We’d like to start by telling you a little bit about our professional backgrounds and how we connected with Microsoft. We first met as doctoral students at George Mason University, where we both received our PhD in Education, specializing in assistive technology. We now work together as Assistive Technology Trainers with Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, Virginia. We work with a wonderfully collaborative and talented team. As members of the AT team, we provide consultation, evaluation, and training services to students, family members, and school staff to increase skills and awareness of AT tools, instructional strategies, and Universal Design for Learning to support preschool through high school students with special needs.
Tara: I have been lucky enough to live my passion for assistive technology! My career experiences in the K-12 classroom and at the university level bring a wealth of expertise focusing on the infusion of assistive and emerging technologies in the classroom. My primary research areas include implementing assistive and emerging technologies in general and special education classrooms, and facilitating universal design for learning. I am particularly interested in exploring, learning, and integrating both common and cutting edge assistive technologies in the home, school, community, and workplace.
Cindy: I have worked in the field of special education for more than 35 years. My career experiences include working as a pediatric occupational therapist with children and teenagers with a variety of challenges and (dis)abilities in early intervention programs, school systems, and private practice. I also enjoy working as an adjunct faculty member teaching special education and assistive technology courses, as well as sharing AT supports for math, science, and literacy at local, state, and national conferences. Tara and I will be presenting at the upcoming Closing the Gap, Assistive Technology Integration Association, and Council for Exceptional Children conferences. If you are going to any of the conferences, please stop by and say hi!
We are proud to have been selected as participants in the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum, as the only AT team among the finalists. We met incredibly creative educators who were successfully incorporating students’ use of technology in their curriculum. While we were there, we also had a chance to meet Microsoft’s amazing Accessibility Team. We’ve since had a chance to collaborate and provide some input into their Accessibility: A Guide for Educators publication that is rich in resources. We were also honored to be guest bloggers for this Hot Topics Accessibility blog in May-June 2013, and did a series of blogs on the topic of Using Microsoft Tools to Provide Access to Math and Science for Diverse Learners.
In the upcoming year we are planning to discuss a range of accessibility in education topics, including:
• Accessible instructional materials and Universal Design for Learning • Strategies to support students’ reading and writing skills • Computer access for students with physical or sensory challenges • Tools for organization and transition • Web accessibility for all learners • Using adaptive switches for independent access • Internet instructional resources and other teacher tools • Alternative professional development practices for educators
We will also have guest bloggers, including special educators, therapists, administrators, and teacher educators who will share their perspectives, ideas, and resources. This is only an initial plan. We really want to know your viewpoints and what you are interested in learning about.
A successful blog = collaboration, ongoing conversation, and mutual sharing of resources!
Although we have a wealth of experience and education, technology is a rapidly changing field. We are constantly learning something new every day about accessibility in education as we work in the field and problem-solve and collaborate with our colleagues, students, and parents. The participants in the 13 Microsoft Partners in Learning Hot Topics blogs span the globe. This diversity will enrich all of us, as you have a wide variety of experiences and knowledge. We hope that this blog will bring together this community and reach out to each other. We need your participation and sharing of your ideas and resources.
When consulting with UNESCO in 2011 at a meeting on Accessible ICTs and Personalized Learning for Students with Disabilities: A Dialogue among Educators, Industry, Government and Civil Society, the reality of the digital divide became crystal clear. The consultants were from countries around the world, and the availability of technology in their countries differed widely. As the discussion began to focus on the ease and value of storing and accessing educational resources in the Cloud, we asked a seemingly simple question. “Are students at all of your schools able to access the Internet?” There was a resounding response of “No!” Several of the consultants noted that in their countries, lack of Internet access at their schools was a serious issue, as well as access for students in their homes and in their communities. We are sensitive to this digital divide, and need to hear from you about the challenges, as well as the successes, in using technology to provide access to education.
In this initial blog posting, we leave you with a few questions that we hope you will respond to.
• What topics would you like to see discussed in this blog? • What would you like to learn more about concerning accessibility in education? • What types of technology and strategies are you providing to enable your students’ access to education? • What are the supports and challenges that you have experienced in providing these supports? • What resources would you put into a global UDL technology toolkit for accessibility in education?
We are really looking forward to engaging with you in an ongoing discussion and collaboration in our Hot Topics Accessibility blog!
Cindy Feist & Tara Jeffs