In the USA every child is entitled to a free and appropriate education regardless of ethnic background, disabling condition, or socioeconomic level. In the last part of the 20th Century, federal legislation ensured that all disabled children had a right to a free and appropriate public education. The contributions of disabled people in America have been tremendous. From Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, and Stephen Hawking to Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Helen Keller, disabled people have enriched our society. Deaf people, blind people, cerebral palsied people, and mentally challenged people have made our lives better though their accomplishments.
Many of these young people have done well in regular classrooms with average learners. Others have had to have special programs and may from time to time be in separate classes or even individual tutoring. Learning comes through our sensory input, especially our sight and hearing. However the human mind is a marvelous thing that can compensate for distortions in our sensory inputs. Think with me for a moment about how we might reach a deaf blind infant. True, there are cochlear implants that might give the child a form of hearing. There have been experiments with ocular implants, but these have not been practical to date. How then will a deaf blind infant know his or her world? They must know their world primarily through the sense of touch, taste, and smell. Unlike sight and hearing, these three are near senses.
Signs, codes, speech, and language begin in the average baby very early. The baby cries when she is wet or hungry, and her crying stimulates the mother to feed her. The baby soon stops crying when she is picked up in anticipation of being fed. Then the mother begins to make small talk as she prepares to feed the baby. This small talk begins to allow the baby to anticipate being fed, and she calms down and even begins sucking. As the caregiver talks more and more to the baby, the foundations for communications are established.
With blind babies we find them relating to the auditory speech that is in their environment. Their challenge is mostly ambulatory, that is, how to position themselves in space. In effect, how does a blind child understand up from down without visual cues. They can and do develop auditory communication skills. Cerebral palsied children develop a receptive communication skill even though they may have difficulty expressing themselves.
Technology as a prosthetic device opens new educational doors for many disabled children. A cochlear implant enables a deaf child if it works to develop almost normal speech and language. Computer aided speech gives a severely paralyzed individual, such as Stephen Hawkings, speech. Computer screens with text can change the type font and brightness that make it possible for some visually impaired learners to read.
Technology does two things for the disabled learner: (1) It can be a prosthetic device that modifies the disability, and (2) it can enrich the learning environment so that it is a more level field for all learners.
Learning on a team through a learning game the system does not know whether I am black, Hispanic, from China, deaf, a male or female, living in a New York pent house or in an isolated rural community in a desert on the New Mexico border. Technology can and must become the great equalizer, the force that gives every learner the chance to be all they can be.
When Alice in Wonderland was asked by the Queen of Hearts to do something she replied. “I can’t do that it is impossible.” The Queen of Hearts replied, “Nonsense you must think of six impossible things to do each day before breakfast and practice doing them during the day then you will learn to do the impossible.”
Technology if used wisely allows us to accomplish our impossible dreams.
Every child in the world is entitled to the best education the world can offer.
The 125,000,000 children in the world today without a teacher and without a classroom could soon have an education. The price of one day of war in the world could finance this impossible dream.
All children are entitled to learning through technology. All children deserve a teacher and a classroom. We must demand this from the world leaders. It is not an impossible dream.
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