Editor's note: Social awareness of the needs of blind and deaf young people has increased, but their paths to achievement can still have roadblocks. This is the final entry of a three-part blog series that highlights how a group of schools is succeeding despite challenges. Here are part one and part two.
North Carolina School for the Deaf-Morganton, N.C.
David Bird attended mainstream schools and says he often was the only deaf person in class. That inspired him to teach at a deaf school and become a role model. He now teaches history and social studies at the North Carolina School for the Deaf, a nationally accredited program that's part of North Carolina’s Education Services for the Deaf and Blind (ESDB). “My hope is for technology to [make it] easier for the hearing and the deaf to meet in the middle; in that gap, there’s usually a large delay for deaf students, and I believe that technology will help us equalize that,” Bird said.
Bird uses different strategies to make his classroom more inclusive (related chart below). The school uses specialized technology and online tools through the Canvas learning management system (LMS) by Instructure, a company that is committed to make teaching and learning easier and accessible.
Above: David Bird puts up a prompt on an interactive board with Canvas. Students use the Canvas app on their digital devices to sign their answers, recording themselves through the device, and post them on Canvas. They communicate in English and American Sign Language.
Haley Futral is one of Bird’s students and has spent 12 years at the school. She says she enjoys learning because teachers have more interaction with the students and hopes to teach someday too after attending a private university for the education of the deaf. But she also wants more. “My goal is for myself and the deaf community too, that we can show our skills,” Futral said. “That way people can look up to deaf people and applaud the deaf community. That way we can change the perspective, the hearing perspective on the deaf culture.”
Above: Haley Futral, a North Carolina School for the Deaf student, says that technology gives her access to what's going on in the world and more ownership of her learning: "In the beginning it was overwhelming, and the technology was even more than I was ready to use. But as we went along I learned and now I just love it. It's all right there—the answers, questions, everything."
Above: Rene Skelton is a teacher at the North Carolina School for the Deaf. She uses video submissions for assessments because many of her deaf students struggle with writing English because of delayed language acquisition. “To me, engagement is getting [the students] involved as much as possible visually and tactilely. I’m that type of a learner myself, so I understand how important that is.”
Above: Andres Cantillo, a student at the North Carolina School for the Deaf, came to the United States from Colombia. He communicates in four languages: English, Spanish, American Sign Language, and Colombian Sign Language. Andres takes part in asynchronous online discussions through the Canvas learning management system (LMS).
A Bright Future
*Closed captioning available on this video
Commitment, tools, resources, and time. We all need to do our part to ensure that all students have what they need to engage in their education and reach their potential. So much has changed when it comes to education and accessibility, and in some ways, the quest to make learning available for all is just beginning—there’s still more to do. “The one thing that surprises me is that some things still are not accessible for students who are blind, or visually impaired, or students who are deaf,” said Dr. Sarah McManus, the digital learning director for Education Services for the Deaf and Blind. “We sometimes do the bare minimum with accessibility.”
Carter Bearden, the director of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf said, “Canvas really helped [the students] learn a great deal, tying in technology to education. And so we could see that happen in the classroom. But what this has done is more than educate, it's changing a life to see the potential that they have, and what they can accomplish.”
“I think all children can learn, and if I can give something to at least one child then I’ve done something because if they’re learning, they know more today than they did yesterday, and that’s the most important thing,” said Shirley Reed, the principal for the ENCSD.
They feel empowered. They are ready to contribute. They inspire those who meet them. Their future is bright. They are the students we cannot forget.
IMAGES AND VIDEOS BY ADAM SANDERS, M.Ed.
SPECIAL THANKS TO NORTH CAROLINA'S EDUCATION SERVICES FOR THE DEAF AND BLIND
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