As promised, I am here to give you an update as to what has been going on in my life and how vital accessible technology is to me at this time. For several reasons, my husband and I decided to pull our daughter out of school and give home schooling a try. Not that she wasn’t doing well enough, we just felt that things could be better for her. We had thought about and researched other possibilities, but home schooling seemed like the best option for her and for our family. I definitely did not see myself as someone who would be a good candidate for a home schooling Mother, but this year has been fantastic and I love learning right along with my daughter and having fun with it too.
I will say that the only reason we even considered trying it out was the abundance of resources available to me as a teacher on the internet. In fact, there is so much information that you could literally spend hours and days just scratching the surface. I think at last count I have 82 websites bookmarked in my favorites just for home schooling. From on-line learning curriculum possibilities to free printable worksheets, I felt empowered and passionate about taking on home schooling. I used technology to meet other local home schooling families, getting to know them and learning about group events through e-mail lists. We connected with a weekly co-op that we really like and I would have never known about them if it weren’t for the internet. I even enjoy the occasional read on a few home schooling blogs. Now if only the computer could just drive a car already!! Though as you probably know, that possibility is not so far off, given the recent story of Mark Riccobono, the first blind man to independently drive a car.
We decided to start our school year out with an on-line tool called Time4Learning. This would not be my only resource for curriculum, but it was something to build on. The student interface is not very accessible, with its use of improperly tagged flash content. However, the teacher/parent areas were done very well. The material that I needed was available in accessible PDF, even the reports of my student’s progress and test scores. I could easily browse the chapters of each subject, and using the descriptions provided go out and find other support materials to print or discuss with her to add meaning to her learning. I could find reading books or audio books for us both to enjoy. There were so many possibilities that it was hard choosing just a few for each course subject.
As I mentioned earlier, we found our co-op on line and access to materials needed. The website for Classical Conversations, which is the national title of our co-op’s curriculum, definitely has a lot of room for improvement in their accessibility. However, at the beginning of the school year, they were kind enough to provide me with an electronic copy in PDF format of the parent/student manual I needed. I don’t know that they have worked much with people with disabilities, so it has and will continue to be a learning experience for them as well. They use a lot of music to teach and this has worked brilliantly for both of us. The availability of materials to print is wonderful.
We also attend a TaeKwonDo class, which has a great website as well. I can find her schedule, event details, etc just by going on line. The instructor is always willing to provide accessible materials so that I can help her with some of the knowledge she needs to memorize, though I am not too helpful when it comes to her forms, sparring, or breaking boards. Maybe they’ll put out some TaeKwonDo YouTube videos with very detailed audio descriptions.
My iPhone has also been fantastic in providing ways to teach and learn. I can download educational apps, many of which are accessible, such as one that tells information about all of the U.S Presidents. I can get books for her to read, math games, etc. I can navigate around town to our events using GPS, weather we walk or take the bus. I also use my Braille Sense note taker to download books from Bookshare and can read them to or with her with ease.
I probably make it sound like everything is perfect and accessible. However, there are still many barriers I face. There are several websites, files and technologies, even some of which I have mentioned that I would like to see become more accessible. My point for now, is to show just how enabling access to technology can be. Ten years ago, I would have never considered most of what I have discussed possible. Additionally, the overall willingness of people to help however they can has been wonderful. At times I feel that I am not only educating my child, but also others who had not previously been aware of the need for accessible technology. I also know that if not for accessibility and all those who work tirelessly to reach out and include all users in the technological experience, I would not be able to provide a full and rich education to my daughter, weather in or out of the school system. And while there is still work to do to improve the accessibility and usability of technologies, I am very happy with our progress to this point. What a fun and fascinating time we live in!