Connected Nation

Empowering education: The role of assistive technology

May 01, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 13
Empowering education: The role of assistive technology
Connected Nation
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On today’s episode of the Connected Nation Podcast, we focus on important guidance provided by the US Department of Education regarding the use of assistive technology devices and services for children with disabilities.
We are joined by the woman who leads the office that provides that guidance – about the facts and the myths - that surround the use of these technologies within our public schools.
Recommended Links:
Myths and Facts PDF
About Glenna Wright-Gallo
A call to action for closing the digital access, design, and use divides (aired Feb. 14, 2024)

Jessica Denson (00:08):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds with talk technology topics, and impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.

On today's podcast, we're focusing on important guidance provided by the US Department of Education regarding the use of assistive technology, devices and services for children with disabilities. We'll talk with the woman who leads the office that provides that guidance about the facts and the myths that surround the use of these technologies within our public schools.

I'm Jessica Denson, this is Connected Nation. I'm Jessica Denson, and today our guest is Glenna Gallo, assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, which is housed within the US Department of Education. Welcome, Glenna. Glenna Gallo (00:58):

Hello, Jessica Denson (00:59):

I am very excited to talk to you today. We talked with one of your colleagues a few about a month ago and they suggested that we talk with you, that you're doing some really incredible stuff for kids, and so I am excited to explore this topic with you and learn what the US department is doing for kids in special education. Glenna, I like to begin by giving our audience some background, our guests on our guests, so share a little bit of your work leading up to your current role that you have at the US Department of Education. Glenna Gallo (01:28):

Thank you. I'd love to. First of all, I started in this field as a special educator and that's really where my heart lies, is working directly with children with disabilities. I've spent the last 25 plus years supporting both students and adults with disabilities as a classroom teacher, as an administrator at a school level, at the state level, and then now working at the federal level. And then I did several years in Washington State as the assistant superintendent of special education for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and then prior to that was the state director of special education for the Utah State Board of Education for several years.

During the time working at the state level and at the district level, I really focused around improvement planning, really looking at and analyzing data for improvement planning and then monitoring of public special education programs. One of the things that I was really excited to do was while I was waiting for senate confirmation for my current role, I also returned to the classroom as a substitute educator in special ed classrooms as well. So while Jessica Denson (02:48):

You were being questioned about are you good for this or not challenged as happens in those places at the same time, you have so much love for this work that you went back and at the time we're teaching again. Glenna Gallo (03:02):

Definitely. Yeah. So I kept hearing about the shortage and was in my home state and was currently licensed as a special educator here, and so applied and went back in the classroom temporarily. Jessica Denson (03:19):

So what drew you to special education in the first place? What motivated you to be in that space? Glenna Gallo (03:26):

Oh my goodness. So I was one of those children who always wanted to be a teacher, so during play dates, I always practiced as being a teacher. I was a peer tutor for my peers in middle and high school, and then I also was able to do an elective during my senior year in high school of tutoring elementary school students, so I knew that I wanted to be an educator.

What changed though was originally I was going to be in elementary ed teacher, but when I was in the middle of my program, my education program, I took an intro to special education course and that realized that was what I was meant to do. That was where I was most passionate and immediately switched my major to special education and then graduated with a bachelor's of Science in special education and went into the classroom. I was always planning on staying in as an educator. It wasn't my plan to leave the classroom, but as a lifelong learner as we are, I continued to learn and adapt and then as areas and opportunities came forward to do something different with my expertise and to have a greater impact, I took advantage of those leaning to where I'm at now currently, Jessica Denson (04:49):

And let's not breeze over this. You have two master's degrees, correct? Glenna Gallo (04:54):

I do. I have a master's in education in special education, and then I have a master's in business administration, which I got because a lot of the work was really focusing not only on evidence-based practices and research around children with disabilities, but how to use resources in the most effective way, how to look at improvement planning in a different way and really how is it that we are strategic about the resources that we have as well as the resources that we need, which led me to get that MBA. Jessica Denson (05:34):

Well, that brings us to your current role, which you could really have a national impact as the assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative services at the US Department of Education. I want to get that right because earned this. So share a bit about your time within the department and what your current role requires. Glenna Gallo (05:52):

Great. Well, it's been almost a year. I was senate confirmed in May of 2023, and so we're closing in on a year for that. In this role, I'm an advisor to the US Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, specifically around issues that are important to the children, youth and adults with disabilities. Our office is different and unique in the Department of Ed in that we have two programmatic offices within the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services or oars.

