What is inclusion? To some it means no one is left out, regardless of race, color, creed, or physical disabilities. Coeval School District, in New Hampshire, defines inclusion as "the integration of students with special educational needs into the regular educational setting." WEAC gives a fuller explanation of inclusion, "a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than having to keep up with the other students). Proponents of inclusion generally favor newer forms of education service delivery."
One of the newest forms of educational delivery for everyone is the growing number of online classes offered. Many colleges and universities are adding more online classes to their curriculum in addition to keeping the traditional classes.
Assistive Technologies & Its Advantages
To accommodate the hearing and visually impaired, there are different types of assistive equipment to upgrade computers in order to meet the specific needs of the disabled users.
For blind users, considerations include a voice synthesizer that translates digital text from the screen into a synthesized voice. A software product called the screen reader allows the information to be "read" from the screen. The student uses a special Braille computer with Braille keyboard, but no screen, in order to respond. This assistive technology allows a blind student to participate actively in an online environment because the student can "converse" with his classmates without the presence of a human reader.
For low vision users, a screen enlarger is necessary to upgrade text or image up to 25 times the image/text. Some considerations for the web designer are good color contrast in text and background, simple and consistent layout, and links and text that are clearly marked.
Some users are hearing impaired. At first, it may appear that there are no special considerations because they can read from the screen. However, more and more materials presented in multimedia form have an audiovisual component. For that reason, videos must have subtitles or closed captions to enable the deaf user to complete the course in its entirety. Hearing-impaired students feel a great sense of pride that they can finally "talk" to a teacher without a human intermediary. They also feel less hindered because their disability is not visible to anyone, particularly their classmates. The majority of deaf students choose not to reveal their disability because they want so much to be treated equal to a "hearing" student.
Physically disabled users have mobility issues. Certain parts of their body suffer from pain and/or paralysis. For these users, there are many special types of assistive devices. A few common items include touch screens, larger mice, joysticks, trackball switchboxes, voice input boxes, etc.
For medically fragile users who are unable to leave the house for various reasons due to a tethered breathing apparatus, weak immune system, etc., the online environment allows them to be a part of a learning community and to be in touch with other people. This access will allow them to learn while convalescing.
Equipment, supplies, and resources for the blind and deaf may be quite expensive ($200 - $12,000) depending on each userâ€™s needs. But there are sites, such as deafblind.com with hardware information and services. Also of interest may be the Spring 2004 issue of Net Connect linking librarians, educators and the Internet. This magazine is a supplement to Library Journal. This particular issue is devoted entirely to adaptive technologies focusing on new ways for access and all the latest hardware and software.
Online classes are especially attractive to the disabled population. There are many reasons why learning online from the comfort of oneâ€™s home is preferable. Many do not have reliable transportation to shuttle them to and from school. Some are homebound and the Internet and online courses allow them to be a part of the community at large. They are equipped with custom upgraded computers to meet their special needs which are not likely accessible in a college and/or public library. They can interact directly with their classmates rather than working with a third party, usually an interpreter or a reader. There is also a comfort zone as stated by a user. "Online, no one knows Iâ€™m disabled. In this environment, we donâ€™t recognize people by race or disability, or how they look — we only see people for their ideas." Finally, the flexibility of being able to study on oneâ€™s own time in order to accommodate oneâ€™s medical needs is a bonus.
Distance education via computer conferencing and Email has lessened communication barriers for persons with physical disabilities. It has allowed blind and deaf students to "communicate" directly with their instructors and classmates without intermediaries. Providing inclusion to an online learning community means better accessibility to more materials available in Braille and in closed captioned formats. Inclusion means "inviting disabled students who have traditionally been locked out to â€˜come inâ€™." When inclusion is practiced, it provides a sense of self-reliance, self confidence, and the pride of independence to this special population. Distance learning technology is a win-win situation for everyone.
Duggan, D (1999) Online Classes Expand Access Retrieved May 5, 2004.
Keyes, M. (1988) Using Distance Education Technologies to Overcome Physical Disabilities Retrieved April 28, 2004.
Lance, G.D. (2002) Distance Learning and Disability: A View From the Instructorâ€™s Side of the Virtual Lectern. Retrieved April 28, 2004.
Microsoft. (2004) Assistive Technology: Types of Assistive Technology Products Retrieved April 29, 2004.
Stout, K.S. (2001) Special Education Inclusion. Retrieved April 28, 2004.
Tompkins, R. & Deloney, P. (1995) Inclusion: the Pros and Cons. Issues About Change. Retrieved April 29, 2004.