Planning For Independence

 Making the Most of the Learning Environment

Providing Access

If students are to become fully participating members of the school community, they must have access to as much of the school as possible. Learning environments should be physically accessible to all students, and provisions should be made to meet students' particular physical needs. This requirement will present challenges in many older schools, and readers are referred to the ministry publication Designing for the Physically Disabled (1986). Where changes to the physical environment of a school are necessary, they should be carried out creatively, always bearing in mind the need to promote positive interaction among all members of the student body. Such modifications should be depicted as reflecting positive community values and as benefiting all members of the community. (Ramps and washroom modifications make the school accessible to all community members, not just to students with special needs.)

Retaining Features of Regular Programming

Although students require individualized programs and possibly specialized equipment and materials, special classes should reflect the general set-up of other classes in the school as much as possible. For example, an emphasis on active learning is as appropriate for special as for regular elementary students, facilitating the provision of a personalized, experiential program. The usual practices of providing a range of concrete materials to manipulate and planning regular community excursions are particularly important in meeting the needs of these students. At the secondary level, more sophisticated regular activities, such as community involvement, work experience, and co-operative education, may be appropriate.

Providing Materials and Equipment

Students will sometimes require specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and modified tricycles, to help them use the school environment as independently as possible. In addition, students should be positioned in the classroom in a way that ensures appropriate instruction and promotes good physical development and posture. Chairs and desks should be the right size and provide sufficient support.

Learning materials (e.g., reading materials, computer software and hardware) should be geared to students' individual needs and chronological ages. Where possible, the general equipment used in the school should also be modified to accommodate students' special needs. If this is not possible, the school should investigate the use of specialized equipment.

Because an important goal in the education of students is to stress their similarities with their peers, it is important that materials be appropriate and suitable to their chronological ages. For example, a sixteen-year-old student who needs to improve fine-motor or manipulative skills should practise, not putting pegs in holes, but using a key lock, operating a vending machine, or stapling papers. A student in the Intermediate or Senior Division who is learning to recognize his or her written name could be required to check it off on the class roster as an attendance check. As well, all students should be encouraged, with their parents' co-operation, to dress in a way that reflects the norms of their age groups.

Encouraging Interaction With Peers

In order to ensure that students get the most from their opportunities to interact and socialize, they should be involved in regular school routines and special events as much as possible. This includes arriving and departing from school at the same time as other students, attending general assemblies, and using the regular lunch facilities. Common recess and break times provide further opportunities for social interaction and for both supervised and unsupervised leisure and play.

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