Carl Militello, a lifelong educator and superintendent of schools at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District, is an advocate for advanced special education programs. He received his bachelor of science in general and special education from the State University of New York, Buffalo, and his first positions as a teacher were as a special education instructor in primary and high schools. Special education programs are always evolving as new methods are adapted and students receive enhanced IEPs (individualized education programs); technology, however, is becoming the driving force behind innovation and special education success.
IEPs are tailored to students with learning disabilities, which often include autism, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairment, brain injuries, visual impairment, social anxiety, emotional disturbances, speech issues, or any number of other disabilities. Teachers and parents often do not notice learning disabilities until children are in early primary school. From there, each student is tested to gauge the severity of the condition and individualized plans are created. IEPs help students who need help; if a student requires more time to finish assignments, for example, the student is given the opportunity. Carl Militello says that, over time, IEPs evolve as the student’s disabilities change.
Technology, though, is changing things for the better. According to a recent article on the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City-based news source, certain special education students with access to technology are showing vast improvement. The article, “iPads 4 Angels hopes to enrich special needs education throughout Utah,” cites a specific example: a 14-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome received an iPad to use in the classroom. Utah-based United Angels Foundation started a grant program to provide local special education programs with iPads, according the article, because of how useful touch devices are for special needs kids.
Schools and special education programs in Utah request iPads from the aptly named iPads 4 Angels. The foundation seeks individual donations as well as corporate sponsorships. If the proposal is approved, the school will receive iPads for an entire year and has to fill out reports to explain how the iPads are (or are not) helping. Some special education students, according to Carl Militello, struggle with the technology while others thrive with it.
“The use of technology has greatly increased the levels of learning for special needs students,” educator Carl Miletello says.
Though the program only launched this past spring, more than 75 iPads were requested that would benefit more than 240 disabled children across the state. Angels 4 iPads hopes to have enough funding for almost half of the requested iPads, though the organization is actively seeking additional capital support and iPad donations. An elementary special education teacher in the article says that iPads are engaging, fun, and are applicable to a diverse amount of conditions and learning disabilities. The teacher uses iPads in her classroom for math, reading, writing, and other subjects, though with 10 students in the class the teacher is requesting additional iPads to act as pseudo teaching aids.
“Special education teachers are becoming more efficient with technology in their classrooms,” Carl Militello says.
One of the difficulties is funding for the equipment. Most school districts have tight enough budgets as it is, according to Carl Militello, and without organizations like Angels 4 iPads there are not that many options. The benefits, however, are overwhelming.
iPads and other tablets are becoming popular throughout school districts with innovative special education programs. Keyboards and small mouse cursors, according to the article, are not always the easiest things to use for students with certain disabilities. But with a touch tablet, students can use their fingers as a keyboard, mouse, white board remote device, camera, and projector all at once.
Militello explains how one of the most promising aspects of technology in special education classrooms is the amount of support organizations and educators have gathered for implementing and improving it. According to another education article provided by Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, Android, Apple, Microsoft, and other app developers are finding a lot of potential in creating special education-friendly programs.
Speech and language are two areas that are finding a niche with these new technologies, according to Carl Militello. Word prediction software, programs people with cellphones are familiar with, is helping students type and communicate faster. These programs match grammar and spelling with context and help students type with more precision and learn while they are doing it.
Militello says braille displays, another cutting-edge technology, are valuable for visually impaired students. Using multi-cell display technology and touch pins, students can read text without needing to own the textbook. Not only is this saving money for special education programs, it allows visually impaired students to keep up with in-class readings in elementary school, high school, and even lectures in college.
“Assistive technology,” as it is often called, is known as an equalizer that helps special needs students operate at high levels in order to keep up in standard classroom settings. This is especially important for students with minor disabilities moving into higher education; universities and colleges certainly do have special education departments to help students achieve success, but the majority of these students are seeking more independence — tablets are one way to do this.
“Instructional levels are higher in classrooms that use technology on a daily basis,” Militello explains.
Unfortunately, the difference between standard special education classrooms and advanced ones is money. Public school districts are usually in a precarious balancing act trying to pay for teachers, classroom materials, field trips, meal plans, and other financial obligations. Special education is never ignored, though like other programs there is always room for improvement.
Special education teachers are finding solace with programs like iPads 4 Angels. These organizations are a great start and technology is becoming more promising every day. Carl Militello believes that tablets will one day find a home in every special education classroom in the country.
Lifelong educator Carl Militello has a background in special education. Throughout his career, he has held several principal and superintendent positions throughout New York. He sees the value of technology in special education classrooms and believes that every student should have equal opportunities for success.