I really like bookshare.org and its focus on collaboration and volunteering, such as with bookshare mentors. I like that it offers popular books, such as those on the New York Times bestseller list, and educational texts. I like that it has such a wide database of texts already – I remember several years ago reading an article about the braille version of the latest Harry Potter book, and how they were releasing it at the same time as the print versions so that children who were visually impaired could read it when it was being released, and that it was the first time that had been done with a popular children’s book. Here is a related article in School Library Journal (not the one I first read, but contains the same story): http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6462495.html. Often those that are visually impaired probably have to wait at least several weeks before the book is available in braille or audiobook format.
As an educator, the topic of students with disabilities is one that is familiar and important to me. The article “Accessible Technology Can Help Colleges and Universities Remove Barriers to Education” by Diana Oblinger and Laura Ruby was enlightening for me. I agree with the point advocated in the article – secondary education institutions, as well as all schools, should take a proactive approach to providing accessible technology and truly embrace it. It makes sense to me that as a university or college, you would want to be innovative and ahead of the curve in terms of accessible technology for all learners, as opposed to always scrambling to meet or catch up on federal mandates or guidelines. The article also made me realize how important collaboration and the involvement of multiple groups within the college is – you need administration, professors, department heads, researchers to all be involved embracing and instituting the policies surrounding accessibility issues. The example of Rio Salado College and its distance learning program made me more curious about Syracuse University. I wonder: How long have we had our distance learning program? What do we offer in terms of accessible technology? How accessible is our website to those with disabilities? I would like to explore these questions more in upcoming weeks. The quote from Norman Coombs of EASI: “Empowerment and transformation is the true purpose of education” really resonated with me, it is something I believe.
The issue of budgetary constraints in terms of access to education for all students that the article addressed is a familiar one to me as an educator. Vermont, the state that I live in, has a policy of inclusiveness in the classroom in terms of students with disabilities. When I worked in a small supervisory union in central Vermont, many residents often complained about the cost of special education, because we had to hire many paraprofessionals to work with students with more severe disabilities. Residents were often not well-informed of state educational policies and how their tax dollars were spent in terms of providing student services, so they became frustrated.
Finally, when I took a students with disabilities course as part of my early childhood education training, we had an assistive technologies consultant, Phyl Macomber, come and talk to the class about assistive technologies you could use for young children with disabilities – she particularly focused on the importance of communicating with those students and teaching them the means to express themselves with the help of assistive technology. For more on Macomber and the trainings and resources she offers, visit this website: http://www.practicalatsolutions.com/.