2004 Conference Proceedings

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NATIONAL CENTER ON DISABILITY AND ACCESS TO EDUCATION: PRESENT AND FUTURE

Presenter(s)
Martin Blair
Cyndi Rowland
Center for Persons with Disabilities
6800 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322-6800
Phone: 435.797.3866
Fax: 435.797.2355
Email: meblair@cc.usu.edu
Email: cyndi@cpd2.usu.edu

Disability legislation enacted in the past quarter century is founded upon four principles that include: (a) equality of opportunity, (b) full participation or empowerment, (c) independent living, and (d) economic self-sufficiency. In the past decade, a number of federal policy initiatives have been enacted to ensure that individuals with disabilities have greater access to the communities in which they live. In that vein, President George W. Bush unveiled his New Freedom Initiative in February 2001 and stated that, "The Administration will work to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, choose where to live, and participate in community life." The New Freedom Initiative is designed to expand the research of, and access to, various technologies that integrate individuals with disabilities into communities by removing barriers to participation.

There are many ways in which individuals with disabilities may be integrated into community life. One of those ways is through the use of technology that removes barriers of time, space, geographic location and physical barriers such as mobility or sensory impairments. Technology can be used to bring people together in a virtual sense, and as a communication medium that is independent of individual physical ability. For example, individuals with hearing loss don't need hearing to use email or the Internet. Or, individuals with mobility impairments can use alternative input devices (e.g., alternative keyboards, voice recognition, etc.) to access computer technology. For those who are simply disabled by time or distance, technology can enable individuals to connect with educational or other communication activities (e.g., websites, distance education, etc.). In fact, the use of distance education technology is becoming increasingly available as a method for offering educational opportunities to all individuals. As these technologies advance educational opportunities for the mainstream, we must not lose sight of the need to ensure full access to educational courses and programs.

Using distance education technology to help individuals with disabilities participate in educational opportunities and using this same technology to prepare professionals to work with individuals with disabilities is the focus of the National Center for Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE). In the information age, we must ensure that all individuals have equal access and equal opportunity to benefit from technology and that technology is used to meet the needs of all individuals.

The NCDAE is authorized by the U.S. Congress "to improve educational services for all students through distance learning technologies". The Center is comprised of two distinct institutes. The first, the Institute for Disability Access in Distance Education focuses on issues of accessibility to distance education opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The second, the Institute for Disability Personnel Development and Distance Education focuses on issues regarding the use of distance technologies to develop personnel to serve individuals with disabilities in the public school system. The Center monitors and promote distance education policies and practices that enhance the lives of people with disabilities and their families. NCDAE activities include: (a) identification of model technology-enhanced personnel development practices, (b) policy monitoring and development, (c) information dissemination, and (d) research regarding distance education and technology-based programs and policies.

The Institute for Disability Access in Distance Education has a three-pronged focus. First, it provides information to postsecondary institutions regarding to new accessible distance education technologies and accessibility patches to existing technologies. Second, it focuses on training and technical assistance to faculty who use distance education technologies and need to know how to make their course delivery accessible (e.g., how to best provide descriptions of visual material over compressed video). Finally, it assists students with disabilities who take courses through distance education technologies so they will gain the maximum benefit from these opportunities.

The Institute for Disability Personnel Development and Distance Education provides research-based expertise to help local entities create personnel development programs that meet local needs. It brings together leaders from institutions of higher education throughout the nation to address technological solutions to issues of rural personnel preparation. Initially, this institute is focusing on the needs of children under the age of 22 years including (a) early intervention personnel to address the shortage of qualified providers for early Headstart programs, public and private childcare providers who work with infants and toddlers with disabilities, and (b) special education and rehabilitation personnel in order to address the tremendous shortage of qualified personnel to meet the needs of children and adults with disabilities. It enjoys a close link to the technical assistance functions of the national system of 6 Regional Resource Centers funded under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Institute staff review, monitor, and positively shape personnel development policies and practices to improve the lives of people with disabilities and their families throughout the United States. The Institute addresses the emerging needs of rural and urban America, as community integration becomes more prevalent in state and federal legislation. Activities such as information dissemination, personnel preparation, policy and research regarding the needs and model programs for personnel development throughout the United States constitute the main activities.

Goals

The National Center on Disability and Access to Education has five overarching goals during this initial period of funding. The first and last goals are common to both institutes.

  1. Obtain the national picture and the state-of-the-art on distance education and disability (i.e., accessible distance education technology, personnel preparation at a distance, and policy). This information will lead all future efforts of the Center.

  2. Develop accessible distance education technologies needed in the field.

  3. Develop inter-university rural special education personnel preparation consortium and conduct distance education-related research on personnel development.

  4. Conduct policy analysis and strategic planning to advance access to education for those with disabilities and those in personnel preparation.

  5. Disseminate information obtained during the conduct of Center goals and activities NCDAE has initiated several excellent pilot projects that demonstrate the ability of the center to impact individual lives. Technology applications in education continue to expand, as do issues regarding accessibility. Until now, there has not been a central dissemination point or national leader to ensure that this information gets to all of the desired/ appropriate audiences. This is the task of the NCDAE.

Technologies that are specifically designed to be accessible permit individuals with disabilities to participate in educational opportunities from which they would otherwise be excluded. These technologies can be harnessed to prepare professionals to work with people with disabilities. In this information age, all individuals must have equal access and opportunity to benefit from technology.


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