Educating Our Community About Special Education

Guest post by Sarah Fudin, University of Southern California

In the not-so-distant past, children with disabilities were not guaranteed an education. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that advocacy and legislation were inspired, and teachers, community members invested in school districts and other education personnel began to become familiar with how special education works. Special education has come a long way since then, and with technological advancements and an evolving culture that embraces diversity, we are coming even closer to a fully inclusive, equitable educational environment for all students.

What is special education?

If a student has a disability that impedes his or her learning, that student may be able to receive specialized support and classroom instruction. The U.S. Department of Educationsates that in order to receive special education services; a student must have a disability that is included in one or more of 13 categories. If referred for special education services, a student is evaluated and considered eligible by the Committee for Special Education. If eligible, the committee, which includes the student, family members, an administrator and teachers, writes an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that outlines the supports and services that the student will receive in order to be successful. The IEP is a legal document and is reviewed at least annually. Support that a student may receive can include resource room instruction, assistance in a regular classroom from a paraprofessional, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and special testing accommodations, to name a few.

Special education’s evolution

According to Wrightslaw, Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954) had a big impact on the future of special education. Parents and students began to demand a decent education for those with special needs, and in 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act mandated a free and appropriate public education for all students. Despite these strides, it was still standard practice to educate students with disabilities in separate classrooms for decades. In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Act pushed for more inclusive practices. Today, students with disabilities are taught in the Least Restrictive Environment, which is often alongside their non-disabled peers.

Special educators connecting

Thanks to the Internet and social media outlets, special educators now find it easier than ever to connect and share resources. Twitter is particularly useful and one great source is the #spedchat Project. On Tuesday nights, live chats are held, but this is not limited to the one night. Educators are constantly sharing resources and ideas by using the hashtag #spedchat. Teachhub also offers scheduled weekly chats for teachers.

Technology resources for special education

Assistive technology is rapidly growing and enabling students with disabilities to become more successful and independent in the classroom. Naturally, Atomic Learning offers up the latest and greatest in education technology.

Here are a few more great resources:

  • TapToTalk is an assistive communication program that students can install on mobile learning devices. They are able to choose their own images to create a word library.
  • IntelliKeys are customizable keyboards for students with physical disabilities.
  • LibriVox is a website that offers free audio versions of public domain books.
  • Camera Mouse is a free program that allows you to control the mouse by moving your head.
  • iPod Touch and iPhone Applications for Special Education is a comprehensive list of free and low cost apps for education.

Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California’s Master’s in Education and Teaching program, which provides current and aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn an online Masters in Education or MAT online. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

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