We have the Office of Special Education Programs, which addresses birth through secondary education for children with disabilities, so infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. And then we have the Rehabilitation Services Administration or RSA, which really focuses on competitive integrated employment and community living for youth and adults with disabilities throughout osers and the work of both of those programs we're laser focused on improving early childhood education and employment outcomes, which also means that we need to work to raise expectations for all people with disabilities, their families, their communities, and the nation.
We do that work through a variety of activities. A lot of what people hear about is through our monitoring of state programs, both special education programs and voc rehab programs, and we provide technical assistance to states. We publish guidance and regulations as well as provide grant funding to further the field of supports for individuals with disabilities. What I'm most excited about in this role is that I get to connect resources and stakeholders across the Department of Ed so that we're not working in silos or in special education or disability services, but looking at the other departments, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Office of Post-Secondary Education, the Office of Educational Technology, as you've talked with previously, we're also working with other federal agencies and within states to address the needs of individuals with disabilities, amplifying those effective practices and outcomes and targeting resources on areas that really need improvement. I get to directly support this. Sorry, go ahead. That's Jessica Denson (08:23):

All right. Let me just interrupt you for just one moment. I think that's really a fantastic approach. Has there been problems in the past where there was some siloing rather than working together like that? Glenna Gallo (08:35):

Definitely. I think that a lot of times whenever we work with a student population, there's people that have expertise around that specific area as well as people that provide supports to all students, and it's really easy to fall into silos, right? Where we work separately around those different population groups, and that's really the wrong approach to take. It creates duplication of services and inefficiency and ultimately doesn't lead to the best outcomes for students. What we know about children with disabilities is that they are a child first. They're entitled to public education and general education services first and then have also supportive special ed services. So we definitely don't want to create a different system that is only for students with disabilities. We want the same expectations, the same high expectations, the same access to rigorous content and instruction that all students are entitled to and should receive, and then we want high quality and effective special education services to be provided. In addition to that, Jessica Denson (09:47):

Is that part of what the raise the bar priorities about? I was given a note on that. That is a very important point or program that you guys are focused on right now. Glenna Gallo (09:58):

Definitely. The secretary has raised the Bar Lead the World Initiative, and it includes achieving academic excellence and accelerating learning, especially following the pandemic, as well as improving learning conditions by eliminating the educator shortage and investing in students' mental health and wellbeing, and then creating pathways for global engagement by ensuring that our children have career pathways and opportunities to become multilingual. These are all things that are needed for every child and are especially important for children with disabilities. We need to make sure that we can recruit and retain staff that are diverse and represent the populations that they serve. We want our children and youth with disabilities to have multiple pathways to careers in post-secondary schools, not fewer based on their disability. And overall, we're all working to creating a better society and community. And part of that is about really recognizing the importance of public education and the fact that all of our children have equitable opportunities for learning and achievement. Jessica Denson (11:12):

I really love what you said there, by the way, just as a pause, they are a child first, and that's something we all should remember about all kids. So I think that's definitely an important sentiment that I just don't want it to get lost. It's quite a task within that umbrella. About how many children or families does that impact in the us does your work, I know you work in with younger children and post-secondary, so maybe break down both of those. Glenna Gallo (11:44):

Definitely. And I'm going to say we're going to talk about our work at the Department of Ed, and I'm going to predicate it by saying our work also emphasizes the work that's done by states and by local schools and districts and families and communities, right? It's all working together as one team, but on the birth through secondary education. So our infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, we have more than 8 million children who receive special education and related services designed to meet those individual needs for early intervention services. Our infants and toddlers, there were about 441,000 of those infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families who receive those services. On the rehabilitation services administration side, we engage with roughly 1.5 million people and nearly a million people of that are pursuing a specific competitive integrated employment goal. So while these numbers reflect the broad scope of the work, we're always looking at how do we improve the supports that are available to all as well as individuals with disabilities. And part of that includes this ever-changing landscape of technology and using technology and accessible technology and assistive technology in both educational and professional settings. Jessica Denson (13:15):

