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4.4 Accommodations and Assistive Technology
“For a dyslexic reader, accommodations represent the bridge that connects him to his strengths and, in the process allows him to reach his potential… Far and away the most crucial accommodation for the dyslexic reader is the provision of extra time. Dyslexia robs a person of time; accommodations return it.”
- Sally Shaywitz, MD in Overcoming Dyslexia
The word “accommodation” is not defined in either federal or Colorado law, but, in general, accommodations are tools or instructional strategies that provide students who have disabilities with equal access to instruction. Accommodations help students with a disability to participate fully in school and to demonstrate learning without being impeded by their disability. Necessary accommodations are typically listed in a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) if he or she has been determined eligible for special education or in a 504 Plan for students with identified disabilities and/or conditions that are not found to be eligible for special education. More information regarding pertinent federal and Colorado law can be found in Chapter 8: Dyslexia and Legislation.
- Accommodations may be employed for both instruction and testing. Accommodations enable students with disabilities to demonstrate knowledge, skills and abilities without lowering learning or performance expectations and without changing the complexity of the target skills being taught or the test construct being measured.
- An accommodation can be a change in timing, formatting, setting, response and/or presentation that allows a student to complete the same assignment or test as other students. Below are some examples of typical accommodations grouped by task for students with dyslexia:
- Accommodations for testing may include the provision of a human “reader” or an audio recording of the test questions; allowing students to respond to test questions orally; providing students with additional time; and providing a quiet testing location. It is important to note that accommodations allowed and used during tests and exams are those that the student uses on a routine basis.
- Accommodations for reading may include access to audiobooks and text-to-speech software; allowing students additional time to complete reading assignments; and not asking a student with dyslexia to read orally in the classroom unless the student specifically volunteers.
- Accommodations for writing may include access to speech-to-print software, providing a student with a scribe; offering students digital or photocopied notes to minimize copying from the board, thereby decreasing the stress of listening and writing simultaneously; providing graphic organizers; or the use of note-taking software applications or recording pens.
- Accommodations for spelling may include access to spellcheck and word prediction software and grading written work for content with no deduction of points for spelling errors.
- Accommodations for math may include use of a calculator, a chart of basic math facts or graph paper; providing students with lists of steps for multistep problems and algorithms; and breaking assignments into shorter segments.
- Accommodations for homework and independent task/project completion may include allowing students to take pictures of assignment instructions rather than writing them; offering visual models of how completed tasks should look; color-coding task directions, due dates, and important sub steps; and setting up binders and folders to help with organization of materials.
One way to accommodate students with dyslexia is through the use of assistive technology. Federal law (IDEA) defines an assistive technology device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” For many students with dyslexia, access to and use of assistive technology is an essential accommodation. The accommodations listed above include examples of helpful assistive technology, such as using audiobooks or text-to-speech software to gain access to grade-level text, enabling a student to express his or her thoughts in writing through the use of speech-to-print and/or word prediction software, or enhancing a student’s notetaking through the use of recording pens. More information regarding the considerations of the need for assistive technology devices, supports and services, as a necessary component in the development of an Individual Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan, can be found in Chapter 8: Dyslexia and Legislation.
Sometimes students with dyslexia may need modifications, which are much like accommodations. Modifications are changes to assignments, tasks, and tests that alter content and/or expectations. Examples of modifications include reducing the number of words on a spelling test or reducing the number of math problems in an assignment to decrease the length of time spent doing homework. Another common modification for a student with dyslexia is assigning an abridged version of a book that his or her classmates are reading in the original version.
Whether using accommodations or modifications, the focus should be on ensuring access and opportunity to learning that is provided to other students. Accommodations and modifications need to be tailored to the individual student’s needs. The effectiveness of any chosen accommodation or modification will need to be monitored and adjusted as needed.
Finally, accommodations and modifications are not meant to take the place of evidence-based instruction of appropriate intensity to develop basic academic skills. Accommodations are most effective when the goal of the task, test, or assignment is for the student to acquire content-based knowledge as prescribed in grade-level standards.