Back to School: Personalizing PCs for Special Education Students

The following blog post was written by LaDeana Huyler, Senior Marcom Manager for Accessibility at Microsoft. She is passionate about increasing awareness for accessibility, especially for children with disabilities with a focus on accessibility in education.


Recently, many students have gone back to school and are preparing for a new school year full of possibilities. As students are increasingly using technology to learn, back to school is an excellent time to remember to make sure student technology is personalized and accessible for students.  

If you are a parent or educator, consider ways you can ensure that your child or student’s PC is personalized to meet their learning needs, including special education needs for students with disabilities. Microsoft has a series of how-to articles, each with a video, that illustrate how to personalize a PC to make it easier for a student to see, hear, and use the mouse  more effectively.

Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with educators and parents from around the world to understand the challenges and best practices of providing accessible technology to students with disabilities. We listen to what teachers need  and provide accessibility resources including guides, curriculum resources, and a teacher training workshop. Microsoft’s Accessibility: A Guide for Educators  is available in English and Spanish. The Curriculum Resources for Special Education for Windows 7 and Office 2010 includes specific examples of how to personalize Windows 7 and Office 2010 for students with learning style differences or disabilities. These resources show how to adjust Windows and how to use Office 2010 to create accessible teaching materials and documents for their students with disabilities. For example, teachers can create animated instructional presentations, convert documents to audiobooks, and include subtitles with audio and video media. They can also check the accessibility of a Word document, Excel worksheet, or PowerPoint presentation with Accessibility checker. For teachers that use Office, now teachers can also use Office 365 for education―a free tool for educators and students worldwide to access and edit files online. Read about accessibility features in Office Web Apps.

I’ve met some phenomenal teachers that are using technology in innovative new ways to bring lesson plans to life for students with disabilities. One of these teachers is Robin Lowell, who teaches math to students who are blind and visually impaired. Lowell utilizes Microsoft Lync, online meeting and conferencing software, to conduct online math classes for the Washington State School for the Blind. You can read an interview with Lowell. This week, educators like Robin Lowell who are heroes helping special education students learn with technology are being featured on the Daily Edventures blog.

Robin Lowell (left) and Sherry Hahn won first place in the category Cutting-Edge Use of Technology for Learning. Their project utilizes technology to teach math to the blind and visually impaired from more than 170 miles away.  Washington School for the Blind; Vancouver, Wash.


The assistive technology team at Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) is another standout example of a school using technology to make learning more accessible for all students. Loudoun County Public Schools is using Kinect in special education classrooms to enhance learning.  The goal of all this work is to help students thrive. In Chile, student Ignacia Picas is thriving as a student who is at the top of her class. Ignacia, who is blind, is an honor student excelling at her school, Colegio San Benito, a school in Santiago, Chile.  Ignacia uses a laptop with the Windows operating system, using accessibility features in Windows and Microsoft Office, and JAWS screen reading software. Her teachers provide her with quizzes and exams in Microsoft Word document. Watch her story to see how she is maintaining a near-perfect grade point average.

Ignacia Picas, student at the top of her class in Santiago Chile who is blind.


I am inspired by the ways students and teachers are using technology and accessibility to enhance learning for students with disabilities. Yet, many people still don’t know about the benefits of accessibility on their Windows computer. I encourage you to share this information with another parent or educator to help spread the word.


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