How tech-driven learning can benefit students with disabilities

As technology makes its way into classrooms, the question of what effect innovative strategies will have on students with disabilities remains wide open.

In some ways, technology use is nothing new for special education students and teachers. Assistive technology has been a key part of helping disabled students succeed in school and afterwards for decades. But some experts say that the new push for tech-driven, personalized learning environments has the potential to destigmatize their use and provide more opportunity for learning for disabled students.

A history of exclusion

As a post from Ashley Bateman and Don Soifer at the Lexington Institute stated, “Traditional school models have not served students with disabilities well.” Graduation rates and performance on tests have lagged and students with disabilities often face zero-tolerance discipline strategies that make it difficult for them to learn and can result in disproportionate suspensions and expulsions. Between 2009 and 2012, the U.S. Department of Education received a record number of complaints regarding discrimination against students with disabilities.

And newer school models have faltered, as well. Charter schools educate fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools, and many have been accused of being unwelcoming to students with disabilities or cherrypicking high-performing students.

But the convergence of innovations in special education — prompted by changes in federal law — and innovations in educational technology could provide the opportunity for a different outcome.

Where universal and personalized learning meet

Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed nearly three decades ago, schools have been obligated to provide the least-restrictive learning environment they can. That marked a sea change in special education: Prior to the passage of IDEA, special education students were often segregated into their own classrooms, or even excluded entirely from public schools.

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