Every student can benefit from a personalized approach to their education, but this is especially true for students who require special education services. Technology is making it easier for teachers to deliver an education that works with each student’s unique needs, whether those are due to learning differences, neurodivergence or lapses in education.

Students with health impairments and mental-health issues increased by around 50 percent over the past decade. That number includes students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, mobility impairments or mental-health issues such as bipolar disorder. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and teens with disabilities.

“What we’re seeing is that about half of that population are kids with pretty severe disabilities, major behavior issues, medical issues; they’re probably some of the most complicated issues that school divisions face,” said John Eisenberg, the assistant superintendent of special education and student services at the Virginia Department of Education and former president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “The costs associated with educating kids with disabilities has significantly increased.”

Differentiated learning techniques, which often allows for a student with special needs to remain in a mainstream classroom, can help reduce the costs associated with special education. Techniques for differentiated learning in the past have included specialized classrooms and extracurricular tutoring, but advancements in technology have made education for students with special needs more accessible and less expensive over time. The least expensive iPad was $499 when they were first released in 2010. Now, faster models with more functions and better displays are priced around $300.

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Being able to teach students with special needs in conjunction with their classmates has more than just monetary advantages. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), integrating students with disabilities into mainstream classes with the use of technology for special education teachers typically has positive outcomes for the students. It reported, “[Technology in classrooms allows] students with special needs to learn without a special curriculum. They can consume — and learn — the same materials as their peers, which helps prepare them for the same assessments.

“Additionally, being on the same timeline and curriculum as their peers can help ensure that students with special needs develop positive self-esteem and the skills they need to succeed after graduation,” the ISTE continued. An Irish study of students with Down Syndrome confirmed what the ISTE reported. The study found those students who were included in mainstream classes had a “distinct advantage” over those who were not. “The research is there to show that children with Down Syndrome in a mainstream class bring a level of calmness to the class and school. Society benefits as well as the child,” the results found.

Technology and Special Education

Text-to-Speech Programs

Many web browsers have text-to-speech capabilities, which is helpful not only for those who are blind or have low vision, but also for a variety of other learners. Students who struggle with decoding, prefer to listen to audio or have learning disabilities like dyslexia benefit from lessons being read aloud. Using the same programs, some nonverbal students can use text-to-speech to communicate. Popular programs include Speak It!, which reads inputted text, and BookShare, an extensive selection of audio books.

Dictation Programs

Dictating programs transcribe speech, which in the context of education, can be either the teacher’s or the student’s. These programs help students with motor skill impairments that prevent the use of a typewriter or pen. Completing assignments becomes possible tasks for students, as well as taking notes, but teachers can use the program to transcribe the lesson as an alternative. Dictation programs include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and WordQ.

Interactive Boards and Touchscreens

Adaptive apps paired with tablets can help students communicate and learn. They’re as portable as a laptop but lighter and less expensive than most models. The ISTE blog explained how a tablet helped a nonverbal third-grade student finally attend classes with other third-graders. Using an augmentative communication system on a tablet, she was able to create sentences, something she had never done before. There is a wide variety of both Apple and Android tablets on the market, and costs vary with features and size. SMART Technologies pioneered the interactive wall-board more than 25 years ago and remains one of the market leaders.

Virtual Learning

Classrooms are no longer restrained to schools; classrooms are anywhere there is an Internet connection. Students with disabilities that cause them to miss school don’t need to fall behind on their schoolwork. Whether it’s as simple as using Skype to call into their class or using dedicated software created for distance learning, students learning from home or a hospital can stay on track.

Teaching Careers Guide

UWA's "Making the Grade: A Guide to In-Demand Teaching Careers" is a free resource to help you navigate the teaching jobs that are in high demand. Take a closer look at some of the most popular teaching careers.

Access the Guide

Education Requirements and Career Outlook

Nationally, the outlook for special education teachers is good. The BLS predicts a national increase of eight percent in special education employment by 2026. The 2017 median pay for special education teachers was $58,980. Requirements for the job vary by state.

The Alabama Department of Education’s Office of Teaching and Leading provides information about the requirements for working as a special educator in Alabama. The ALSDE requires teachers to have completed a bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program, which can be done concurrently at select institutions. All degrees and certificates earned must be from accredited institutions. Some subspecialties in special education, such as ones that provide physical therapy in addition to education, require additional training and certification.

Starting or Continuing Your Education Career

Learn more about the advantages classrooms gain when they combine technology and special education. The fully online teaching degree from the University of West Alabama will help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to change your teaching focus or to start working in this in-demand teaching specialty. With our program, you’ll learn the latest in technology for special education teachers while studying in a convenient and flexible online format. Degrees offered online include M.A. Teaching, M.Ed. High School Education, M.Ed. Physical Education and M.Ed. Special Education, among others.

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