At the 2015 New York State Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) convention — titled “Making All the Difference” — Associate Professor of Education Mary Kelly and Kendra Napierala ’15, MAT’16 presented research exploring accessibility in the classroom, which, as the CEC notes, “is key to ensuring true participation in society and helps remove barriers for all.”
“As a professor, I want to make sure that the learning environments I help create provide multiple ways for students to learn content, work together, demonstrate what they are learning,” says Kelly. “In education, we call this Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL acknowledges that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to learning. Students benefit from having materials provided in varied formats, and having varied opportunities to engage with the material, use the material, and do something meaningful with the materials.”
In her presentation, “UDL and Inclusive Practices to Empower College Students with Developmental Disabilities,” Kelly drew on her experience teaching students with disabilities to advocate for UDL principles and specific strategies that support the inclusion of students with developmental and intellectual disabilities in college classes.
Each year, Kelly teaches at least one course as an inclusive class with the Ontario Arc College Experience Program at HWS.
“This year, I have nine students from the college experience program along with 20 HWS students who are learning together about assistive technology,” she explains. “For students with developmental disabilities to be full participants in learning, I make sure to have a range of resources available on each topic we explore.”
These resources may include a textbook, newspaper articles, video clips, or websites about the topic, as well as accessible, digital versions of handouts and articles, “so if a student would benefit by hearing the content read aloud, they could use a text-to-speech app like Voice Dream, Natural Reader, or Kurzweil that reads aloud a document,” Kelly says.
In the presentation, she outlined the efficacy of these options and others in hopes that educators of students with developmental disabilities in post-secondary settings might identify strategies to create more inclusive, universally designed classrooms.
Napierala’s presentation, “Accommodating the Six Different Trajectories of Concussions,” arose out of her own experience as a student recovering from a severe concussion and her desire to harness assistive technologies to accommodate students with similar trauma.
Having gone to three different concussion clinics and meeting with a number of specialists, Napierala found “a lack of knowledge regarding education and how my concussion was going to affect it. I wanted to continue my education and my life and things that I couldn’t do while I was symptomatic.”
During her year-and-a-half recovery, Napierala enrolled in Kelly’s class on assistive technology, where she and Kelly began “brainstorming ideas that would help me get through the semester and semester to come. I was already in education program, on path to becoming a teacher,” Napierala explains. “As I started to heal and think further about what was next to come, I had conversations with other people who had concussions. They complained of similar frustrations I had in the classroom, so I began brainstorming ways to have others get access to the accommodations and assistive technology that helped me.”
As she researched, she explored the six trajectories of concussions, each of which has different symptoms with unique treatments and accommodations.
At the CEC convention, Napierala presented a pamphlet she created that outlines the appropriate treatment, assistive technology and accommodations to best benefit students with each specific trajectory.
“Kendra’s research is so timely and of great importance for faculty working with students who have had concussions, and for students themselves to identify resources that would be of assistance,” Kelly says. “She has both a personal insight from her own experiences, but also has done extensive research about the topic to identify instructional strategies and assistive technology to support students.”
With such insight and in-depth scholarship, Napierala was able to produce work that “hasn’t been done at the education front,” she explains. “I’m studying to become a teacher, so it made sense to focus on accommodations to help students who suffer from concussions at any age.”
The CEC works to improve the educational success of children and youth with disabilities and/or gifts and talents. The CEC Annual Convention is the largest professional gathering of educators in the field of special education and a showcase for groundbreaking, innovative studies in a diverse array of areas, including early education, higher education, digital learning and classroom best practices.