An estimated three billion people, representing approximately half of the planet’s population, are in some way affected by disabilities, which includes an estimated 150 million from the United States of America (Half the Planet, 2001). According to the Twenty-Third Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2002a), concerning students with special needs between the ages of three and 21, the U.S. and its outlying areas are currently serving educationally more than 6,272,000 students classified as having a disability. The inclusion model, in which a special needs student participates in the “regular” classroom, has become the current classroom education standard. Today’s special needs students have increasing impacts on the general education teacher as, during the past 10 years, the percentage of students with disabilities served in schools and classes with their non-disabled peers has gradually grown to over 90% in 1998 (U.S. Department of Education, 2000b). Because of the large and increasing number of special needs students, assistive educational technology is growing in importance. The population of postsecondary students with disabilities has increased over the past two decades, and currently there are approximately one million persons in postsecondary institutions who are classified as having some form of disability (U.S. Department of Education, 2000b). In 1994, approximately 45% of the adult population who reported having a disability had either attended some college or had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to only 29% in 1986 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999a).
Changes in the Population of Schools
While the makeup of the student population (K-20) has changed, because more students have been classified as having a disability and are now included in the general educational population, so too have the possibilities of the educational setting changed. For the 1999-2000 school year, the number of U.S. students with disabilities served was 588,300 preschool children and 5,683,707 students ages 6 through 21, representing an increase of 2.6% over the previous year (U.S. Department of Education, 2002a). Instructors now have on hand instructional tools that include forms of interactive telecommunication, such as the Internet and two-way video communication, as options for the delivery of instruction. While schools may not have been planning, designing, and creating distance learning courses and programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities, many students’ needs were met through such a delivery system nonetheless. Electronic learning in and of itself is a form of instructional accommodation. Additionally, a range of assistive technology can support the student in the distance learning environment. The online class can be an assistive technology tool that students can use who would otherwise not be able to participate in a classroom for physical, health, or other reasons.
The number of students with disabilities is growing in the online education environment. A 1999 Canadian study of students with disabilities attending community colleges and universities found that an overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) indicated that they used a computer in their education situation, to the most noted reason for using the Internet was for doing research (Fichten, Asuncion, Barile, Fossey & De Simone, 2000). Thompson’s (1998) summarizing report states that approximately 5% of the undergraduates at Open University of the United Kingdom have disabilities, with their population increasing at a rate of approximately 10% per year. The growth is ascribed to the convenience of home study and the ability of technology to overcome barriers to learning for students with disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s (2002a) National Postsecondary Student Aid Study of 1999-2000, more than 8% of all undergraduates took at least one distance learning course, and 9.9% of those students identified themselves as having some form of disability.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Inclusion: A classroom design where all students should take part and attend “regular” classes. Generally, an ESE and regular education teacher work together with the same group of students, including students with disabilities and general education students. Both of the teachers share the responsibility for all of the students.
Individualized Education Program (IEP): A written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with this section. (20 U.S.C. 1414 (d)(1)(A)) (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997 AU7: The in-text citation "Disabilities Education Act, 1997" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )
Asynchronous: Communications between the student and teacher which do not take place simultaneously.
Assistive Technology: “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities….” (20 U.S.C. 1401 (33)(250))
Specific Learning Disability: Term meaning a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
Accommodations: Provisions made in how a student accesses and/or demonstrates learning. The term focuses on changes in the instruction, or how students are expected to learn, along with changes in methods of assessment that demonstrate or document what has been learned. The use of an accommodation does not change the educational goals, standards, or objectives, the instructional level, or the content, and provides the student with equal access and equal opportunity to demonstrate his or her skills and knowledge.