AT Story from Pre-Conference Speaker
Gayl Bowser, M.S.Ed.
I started out as a classroom teacher. The first year that I worked with an entire classroom of students with physical disabilities, I spent a lot of time trying to teach Nathan–a 9 year old with Cerebral Palsy–his addition facts. We used cards, addition blocks and number lines. But no matter what I tried, Nathan was correct less than 50% of the time. Finally, I resorted to a computer program with drill and practice software. I didn’t know if it would be a better solution than the other things I tried, but I thought that at least he would be able to work independently while I did other things.
I sat Nathan down in front of a computer, showed him what to do to practice his addition and said “Tell me when you get these 20 problems done”. As I walked across the room, I heard Nathan say “I’m done.” Sure that he was not finished and ready to re-teach the task, I went back to Nathan and his computer. Sure enough, he had completed all 20 addition problems and his accuracy was 100%. I couldn’t believe it. So I asked him to repeat the task and stood behind him as he did it. His score was, again 100%.
That was the day I really understood how powerful technology can be for students with disabilities. It was not that Nathan didn’t know his addition facts. It was that he had severe word-finding difficulties. It was almost as if he had experienced a stroke. He knew what number he should say, but the words came out wrong at least half the time. When the classroom team began to understand his language disability, and give him a means to express himself that did not include verbal responses, we learned how much Nathan really knew. Assistive technology became an important tool to help him overcome barriers posed by his language disability.
And I was hooked. I love what happens when we find the tool that can unlock learning and participation for our students. Since that day, I have been an educational consultant, a program coordinator, a school administrator and a state leader. Thanks to what I learned from Nathan, my career path has always included AT.