isaiah Walker a senior at Columbia University, who wants to continue higher education and pursue a law degree. “At times, it was as simple as having extended time to complete an exam or having the option to utilize assistive technology devices to take class lectures,” he said.

In many cases, providing an effective assistive technology tool is considered a reasonable accommodation. “As a student who has a visual impairment, providing screen magnification software has provided me access to my school’s library services and to computers for reading, writing, and research—skills that I am using throughout my college career,” another student shared.

In order to access and use technology tools effectively in college, students with disabilities must be adequately prepared in high school. A common theme voiced from all students sitting around the Secretary’s conference table—many with iPads and smartphones—is that teachers and professors need to be trained and encouraged to allow the use of technology, especially for students with diverse needs.

Technology is seen by students as a tool for inclusion. By helping them communicate with their peers and organize their thoughts, they are better equipped to enter the 21st century work environment. In order to compete on a global level, “Our nation needs to take a leadership role; we need a technological revolution,” Duncan remarked.

Sam Ryan, Associate for Regional and Youth Outreach.

Since the Student Voices meeting, ED has released a report from the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities. The report sets forth recommendations for the effective use of AIM at the postsecondary level. Click here to read the report.

4 Comments

  1. I teach study skills for a small college in Idaho and it’s amazing how little support people with disabilities get. The great news is that with a few tools, some hope and a good environment just about anyone can succeed.

    I won’t go into details here but by learning just a few new skills, I’ve amazing results.

    One technique that has help hundreds at our school is memory improvement. I developed the program because this is one of the tools that helped me go from failing to surviving, then getting straight A’s (for the first time in my life!).

    One technique we teach is organization. This has been HUGE. It’s amazing what having an organized notebook and the proper supplies can do.

    My point is that not only have I gone from failing to thriving in school, I’ve seen first-hand what proper support can do for students who otherwise seem destined for a life of failure.

    Keep up the great blog,

    Professor Scott

  2. With approximately 200,000 (if my source is correct) students with disabilities approaching graduation, and increased numbers following in their path. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be revised to include Postsecondary Education.

  3. Computers and tablets are only assistants and a good teacher’s will always be needed.
    However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so that educators must use them in the teaching process.

    Many academics are posting great educational videos and materials online. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

    This effort is being done by: http://Utubersity.com which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There’s also a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com

    This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.

  4. It is good to learn how far we have come in education for people with disabilities but we still have a long way to go.
    I am always thrilled when I learn of someone moving on to a higher level of education.

    And I remember when my daughter with a disability was denied any type of education. There were no laws that said she could have an education. There was nothing available. A little school was opened and supported by parents in the basement of a church. Teachers made very little money. Equipment was built by us.

    Let us never forget that time as we never want to go there again.

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