Accessible-First Learning For Resilient, Scalable Education Systems

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Special Global Accessibility Awareness Day resources below.

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By Eduardo Lina, eduardolina.blogspot.comEmail

In schools where students with special needs are integrated into the regular education classes, the sudden switch to fully online teaching and learning has proven to be an extra heavy burden for the communities.

I have been teaching English at The Six-Year Kugel High School in Holon, Israel since 1989. I remember that back in 1997,  I had a very smart and outspoken student who had difficulty reading and writing in English. I could not fully understand why he would fail every reading comprehension and writing exam, nor why he would not explain the reasons for his repeated failures. A TV movie about a dyslexic child I happened to watch sometime later turned out to be an eye-opener: I began to understand dyslexia. This should not come as a surprise: Awareness of the issue of learning disabilities was not widespread at the time.

My failure led me to enroll in courses at Bar Ilan University. I eventually got a Teaching Diploma after having completed in-training courses on the theoretical background of Specific Learning Difficulties. I was trained in techniques of remediation that are appropriate for the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. This enabled me to become a member of The British Dyslexia Association at that time. As for my work at school, I have made use of what I learned to try to help pupils with reading difficulties at school ever since.

I guess that while most of us, teachers, have managed to find a way to teach our students from a distance during these coronavirus times, many teachers have suddenly had to plot out how to teach pupils with special needs. Unlike the situation in the late ’90s, awareness of the issue of learning disabilities is widespread, and we can access assistive technology to help.

What is Assistive Technology?

“Assistive technology (AT) is available to help individuals with many types of disabilities — from cognitive problems to physical impairment. An article on LD Online that focuses specifically on AT for individuals with learning disabilities (LD) can help teachers learn more about this.

What are the most common Learning Disabilities?

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and auditory, visual and neurological disorders are among the most common. This LD Online article  will provide you with a very good answer to the question.

I have used many different apps to help my pupils. However, as a Moodle-addicted English as Foreign Language teacher, I cannot but be very happy that The Israel Ministry of Education Moodle Platform has Assistive Technology incorporated so that it caters to the needs of Special Needs pupils. Click on the AT Launch Bar and access Text-as-Speech with no extra effort. This feature can help those who have trouble understanding written words. No less important, teachers who use this Moodle Platform do not have to waste time looking for other Text as Speech alternatives.

The AT Launch Bar is useful for pupils who are entitled to visual impairment accommodations (read more on this), too. The Youtube video Digital Accessibility on Ministry of Education Moodle Platforms can help you see how useful this feature is.

While the number of teachers in Israel who use the Ministry’s Platform is on the increase and is expected to go on increasing, nowadays, most teachers use the Moodle Platform provided by Mashov to teach either fully online or for Blended Learning. During lockdowns, and answering to the needs of teachers and pupils, Mashov has enabled the use of the microphone and camera icons on Moodle’s default editor, Atto. This will surely have an impact on how well pupils with reading difficulties perform when using Moodle Mashov.

And yet, on Moodle Mashov, another major step towards helping Special Needs Pupils is the addition of GeoGebra as a Moodle Resource on the platform. As introduced on the video Over 2000 student resources (K-12+) for Distance learning!, GeoGebra can help all pupils, including Special Needs ones.

I am not a Math teacher, but when I checked how GeoGebra can help visually impaired pupils, I found out that it is possible to change the thickness and color of the axis X or/and Y, and that changing to a Braille .ttf font is free. Moreover, teachers can find ways to use Text as Speech, too (there is no AT Launch Bar on Moodle Mashov yet). There must be more possibilities I am not aware of, of course.

To conclude, pupils with a learning disability have a right to attend general education classes and to have accommodations and modifications so they can be successful in their classes. In Israel, teachers using either of the two Moodle Platforms that I have discussed help pupils with special needs fulfill their rights.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day resources