Removing Barriers to Create the Least Restrictive [Digital Learning] Environment

This is the third in a series of posts drawing attention to the intersection of our students who receive special education services and the goal of the Visioning work of making public schools better for all Texas children.  All Texas children.

Thirteen years ago, in 2004, we learned from IDEA the Least Restrictive Environment mandate 20 USC §1412(a)(5)(A) includes:

To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

This post is about more than the Least Restrictive Environment in the physical sense.  It is about the Least Restrictive [Digital Learning] Environment and the necessary considerations that allow for accessibility to content and demonstration of understanding.  Regardless of the physical placement of the students who receive special education services, the aim is to meet the goals articulated in the students’ Individualized Education Program in order to facilitate profound learning.  Barriers are removed and opportunities abound when digital tools enter the picture.

According to the Statement of Principle within Article I: The New Digital Learning Environment, we believe we must embrace and seize technology’s potential to capture the hearts and minds of this, the first digital generation, so that the work designed for them is more engaging and respects their superior talents with digital devices and connections. Superior talents with digital devices and connections.  I challenge you to consider the opportunities to integrate technology in order to open the doors of possibility with learners receiving special education services, for these children have superior talents.

In what ways are we removing barriers in order to ensure accessibility to content?

I recommend a dive into Clips, by Apple.  Introduced in March, 2017, nearly 10 years after iMovie debuted, this free app was marketed as an easy way for anyone to create expressive videos by combining various media.  The app also introduced Live Titles – the ultimate, simple way to add captioning to any visual content.  Captioning is one means to open the doors of accessibility and Apple has done this in an easy and free app.

Clips, by Apple, utilizes iOS dictation in the Live Titles feature, allowing you to create captions in one step.  Accessibility is afforded through images and videos, text, and emphasis with graphics and titles.

Accessibility features built into Apple products demonstrate opportunities for a move toward a Least Restrictive [Digital Learning] Environment.

  • Vision – VoiceOver and Display Accommodations such as Color Filters, Font Adjustments, Zoom, Magnifiers, and Speak Screen allow learners to access visual content on the screen without barriers of vision.
  • Hearing – Made for iPhone Hearing Aids, FaceTime, Messages with iMessage, Closed Captions, and Mono Audio allow learners to access verbal content without barriers of hearing.
  • Physical and Motor Skills – Switch Control, Siri, AssistiveTouch, and Predictive Text are a few of the built in accessibility features that allow learners to control their device without barriers of physical and motor skills.

In what ways are we removing barriers in order to open the doors of possibilities for demonstration of understanding?

For learners receiving special education services: Are we viewing digital technologies as tools to support personal learning strengths and needs?  Are we supporting flexible learning with varied outcomes?  What evidence of learner voice and choice are apparent?

Flipgrid is a video discussion platform that allows for recording or upload of video as contributions to a given topic.  Imagine the possibilities of app smashing (using multiple apps to complete a project) with Clips and Flipgrid!  Learners could create videos with Clips, save the files to their Camera Roll, then upload to their teacher’s Flipgrid topic.  Learners can utilize Live Titles to through iOS dictation to include text on videos they create themselves as well as to access content in classmates’ videos who use this feature.

One scenario may include a student receiving special education services placed in a general education classroom, alongside students who are not disabled.  Another scenario may include a student receiving special education services in a classroom outside of the general education environment.  In the latter case, digital tools may be used to unite the two physical classrooms into a single digital learning environment.  In both cases, the use of accessibility features as well as tools such as Clips and Flipgrid remove barriers and provide those opportunities that may lead to profound learning – voice and choice, flexible learning with varied outcomes, personal learning strengths and needs, all guided toward those High Priority Learning Standards.

I challenge you to consider the Least Restrictive [Digital Learning] Environment.  

Embedded images and text, opportunities to pause and rewind, clarity and zoom for intentionality, integration of high quality, meaningful content and learning experiences selected to support increased engagement are all means toward a least restrictive [digital learning] environment.

If you would like to discuss the use of the accessibility features built into iOS devices or how to integrate Clips or Flipgrid in order to move toward a least restrictive [digital learning] environment, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (Mary).  My contact information is available on the Authors tab at the top of this blog.




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