Tech Helps Disabled Students Soar at Jersey City School

Jonn Villanueva sat inside his Jersey City school with his wheelchair next to his computer and dictated a new chapter of his creative-writing assignment.

Mr. Villanueva, a 20-year-old student at the A. Harry Moore School, has muscular dystrophy, a condition that limits his physical movements and makes typing impossible. But his special-education school has speech-recognition software that allows him to speak to a transcribing computer.

“It was very hard for me to cope with what was happening,” Mr. Villanueva said of his disability. “It helps me to think of what I want to put on paper.”

A. Harry Moore, a New Jersey City University laboratory school, serves students between the ages of 3 and 21 who have a variety of disabilities, from blindness to muscle degeneration. The school is at the forefront of what experts say is a broader move to supplement special education with technology.

Jhone Ebert, New York State Department of Education’s senior deputy commissioner for education policy, said the Smart Schools Bond Act, a 2014 state initiative that allocated $2 billion to finance educational technology and infrastructure in schools, can help special-education teachers get the technology their students need. Ms. Ebert said the first round of applications for the funding were accepted last week.

“[Special-education teachers] need to make sure they’re involved with the curriculum and technology staff…because they need to submit an application for these funds,” Ms. Ebert said.

Kristie Patten Koenig, head of NYU Steinhardt’s ASD Nest Support Project, which supports an inclusion program for autistic children in New York City public schools, said more special-education teachers are using apps to help students develop confidence in performing difficult tasks.

“Nothing replaces that teacher that really is child centered,” Dr. Koenig said. “Tech is a supplement not a replacement and that would be the danger.”

Each classroom at A. Harry Moore has technology that allows the disabled to work independently, which teachers say would have been impossible for most of the students a couple of decades ago. Like other special-education teachers in the New York area, educators at A. Harry Moore equip students with software so they can write, speak and even code.

“There’s always some kind of tech tool incorporated because that’s how the students have access to the curriculum,” said Stephanie Talalai, the school’s technology coordinator. “We use the technology so they can have the same experiences as typically developing children.”

To read the rest of this article, published in the Wall Street Journal, please click here.