Volume III Number 2, June 1996
This issue is a special issue devoted to access to science, math, engineering and technology for people with disabilities.
Science programs on television (TV) present much of their information only visually. For people who are visually impaired this reliance on visual cues limits access to the learning and enjoyment such programs offer. Audio description (sometimes called "video description") inserts descriptions of a TV program's key visual elements into natural pauses in the program. It is intended to provide visually impaired people with more access to the programs' content and to make viewing more satisfying. Including description promotes two social policy objectives: (1) ensuring that people with disabilities have the same access to information and opportunities that people without disabilities do, and (2) advancing scientific literacy.
As scientific fields make increasing use of technology, new opportunities emerge for people with a variety of abilities. When students with disabilities and science teachers form learning partnerships, the possibilities for academic and career success multiply. Some students with disabilities have conditions that are invisible; some are visible. Their challenges include gaining knowledge and demonstrating knowledge. In most cases, it takes just a little creativity, patience, and common sense to make it possible for everyone to learn and contribute. The DO-IT project at the University of Washington. DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) makes extensive use of computers, adaptive technology and the Internet to increase the successful participation of people with disabilities in academic programs and careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.
There is a critical need to restructure the methodology of teaching mathematics and science. The traditional way of teaching is through reading from the textbook and doing problems through rote memory of formula and facts. Hands-on experiences, when used, are only to verify "the facts" stated in the textbook. The situation is exacerbated for special education children. A shift to more dynamic and hands-on methods is required. An active, multi-sensory approach to science and mathematics can be effective for children with disabilities, as it is with any other child. The teacher who relies on reading and writing as the sole means of instruction presents all of his or her students with a disadvantage. Children with disabilities may need to carry out their explorations differently.
InfoUse is running a three year project entitled "An Internet-Based Curriculum on Math and Aeronautics for 4th -7th Grade Children with Physical Disabilities" with funding through a cooperative agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA's award, which is administered through the High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Office as part of NASA's Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications (IITA) program and NASA-Ames Research Facility at Moffett Field, was given as one of eight such awards for developing new ways of teaching science, mathematics, engineering, and aeronautics through developing new Internet-based information technologies.
It comes as no surprise that when deaf adolescents are asked to rate characteristics of effective teachers, they place a high importance on the visual representation of course content during lectures. Mediated instruction has been advocated by effective teachers ever since the earliest forms of transparency and slide projections, and motion picture films, have been introduced. As new forms of technology enhanced the general living conditions of deaf people as well, educators have applied them to the classroom.
Schools in the United States, both K-12 and postsecondary institutions, are struggling to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of students with learning disabilities. The 1989 figures from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that almost 2 million K-12 school children or 50% of the children receiving special education services are identified as having learning disabilities. (11th Report to Congress, 1989) These increased numbers of students with disabilities are now also impacting postsecondary educational institutions. Reforms in science and mathematics education have led to the development of national curriculum and assessment standards. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) have mandated academic access in all areas of education for students with learning disabilities.