By Diane Bernhardt
A digital promise is what brought our family to the Park City School District: the promise inherent in digital technology to provide the equity that our son needed to thrive and reach his high potential.
Daniel is a bright student with a visual impairment that leaves him debilitated in the classroom: unable to see the white-board or read even the largest print. He faced an awkward, difficult high school experience in a traditional paper-based classroom: working with a full-time aide, cajoling instructors for early copies of paper handouts, hoping that beleaguered braille teachers would get materials adapted before class, and suffering the social stigma of being different. What Dan would have been honing were the skills needed to be a dependent; the skills of how to be the exception in the sighted world. But what did Daniel actually need? He needed to learn independence, self-advocacy, and how to realize his exceptional future.
The technology-based learning of the Park City School District is the great equalizer. In Park City, all 6th-12th-grade students use Mac computers. Dan uses the text-to-speech and video magnification features of the operating system to access the very materials provided to the general education students. In the math and science classrooms, Dan can see and follow white-board based lecture notes on his Mac. With additional software, Daniel can read and type complex algebra, graph detailed physics problems, and listen to books while digitally interlining with his notes. Dan participates in the general education classroom in every way and is held to the same standard as his peers.
Through a partnership between the Park City School District (PCSD) and the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind (USDB), Dan receives instruction on topics unique and essential to the success of visually impaired students: assistive technology tools, orientation and mobility skills, braille de-coding and, most importantly, self-advocacy skills. Dan’s Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Suzy Blackham who is employed by the USDB, is respected by the administration and staff of the PCSD as a valued member of the district’s instructional team. This four-year partnership between PCSD and USDB has created a synergy that has benefited blind and visually impaired students throughout Utah. In cooperation with the Utah State Board of Education, PCSD and USDB were instrumental in the creation of a course code for a Braille and Assistive Technology class. Blind/visually impaired students throughout Utah can now earn elective credits for their intense work learning Braille and assistive technology. Looking forward, a tentative program in which general education students in the PCSD’s middle school mechanics course could provide maintenance and repair of Perkins braillers throughout the state of Utah.
Innovative thinking leveraging technology has put Daniel in the position to thrive, accomplish and look to a bright future. Inventive approaches with affordable, common-place technology will certainly help other students challenged by their own unique circumstance.