Purpose of the inquiry
Max Pixel. (2016). Wheelchair Inclusion Wheelchair Users Person Group [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.maxpixel.net/Wheelchair-Inclusion-Wheelchair-Users-Person-Group-418449
Why is this important?
All students deserve to feel welcome at school. As outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Commission's (OHRC) Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (2018), "ensuring integration and full participation means designing the education system for inclusiveness". Universal Design for Learning has been identified in both this document and the Ontario Ministry of Education's Learning for All, as well as by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (OHRC, 2018) as a way to remove barriers to student learning from the start.
The OHRC's Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities also stresses the value of technology as a tool to ensure that all students feel included, and to create an environment where students may not even need modifications to their programs, as supports are already built-in (OHRC, 2018).
A vital and important way to value diversity, and build inclusive classrooms, is through the use of Universal Design for Learning and Technology. Technology and UDL go hand in hand, and can be used to effectively minimize barriers and maximize learning.
As a teacher over the past 16 years, I have seen the dramatic shifts in technology play out in the classroom setting. When I began teaching, the available technology was an overhead projector and one or two classroom computers. There were assistive technology options, such as speech-to-text and text-to-speech programs available, but they were tied to one computer only, required students to train the program to understand their voice, or required the use of a bulky scanner. These supports were available only to a few students, who had the highest levels of need.
In my current context, I visit many schools, and I see learning technology everywhere. Students have access to tablets, Interactive Whiteboards and web-based assistive technology supports.
While recognizing that every school is different, and access to technology is not necessarily equal across school boards, technology is becoming more and more universally available.
As Michael Fullan suggests in his book Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge (2012), we need to leverage the power of technology to support great teaching (pedagogy). As opposed to a higher level intervention to support only the neediest students, technology can be built into classroom and school planning from the start, using a Universal Design for Learning model, to create welcoming, engaging, learning spaces, where student diversity is valued and celebrated.
Technology and leadership learning context
"It is now time to reconcile how technology can join the fray in a more purposeful way in order to transform learning for educators and learners in the 21st century" (Fullan, 2012, p. 3)
It is not enough to recognize that we now have all the pieces required to make change in our education system. The elements to enact this change have existed for a while now:
These are essentially the same ideas behind Universal Design for Learning: