Mary Driscoll teaches in the special education and learning assistance program (LAP) at Evergreen Elementary School in Spokane, WA. Following a presentation on assistive technology by DO-IT staff, Ms. Driscoll applied for and received an AccessSTEM Minigrant to purchase technology for her school. The speech-to-text and text-to-speech software was used to foster greater independence and smoother integration into general education for students with reading and writing deficits.
To integrate the software into the student's classwork, Ms. Driscoll instructed not only the students on use of the technology but also the school community as a whole. She gathered a team of key stakeholders, including general education teachers, an occupational therapist, a speech and language pathologist, and the principal for training.
Ms. Driscoll went a step furhter and invited parents and staff to "Tech Nights" to learn about and try the new software. At these events, the students who used the technology taught the adults. The students demonstrated how to use WYNN Screen Reading Software and Dragon Naturally Speaking to complete assignments and tests. One adult who attended the event remarked, "It was very interesting. The students were the experts and we were the students. It was very empowering for the students to be the ones teaching the adults how to use the technology. It was a great way to demonstrate just how useful the software programs were to the students."
Tech Night clearly showed the adult professionals and parents how this technology is contributing to their academic success. The students successfully demonstrated how the technology opened doors for them and allowed them to access information previously inaccessible to them. The adults observed a group of intelligent and creative students who are now excited about reading and writing. It is likely that attitudes about the abilities of students with disabilities became more positive in the process.
Students didn't limit their teaching to these special occasions, but instructed each other daily on how to maximize the value of the assistive technology. Teachers often heard students sharing tips with one another. Students even organized a pizza lunch to share tips with other students with and without disabilities. Staff members at Evergreen Elementary and the middle school were invited to attend the lunch, but only to listen in. Since these students have experienced ownership of their learning, it is easy to imagine they will continue to advocate for themselves in the future.
The effective use of assistive technology, the facilitation of peer-to-peer support, and the empowerment students received through training teachers and parents are some of the promising practices employed in this project.
AccessSTEM mingrants were funded under The Alliance for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM, Research in Disabilities Education award # HRD-0227995).