“We want to give our students as much of an opportunity as possible to feel included in everything we do at the school,” says Principal LaTanya Greer.
In the labs, students with disabilities use tools such as Solidworks computer-aided design software and machinery such as 3D printers, drills and saws to create objects that solve problems big and small.
For students that struggle to grasp concepts from a textbook or a lecture, Greer says, technology offers a way to give them hands-on, project-based learning experiences.
“They’re able to shine in these classrooms and then use what they learn in other settings,” she says. “We want to expose them to as many opportunities as possible. We don’t want them to think that just because they have a disability, it’s going to limit them.”
KEEP READING: Technology leads the way to equitable education for K–12 students.
Technology Helps Students with Disabilities Build Confidence
While assistive technology really does help students become more independent, teachers say what really seems to get their students with disabilities going are tech tools that stoke their curiosity.
One year, just before winter break, Darren Crist, a teacher at Rainbow Ridge Elementary School in Val Verde Unified School District in California, told his students with disabilities he had convinced the principal to get a 3D printer for their classroom.
“They came back from break already knowing how to use programs and what the machine can do and what it can’t do,” Crist recalls. “They went on YouTube over the break, and they really came back with a foundation of their own. I was staying up every night until 2 or 3 a.m., trying to catch up with these kids who were so excited about this technology that no one else in the school had.”
Crist continues to incorporate technology into his classroom using 3D printers, robotics sets and the Merlyn Mind Symphony Classroom artificial intelligence platform. Getting kids — especially kids with disabilities — excited about tech not only prepares them for future careers, it gives them a shot of confidence that can often translate into their other academic efforts, he says.
“It really got them to take responsibility for their own learning, and it allowed me to use that as leverage when they were having a tough time in reading or math,” he says. “If they said, ‘I can’t do this,’ I could say, ‘What are you talking about? You learned how to code a 3D printer overnight!’”
In what he calls one of the most rewarding experiences of his teaching career, Crist brought a handful of students to a district STEAM fair, where they explained the technology to attendees. One student, who previously had only spoken a word or two at a time, started explaining how to use CAD software.