When teachers and parents hear the phrase "assistive technology," they often think it refers only to specialized devices for people with physical disabilities or blindness. Many teachers and parents of teenagers with learning disabilities do not realize that assistive technology offers powerful solutions to the problems in school resulting from weak reading, writing and organizing skills. I am continually amazed to see high school and college students struggling to get their thoughts on paper, being terribly disappointed by poor grades, and yet, being completely unaware that software programs exist which could ease the frustrations of reading textbooks, reading web sites, organizing their thoughts, spelling words correctly, and composing written compositions.
Therefore, this issue of TECH-NJ focuses on how assistive technology can support people with learning disabilities. The article by Karen Pike provides specific examples of how elementary aged children are benefiting from writing and reading tools. Janet Friedman's program profile highlights the work of an art teacher at the Newgrange School, a private school for children with learning disabilities, who has developed ways of showcasing his students' strengths by integrating computers into art classes. The Update on the Adaptive Technology Center for New Jersey Colleges includes a list of technology tools which can help people with learning disabilities succeed in college, and the Resources page provides web addresses of several informative web sites for those readers who wish to explore the topic more deeply.
But awareness is not enough. Students with learning disabilities need to be taught how to use talking wordprocessing programs, scan/read systems, graphic organizing software, and notetaking devices. They need to develop their skills before they get to college (I would argue even before they get to high school), so that when the academic demands increase, they already have the necessary tools to concentrate on the work itself and not get side-tracked by the more basic tasks of reading and writing. What this means is that transition planning needs to take on new meaning for students with learning disabilities. It must begin at age 14 (as the law requires), and transition plans must include 1) the identification of appropriate technology tools; 2) arrangements for students to have access to the tools; and 3) clear plans for teaching students to use the technology so that they are skilled users by the time they enter college.
Teachers, child study team members, guidance counselors, parents, and anyone else involved in transition planning for New Jersey's students with learning disabilities will have multiple opportunities this spring to develop their assistive technology skills. The Center for Enabling Technology in Whippany is offering hands-on workshops called Writing Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities (973-428-1455). The Educational Technology Training Centers in Bergen, Middlesex and Burlington Counties are scheduling similar workshops (www.state.nj.us/njded/techno/techtran.htm). On March 13-15, 2001 the Second Annual Tri-State Conference on Assistive Technology will take place at William Paterson University in Wayne (www.accessabilities-2001.com). On April 6, 2001 a conference focused on Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities will be held at The College of New Jersey, co-sponsored by the Adaptive Technology Center for New Jersey Colleges and the Newgrange School Outreach Center (www.thenewgrange.org/outreach/confer.html). Richard Wanderman, the writer and nationally-known expert on technology for people with learning disabilities, will conduct workshops at both conferences and will be the keynote speaker at the April 6th conference. We hope TECH-NJ readers will be able to attend one of these conferences and will become advocates for teaching students with learning disabilities the technology applications that will help them become successful adults.
A. G. D.
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