The process of expressing their ideas and watching their words simultaneously appear on the screen has relieved much of the stress associated with writing. The students could see their thoughts fill a page, proving to some that they were capable of it. They could then revise and revise their grammar and ideas, correcting anywhere technology had misunderstood them and practicing editing their own handwriting.

The initial skill required of the students was not spelling or grammar, but the ability to transfer their ideas to the page. Natalie Conway is a teacher who works with Kindergarten to Grade 3 students with disabilities at an online charter school across the state of Oregon. She has been teaching online for seven years. She said that specifically identifying the standard being assessed and providing accommodations for standards that are not yet up to date can help make the school more accessible for all students.

“These accommodations will benefit unidentified (disabled) children who would just like to learn this way,” Conway said. “So if you make it accessible to everyone, it doesn’t stigmatize anyone. And the students will choose for themselves what will work for them. They also know each other, especially the older they get.

To write is to rewrite

Nahal eventually switched his students from speech to text, encouraging them to write phonetically in a later phase, but with the same initial indifference to spelling and grammar encouraged by a first draft from speech to text. Then, with the ideas on the page, Nahal and his students were able to comb through their work, update spelling, and change their language to meet academic conventions.

“Through the process of correcting their work and their typing, they have become better writers,” he said.

He highlighted spell checking as an easy way for students to see when they misspelled words, with automatic underlining quickly notifying students of a mistake. This has helped make changing spelling and grammar online less difficult. Speech-to-text technology has accelerated the writing skills of his students during virtual learning.

“These gains wouldn’t have happened if we had been in person. I mean, it would have happened, but not so quickly in my opinion, ”Nahal said.

Voice practice

Conway pointed out that speech-to-text technology is liberating for children with writing disabilities and fine motor needs. Beyond writing homework, technology can also be used for quick answers in the classroom. If a teacher asks all students to put an answer in the virtual classroom chat box, for example, a student who might not feel confident in their ability to write their thoughts down can use transcription software to continue reading. participate. And for chat boxes with microphone transcription enabled, they can participate even faster.

“It gives students independence, instead of having a scribe all the time or having someone reading to them all the time,” said Kathleen Kane Parkinson, a diverse learning teacher in Chicago.

In the past, many students could only practice their pronunciation in a classroom. Now, this technology and related technologies are making it possible to integrate pronunciation practice into working from home. Some teachers, such as Parkinson’s, may choose to continue using some form of speech recognition software for out-of-class homework in the future.

Parkinson mentioned, however, that the technology is not yet fully adapting to students with speech and language impairments. Their speech transcripts may not accurately reflect what students said into their microphones, which can cause confusion and frustration.

Repeated reading aloud

The related but reverse technology of text-to-speech, also known as read-aloud technology, helped Nahal students improve their reading skills. The process of listening to the text read aloud ensures that words or lines are not skipped, improving comprehension. Students could also highlight new words to hear pronunciations or learn definitions, thereby building vocabulary.

For students who might not feel comfortable reading grade-level material or who process information better when listening, the parallel reading features of books and articles can be essential. Students with attention deficits might benefit from the ability to pause a story to process or take notes, then press play to resume reading without losing their place.

“[For] children who might have working memory deficits or difficulty remembering information, the ability to listen to something over and over again or listen to it while they are reading it, following – this can be really powerful ”Said Conway.

Jodi Dezale, speech-language pathologist at Jefferson Community School in Minneapolis, said online books were a key resource generated during virtual learning. The continuous reading audio feature provided students with the autonomy to read books on their own. Bonding videos from publishers like Scholastic gave students an added level of engagement with books, encouraging new ways of interacting with familiar images and stories.

“One of the tools we use to develop comprehension is reading the same thing over and over. So feeling comfortable seeing something in different ways and using it multiple times has been very helpful, ”Dezale said.

Accessibility opportunities

Engagement with audible and visual learning modes can also be achieved through closed captioning in the classroom video software. Offered on Google Meet and Zoom, closed captioning may have benefits for all students. This can make virtual classrooms without sign language translators more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students. Hearing-impaired students can also use captions as a secondary clue to their mind, allowing another way of perceiving the material.

“You associate verbal input with visual input and it’s more likely to stay in your brain and make sense to you,” Conway said.

Access to technology is a matter of equity. During virtual learning, students learned technological skills that they might not otherwise have learned. Many schools signed up with new learning and accessibility tools that they didn’t have the bandwidth or funding to try during in-person learning.

Increased knowledge of online platforms and technologies could bridge the digital divide between schools that had integrated technology before the pandemic and those that have recently embarked on digital modes of education over the past year. This gave more students the digital skills that might be needed after graduation.

“They have to be computer literate,” Nahal said. “It’s a literacy problem for me.

Teachers who work specifically with students with disabilities can provide their students with tools and methods to activate accessibility technologies that they can take with them into general education classes.

“When they’re, say, in a humanities or science class, that’s where these tools come in handy. And it’s about teaching them to use the tools, ”Parkinson said.

This not only makes education more accessible, but encourages students to take autonomy in their learning, stimulating greater independence.

For teachers who work with students with disabilities, the instant nature of online homework feedback saves time. Sandra Zickrick works with disabled college students. She explained that before virtual education, she would take each student aside to assess their skills and determine where additional support was needed. Now, she can ask all of her students to take simultaneous virtual assessments and receive the results immediately, allowing her to spend more time in class providing specific support or doing activities with the whole class.

Beyond the new technologies learned, a number of students with disabilities preferred to learn online. For some, homeschooling induced less social anxiety, which led to greater academic confidence.

Attending home school was less optimal for many students, with many struggling with family distractions, problems with Wi-Fi, or inability to find a quiet place to work. Yet some students were better able to concentrate on their schoolwork at home, either because of reduced distractions in the virtual school compared to social classes, or reduced social stress. Online education can allow greater control over a student’s environment, which can limit external distractors or dominant external stimuli, benefiting some students with autism, ADD, and ADHD.

“A lot of the physical distractors that have happened in a building, that have happened in a physical classroom, are not the same at home,” Conway said.

Conway also highlighted the ability for students to review classes, go back, review and take their time, as another accessibility tool. The more methods teachers come up with for students to access the material and demonstrate that they have learned it, the more accessible the school becomes for all students.

When students can choose the best way to prove their knowledge – whether it’s in an essay, video, PowerPoint, Google Doc, or some other tool – they not only support their learning, but can unleash new creativity as well. This creativity will be an asset in higher education and in the job market, Conway said.

“They now have skills to communicate in various ways, collaborate with other children, be creative and think critically about what they do and how they do it,” she said.

The specific tools and technologies that a school can adopt during virtual education can depend on the school’s location, technology team, and budget. Yet the fact that more students received technological devices and that more schools explored assistive technology during virtual education has contributed to the movement to make education more accessible.