In the article A Federal Perspective on Special Education Technology, which was published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities in September, 1996, the authors Jane Hauser and David B. Malouf (1996) provided an overview of the research that was conducted over the past 20 years with regards to the use of technology in special education.
As Congress began to recognize the role that technology could play in the education of persons with disabilities, it started to implement more statutes that aimed to strengthen the use of technology in special education. Part G of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1986, P.L. 99-457, was also enacted. This legislation authorized the Technology, Educational Media, and Materials Program for Individuals with Disability (Hauser & Malouf, 1996, p. 506) to initiate research initiatives about the use of technology in special education. The legislation also allocated a research budget of $4.7 million for FY 1987 and had since funded the research and development of technology tools that are intended for students with disabilities.
In particular, some of the researches that have been conducted included analytic researches, systemic researches, and researches based on futures studies. Analytic researches provide an insight on the potential effects of the application of technology on special education while systemic researches provide information on the actual effects of the application of technology in special education, particularly when other factors come into play, that is, factors that are associated to context, teachers, students, and technology. On the other hand, researches that are based on futures studies explore the potential applicability of technological research findings in other disciplines to the field of special education. Such disciplines include business, the military and medicine. The knowledge gained from these various researches was obtained from staff expertise, from field competitions, and from researchers in the field.
In conclusion, the authors asserted that research on the use of technology in special education must be able to address questions on how the use of technology aids the student’s learning process; how technology can be adapted to the instruction of children with disabilities; how the teachers’ technological competencies can be developed; and what information is needed to guide future research (Hauser & Malouf, 1996). They also asserted that research is only half of the battle so-to-speak and that the other half is the proper implementation and application of the research findings (Hauser & Malouf, 1996). Furthermore, they asserted that the skills that students with learning disabilities are taught must be comprehensive enough so that these students are provided with the abilities that will enable them to meet the qualifications that will be required of the future workforce (Hauser & Malouf, 1996).
In this regard, I agree with the authors’ conclusions because I think that conducting the research is the easier part and that making the changes recommended by the research findings is the more difficult part as this will require the cooperation and buy-in of the various sectors in the society. These include government units, educational institutions, parents, teachers, and students among others. I also agree that for technology-mediated instructions to be truly helpful for students with disabilities, these instructions should be helping the students learn more than the basic skills but also the skills that they will need to cope with societal changes in the future.
The impact of the legislation on public and private schools is that it enabled the conduct of many researches that provided support for the use of technology as an instruction medium in special education. It enabled school administrators to justify investment in technologies that will specifically provide for the needs of students with disabilities. Furthermore, these research findings enable schools not only to improve their methods of teaching but also to design curricula that will best prepare the students for the future. In addition, this legislation provided the necessary funding to enable teachers to develop the competencies that would enable them to effectively implement technology-mediated methods of instruction.
On the other hand, one of the limitations of the legislation, particularly of Part G of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1986, P.L. 99-457, is that it does not mandate the use of technology-mediated instructions in schools that offer special education. As such, it would still be the individual schools’ discretion whether to implement such methodologies of teaching or not. Also, while this legislation provides funding for the use of technology in special education, as well as for ensuring that teachers receive the necessary education and training, it does not include the funding for the actual technological tools and facilities that the schools – particularly the public schools – will use. As it is, there is a shortage in the number of computers that are available for the students’ use and there’s also a shortage in the funds that are necessary to keep these technological tools – both hardware and software – updated.
However, in order for the research findings on technology use in special education to become meaningful and useful, it would be necessary for schools, particularly public schools, to be provided with the resources that are necessary for the successful implementation of the advanced technologies that are recommended by the research findings. These resources include teacher education, which includes the development of technological competencies and the development of the right mindset and attitudes regarding the new methodologies, and funding, which would enable public schools to procure the necessary technology tools.
As the next step, the Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP) Division of Innovation and Development launched an initiative for the creation of an agenda for the Technology, Educational Media, and Materials Program for Individuals with Disabilities in October 1991. This involved input from the disability, parent, advocacy, and professional communities and the process consisted of electronic conferences and focus groups. The result was a national agenda that served to guide future plans and priorities with regards to the use of media, technology, and materials for the improvement of learning outcomes for people with disabilities. In addition, the agenda set forth the following program commitments: enabling the learner across environments through the development of state-of-the-art instructional environments; promoting effective policies on all levels of the schools, government, and business; fostering the use of technology through professional development; and creating innovative tools through the encouragement and development of various media, technologies, and materials (Hauser & Malouf, 1996).
Hauser, J. & Malouf, D. B. (1996, September). A federal perspective on special education
technology. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29(5), 504-511.