Friday, May 31, 2013

Universal Design: A Plan for Participation & Action

Universal Design of Learning (UDL) and more historically, Universal Design as it relates to architecture and environmental barriers have been around for decades. There has been ongoing research in this area with a need for much more completed by those who are enacting these principles on a daily basis.  The National Center on Universal Design and the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) have a number of research articles and resource to review. The provide some clarification on what universal design is, how it is applied by teachers and the impact it has on students, learning and effective practice.  There are some free resources that are available to help with the design of materials and instruction. The CAST online learning tools are ready to use for teachers and families. They provide examples of lessons which can be used, adapted books and many other ideas. They are actively trying to compile UDL lesson plans and other examples of UDL. Please visit their site and consider adding to the resources as well as taking advantage of what is already available. Everything is free and can be created in multiple languages. For some of the adapted stories, it would be wonderful to have students be a part of their creation. In addition there are some higher education lesson plans for those of you who teach at the university level.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

DSM 5 (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual) Released

The American Psychiatric Association has released the long awaited and controversial DSM V. There have been a number of significant changes to the categories. Some things to call your attention to is the removal of the term Mental Retardation. Intellectual Disability or Intellectual Developmental Disability is now noted along with degree of severity. The language affords greater dignity based on current semantics to those who are vulnerable to additional marginalization based on our words. That being said, any reference to impaired intellect can lead to miscalculation of ability and relevance as seen through participation in the broader society. It is equally important to recognize that receiving the classification of mild, moderate, severe or profound must be looked at as temporary and not a permanent state of being. We must consider this for a number of reasons;

1. The research in the fields of neuroscience and education provide ample proof that those who would have been thought not "trainable" in the not so distant past are able to learn far beyond expectations when provided with effective treatment and intervention. It should be expected, that individuals in these categories will make substantial progress and may move within them or find themselves ineligible altogether. This should be what we expect and move towards, constantly re-evaluating our interventions, their effectiveness and the current research which will continue to guide our actions.

2. We must continue to advocate and teach advocacy as this category holds with it ongoing stigmatization. Our students need to be challenged with a rich curriculum which makes meaningful connections and builds on skills and knowledge. Access alone is insufficient. The curriculum itself must be made inclusive, engage in dynamic exchanges and act as a living conduit to a common ground where all have the opportunity for full participation.

The second classification area which has received a lot of attention is Autism Spectrum Disorder. The American Psychiatric Association considers this one of their most important updates. The category of ASD has gone through many changes over the course of the past century. Children's Hospital Boston has put together an overview of the history and changes to the current diagnostic categories. These new changes are based on current research and what we have learned in practice. It is very concerning for parents when a change like this occurs as it will have both intended and unintended consequences. As parents of a child with Aspergers, we find ourselves updating reports and assessments to transition into adult services, college and the world in general. It is a scary time. We must also consider that many children who have received these types of diagnosis are also categorized as having an intellectual disability as well. For people with ASD, many times the power of their intellect is masked by issues related to access and organization of their world. Caution must be taken in making judgments regarding cognitive powers without first addressing all of the other barriers we have so carefully noted through research and practice over the course of the last century.

Children are treasures and must be treated as such. A diagnosis can be helpful and a barrier at the same time. We must work together to focus on making each category an evolving stance, where research informs and guides in the most respectful and dignified manner. We are talking about human beings with a future not yet written in stone. We must never lose sight of this, and our vision must be barrier free.  

I have included some additional links which provide some other perspectives on these changes.

Is Criticism of DSM-5 'Anti-psychiatry'? by Allen Frances

Autism Speaks: DSM V News & Updates

Temple Grandin on the DSM V

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Real People, Real Impact Report by ODEP

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has released a new report. Real People, Real Impact discusses the current successes and challenges facing people with disabilities in the workforce. It covers the years 2009-2012. From May 13th-May 27th there is an online dialogue on transition for youth with disabilities. Please take a look at the website if you are interested in registering. We need to begin thinking about the future early on and not wait for what is legally considered the transition years. College, employment and other post secondary options can only be made accessible through extensive education, training, partnerships and planning. Please take the time to be a part of this important conversation. You can also sign-up to receive monthly alerts on the Disability Outreach calls made by the White House.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First Author Writing Software

First Author Writing Software produced by Don Johnston has tremendous potential. This is a newer piece of software they have produced which focuses on developing writing skills for students with more significant disabilities. Writing and composition is often overlooked and never adequately addressed for many students. For those with more significant disabilities, they may not come to school with the same density of experiences in scribbling, interactions with writing tools and general exploration of using their hands or using other access methods such as switches to engage in beginning composition. This particular software walks you through the stages of writing in a very systematic yet exploratory manner for the student. It is very adaptable and can be used in combination with many other programs. We need to give students regular extended opportunities to develop these skills. This includes ample "scribble" time for written language (letters, words, pictures) to develop. Take a look at this program. They provide a thorough overview on the website.

Tactile Art - A Different Vision

Please take the opportunity to visit this Art Show. It is a wonderful experience for everyone!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Digital & Communications Accessibility

Many of you are aware that May 9th was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. One of the most important pieces is to make sure everyone is aware of how to find important information. One of these resources is the Federal Communications Commission's Encyclopedia Disability Rights Office. This site offers a multitude of information and links on accessibility related features. They also have an accessibility clearinghouse link. This particular link does not work as consistently as it should, but does provide some helpful information.  The Cynthia Says Web Accessibility Testing Tool portal has also been updated. This is a free tool. Take a look and try it out: CynthiaSays .