Educator Ideas & Actions

We have not really been looking closely at how to support people with different abilities very long. As many of you know our first broadly based special education law did not go into effect until 1975: . It has now been 37 years since this law was passed. That is such a short period of time! We have learned a lot and made much headway. We just need to keep moving forward. We have barely begun to scratch the surface with what we can do to support people of different abilities. Most of all we need to involve everyone in the conversation. Being open to different ways of thinking, doing and sharing is one place to start. These are just a few simple ideas of what we can do, access and create.   

One of the simple things we can do to expand our knowledge and understanding is to read at least one (if not more) autobiographies by a person with different abilities each year. I have learned so much from these books which have contributed to making me a better teacher.

The other things we should do are support people in writing their autobiography through a variety of means. Writing, composing and journaling can all be made accessible. It should be an important part of each day if you are a teacher.

When I look at new products to purchase, I often read all of the reviews first as well as look at any samples (if offered). One of the things each of us can do is write a review on products we have bought and used. Constructive professional feedback is valuable. No one has money or time to waste! We make purchases all the time but I do not always find reviews for the products I am looking at. This also helps those creating these materials make improvements to address the needs of their customers.

Our mentors throughout our lives have provided the guidance, support and example we have needed. Making sure your students have access to mentors is essential. This can involve making and maintaining strong connections and partnerships in the community, working with adult service agencies, and having your graduates return to mentor. What an incredible underutilized resource. Your graduates are also a wonderful source of information to help improve what you do each day.

Social media is a part of our lives and our student’s lives. Many schools have curriculum in place to address the dangers of social media as well as the consequences of posting information online. There is a lot to address in terms of personal responsibility for online content. There is a new social media site that has tremendous potential for learning as well as providing an opportunity for students and staff to tell stories about specific topics with a mixture of opinion and research. It is called Storify - It pulls from many different social media sites and allows you to pick and choose what comments or news items, videos and pictures you want to add to your story. You are then able to add your own comments which can include additional opinion and research. It is a way to teach responsibility while engaging the students in multimedia learning with sites they are quite familiar with and use all of the time.

Many times we look at purchasing specialized software to provide better access to the computer and related content. What we forget to do at times is to look first at the accessibility features already available as a part of the operating system. We actually already have a lot on the computers without buying anything else. We just need to learn how to use these features and teach our students how to set them up. Here are some links to Apple, Microsoft, Foxfire, Google and Opera accessibility features.




Google Chrome:


Brittany Tellier shared a wonderful idea with me this weekend. Vanderbilt Library has several copies of Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson Symbols) available on computers for people to use for free to make displays, print symbols etc. this is something that we can begin to advocate for in our public libraries. What an incredible resource this would be for the community. If you have a library membership, attend local town/city meetings or make donations to a library, please consider advocating directly for the purchase of at least one copy of a symbol program. It does not have to be Boardmaker, but having access to one free symbol system through your local library would bring new meaning to freedom of speech for those who use symbol based systems.

Inkless Tales is a great resource which is full of free and extremely low cost resources across the content areas. Take a look:

Many times we design augmentative and alternative communication systems without considering the full participation of the person with the disability. Student and adults must play an active role in designing the system as well as the actual symbols. This resource gives a great example of a student who designed her own yes and no symbol. It makes the point quite well how important participation is. The resource has a lot of good suggestions. Take a look:

October 30, 2012
Here is one of the biggest free teacher resources out there right now. Take a look and sign-up. There are so many activities to use with your students! They are also symbol friendly. TES Connect 

November 4, 2012 launches ‘What’s Your Connection?’ campaign to emphasize disability as a universal link, encourage inclusion in all aspects of life is asking people to submit a picture/video with a write-up about how they are linked to disability. This is an incredible opportunity to give voice to so many and put a face and voice to those who are still minimized by some. Please work with your students and families on this project. They are accepting information through July 31st, 2013. This is a perfect school year project and an opportunity to promote the successes, accomplishments and lives of people who have different abilities.

December 5, 2012

High Noon Books are a perfect resource if you are looking for high interest but varied reading leveled books for students who may not be on grade level. These books provide age appropriate topics of high interest at a variety of reading levels. They are perfect for differentiation, inclusive classrooms and second language learners.

December 24, 2012

The SCRATCH software program from the MIT Media Lab is a creative free software program for students ages 8years and up. They can create many different types of interactive activities. Have fun!

April 5th, 2013

Many times we end up focusing on the higher technology available because of the greater impact it can have for some individuals with significant access needs. We should not lose sight of the wonderful low tech options we can create using simple materials. Therese Willkomm provides incredible useful workshops on how to use simple materials to create sturdy assistive technology tools at a low cost. Please take a look at all of this information at the University of New Hampshire. There are videos included to demonstrate how to make these things. Modular Horse provides materials associated with these projects but you do not have to purchase them through their site. hardware stores, electronics stores etc. have these parts available. Making some of these low tech devices with your students as a learning activity or vocational activity will involve them in designing their own accommodations. We can also have our students assess and give feedback on what is created and how effective it is. Here are some pictures of an adapted iPad stand and stylus.

July 28th, 2013

Tar Heel Reader offers tens of thousands of free accessible books. You are able to sign-up for a free account. One of the wonderful things we can do as an ongoing activity with students is to have them write and design accessible books. They are able to have their materials published and contribute to a growing library. This activity is for all students of any age level. Learning how to design these books is a skill needed by all teachers. it is also a great way to support a more inclusive culture no matter what the setting. I would include adult programs, colleges and universities in this as well.


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