What Does Transformative Technology Mean for Special Education?

Technology is transforming education. Teaching and learning have changed rapidly as technology has advanced, and will continue to change in ways we can scarcely imagine today.

The 2017 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) sets forth a vision for the nation of “transformative technology” use in classrooms. The Plan articulates a future where all students have access to learning experiences (both formal and informal) that are engaging, empowering, and personalized.

But what does transformative technology mean in the context of special education? How can we harness the power of educational technology to benefit students with disabilities and ensure equal access to those engaging and empowering learning experiences?

The NETP addresses this issue with a call for technology that is “accessible by default”:

“Supports to make learning accessible should be built into learning software and hardware by default…Modern public buildings include features such as ramps, automatic doors, or braille on signs to make them accessible by everyone. In the same way, features such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, enlarged font sizes, color contrast, dictionaries, and glossaries should be built into educational hardware and software to make learning accessible to everyone.” 2017 National Education Technology Plan

As technology continues to advance and is more fully integrated into teaching and learning, it is critical that we embrace new opportunities, but remain sensitive to the needs of students with disabilities. Technology cannot be transformative if it creates digital exclusion for students.

Transformative technology integration must consider:

  • Accessibility of digital content
  • Student privacy/big data
  • Shrinking budgets
  • Changing pedagogy and best practices for learning and engagement for students with disabilities
  • Special education law/policy in digital spaces (e.g. FAPE, LRE)

What do you think? How can we create empowering technology-enhanced experiences for all students? What strategies have worked for you?

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