NCIP staff, 1995
At the Cotting School - a school for children with learning, communication, and physical disabilities - students collaborate using a variety of communication tools including computer networks and eye gaze boards (pictured)
After six months of reading messages on VIP -- a computer network administered by the American disABLEd Foundation -- Greg Walsh fnally posted a message of his own about public transportation access. When someone responded, Greg "nearly jumped out of his wheelchair!" according to Kate Moore, a communication therapist at the Cotting School, a day school in Lexington, Massachusetts for children with learning, communication, and physical disabilities.
Computer networks have had a powerful effect on Greg and some of the other students with severe speech and/or physical disabilities. Because many of them have only limited opportunities to engage in conversations with people outside of their school and immediate family, the network offers these students a unique opportunity to learn a variety of skills.
How do you start a conversation with someone? How do you respond? How do you give enough information so that the reader can understand what you are trying to say? How do you word a comment or ask a question that will elicit responses? These are some of the questions that provide Kate and her students with a rich context for learning communication and social skills.
Another group of Cotting students also use the VIP network to communicate with students outside their school. Students with physical and communication disabilities in Cecelia Jones' biology class were paired with research partners from Vicky Goldberg's regular-education science class at the Brimmer and May School in Brookline, Massachusetts, a few towns away. Cecelia and Vicky had met over the network and decided to initiate a collaborative classroom project.
Each of Cecelia's students at Cotting designed and carried out an independent research project that culminated in an extensive lab report incorporating background research. After exchanging messages of introduction on the VIP network, each Cotting student described his or her project to their Brimmer and May partner. On the network over the next few months, Cotting School students continued to discuss and explain their project, their fndings, and their results, while their partners asked questions, offered feedback, and made suggestions.
Next semester Cecelia and Vicky plan to repeat this project, only this time both student groups will conduct independent projects and share their fndings. The teachers are also already making plans for the two student groups to meet at the end of the project.
"The students have certainly benefted from their conversations with the other students. They've had to learn to express their ideas in a way that's still social, but less intimidating than the immediacy of face-to-face interaction. And of course, it's been a real boost to their confdence, to be guiding non-disabled peers," according to Cecelia.
For many students at Brimmer and May, the project provided them with a frst-time
opportunity to interact with a peer who had a disability. Did the Cotting School students
ever discuss their disabilities with their Brimmer and May partners during the project?
"Some did, some didn't, but being disabled was the least important part of the
communication," Cecelia said.
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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts. NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013. Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information. If you do so, please cite NCIP. Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government. This site was last updated in September 1998.
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