The Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) mandates that supplemental services and assistive technology be provided when necessary to students who receive special education services. While the benefits of such supports can be used to meet the academic needs of students with disabilities, supplemental services can also contribute to the social needs of students in activities outside the regular school day. NCTI has suggestions for how assistive and accessible technologies and other supplemental services can help make activities more inclusive for students with special needs.
Participation in extracurricular activities can have an array of social benefits for students.1 This is especially important for students with learning disabilities, as research has demonstrated that this population of students holds positions of lower social status than their non-disabled peers.2 Fortunately, the rate at which students with special needs participate in extra curricular activities is on the rise. Participation in such activities provides students with the chance to assume leadership responsibilities and demonstrate talents that may not be apparent in traditional classroom settings.3
It is critical that education professionals keep pace with students’ desire to be involved with extracurricular activities by making certain that they have access to the necessary assistive and adaptive technology and other supplemental services. This is important not only because such resources are often necessary for students to be successful, but also because federal legislation mandates that students with disabilities have access to after school programs that take place on school grounds. Because many staff members and volunteers involved with after school activities are outside of the field of special education, it is imperative that they are informed of students’ abilities and needs, as well as strategies, assistive and adaptive technologies, and other supplemental services that can help address their needs while capitalizing on their strengths.
Students’ interests rather than their needs should guide their decision for selecting extracurricular activities. However, it is inevitable that many students with special needs will be unable to participate in every activity that is of interest to them, just as it is the case for their non-disabled peers. With that said, consider the following popular extracurricular activities and how technology, other supplemental services, and creative and collaborative planning can be used to help foster participation in activities for students with special needs.
Students with a desire to perform in live theater can rely on strategies that they use in their academic classes to memorize facts when learning lines. For example, students may need to learn their lines audibly with tapes or screen readers. Students who have a difficult time adhering to a strict script (ex., traditional Shakespeare performances) may want to consider performances with a more flexible script, or try their hand at improvisational performances. Students with impairments that make navigation and mobility challenging may want to work with a mobility and orientation specialist during rehearsals, or may consider pursuing roles that require limited movement. When planning trips to live performances, call ahead to find venues that offer descriptive video, closed captioning, and sign language interpreters should be explored.
An array of devices is available for students who require assistance reading and playing music. For example, print notation can be scanned, edited, and converted into equivalent Braille notation with a Braille music translator for students with visual impairments. Students with physical impairments can play instruments modified with mechanical supports. If the local school is unable to provide equipment, inquire about accommodations at the district level. It is possible that district specialists have creative solutions and resources to make participation possible.
Students who have print-related disabilities or special needs may be able to participate more easily in book clubs that include titles which are available in alternate formats. Since the book club facilitator may be unaware of this option, she or he may want to refer to the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic for a list of age and content appropriate books that are also easily available in an alternate format. Not only will students benefit from enhanced literacy skills, book discussions can help to foster social, communication, and analytical skills.
Many students with special needs seek to enhance their talents through academic activities after school. Students who have difficulty with print-based materials and enjoy debate or trivia games can use screen readers to research topics on the Internet. Students who like to explore particular content areas such as history or geography can participate in Webquest activities with the help of screen-readers. Webquest activities or Internet scavenger hunts are also excellent opportunities to introduce students who have difficulty with print-based materials to new screen-reading assistive technology devices.
Athletics and other physical activities
There are a number of strategies to boost involvement in athletics. For example, a teacher consultant can work with students who have learning difficulties and are involved in team sports to implement strategies that will aid in understanding and executing plays. There are organized athletic events for wheelchair users such as basketball and cycling competition. Students with visual impairments might enjoy long distance running events and skiing activities with the help of a guide. Students with mental disabilities can participate in their local Special Olympic activities. For younger children, playground manufacturers now produce equipment that is appropriate for students with special needs. If your school has not already done so, suggest that they consider investing in this.
These suggestions are not intended to represent the realm of activities in which students with special needs can participate. Rather, they serve as a starting point for considering how students can become more involved. What’s important is that students with special needs do not feel as though their daily activities must end with the last bell of the day. Given the proper support, students with special needs can participate in a variety of activities outside of regular school hours with their peers.
Organizations with resources to help you advocate for inclusive activities
Recreational resources focusing on participants with special needs
- America’s Athletes with Disabilities
America ‘s Athletes with Disabilities aims to promote the growth and development of sports, recreation, leisure, health, and fitness activities for persons with physical disabilities, with an emphasis on programs and services for children.
- Family Village Adaptive Playground Equipment
Family Village is a global community that integrates information, resources, and communication opportunities on the Internet to support persons with cognitive and other disabilities. The organization’s Web site offers a page with links to articles and Web sites that provide information about adaptive playground equipment.
- National Federation for the Blind – Technology List
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is a consumer and advocacy organization for persons who are blind. The organization’s Web site offers a page with information about technology, some of which can be used to make music accessible for musicians who are blind.
- Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic
Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic is the nation’s educational library serving people who cannot effectively read standard print due to visual impairment, dyslexia, or other physical disability.
- WebQuest News
Since 1996, San Diego State University has maintained a database of sample WebQuests. This database is kept up to date and users can search for any string of characters in the Title, Description, Author name or URL.