Well, let's pick it up there. So the reason we decided to have a conversation today was that your organization recently put out some myths and facts surrounding assistive technology devices and services for children and youth with disabilities. The purpose listed on that is to ensure meaningful access engagement in education. Could you take a moment before we explore some of those myths and facts and give us a brief overview of this guidance, why it was written and who should be seeing it? Glenna Gallo (13:48):

I'd love to. This is an incredibly exciting work for the field of education and for students with disabilities. I'd like to take a step back though and share kind of the work that I bring and the perspective that I bring to this work because I myself am an individual with a disability. I have both hearing and speech language impairments, and so my background and experience as an individual with disabilities as a student when I was a child, myself as an educator, and then as an educational leader really provides the background and recognizes the importance of technology in learning and demonstrating our learning outcomes. I use technology to support my work every day. In fact, I'm using captions right now to help me engage with this conversation. So with that, we also know that assistive technology can be used in educational settings to ensure that students with disabilities are able to the high quality educational opportunities provided. And ultimately what we're trying to do is to reduce the digital access divide that faces so many students, including students with disabilities. So we developed this assistive technology guidance that includes the myths and facts that we're going to dig into more to help provide more clarity for how technology can be used to reduce not only that digital access divide, but ultimately ensure that students have the tools that they need to access and make progress in their education. Jessica Denson (15:31):

I think that is a really incredible thing that you are calling attention to, that you two are dealing with some challenges. I wasn't aware of that. Do you think that gives you unique perspective that you can understand what someone else may be going through that maybe I might not understand or someone else who doesn't have to deal with challenges living in a world that's not really always set up for that? Glenna Gallo (15:58):

Definitely. I think that a lot of times we take things for granted based on how we perceive them and how we interact with others in our community. And communication is such a key component to that interaction. And so we're trying to call attention to it through this guidance, but also in identifying that we all have unique needs that may not be evident upon meeting us or interacting with us, and that it's normalized behavior to be able to use technology to address those needs. And so we're really trying to not only reduce the barriers towards students getting access to these tools, reduce the barriers to educators being able to be trained on them and use them, but also reduce the barriers for all of us to go out into communities and routinely use accommodations and resources that help us do better. Jessica Denson (17:02):

Yeah, I was surprised when you told me that I had no idea. And so it just shows how technology can help smooth the way, if you will, for learning, for understanding each other, for doing good things. So anyway, I appreciate you being open about that. Let's explore some of those myths that need some busting, if you will. I say that in quotes, myth one, assistive technology should be considered at some individualized education program. Team meetings explain why that's not correct. Glenna Gallo (17:41):

So the cornerstone of the individuals with disabilities education actor IDA is this of eligible students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education or fape, right? That's language right out of the requirement. What's specific here though is that part of that FAPE is the special education and related service needs that the student requires to be prepared for further education, employment, and independent living. So that's kind of that college and career aspect. So special ed, the purpose of special ed services is to make sure that children with disabilities are prepared for life after school. Now, part of that is an IEP or an individualized education program, which is the written plan that's based on the student's needs for the services that they're going to get. And that plan is developed by a team of people that includes the student when appropriate, the parents, the general ed teacher, the special ed teacher, and any other individuals that are needed.
But part of that is that team has to address, has to consider what the student needs in order to be successful in accessing and making progress in grade level student standards. And so part of that is that they have to consider whether assistive technology is needed for the student to be able to do that. And it's a requirement of the law that happened at every single IEP meeting. So a lot of times people think like, oh, this is only for students who have communication disorders and need help with communication, or it's only for students who have a certain type of disability or need an electronic component. And that is part of the myth that we're trying to bust is that it's for every student with an IEP as well as for our younger students too, that are receiving services that birth through three. Jessica Denson (19:55):

So this IEP team is really the team that helps develop whatever plan it is to help kids with different kinds of disabilities. Because those range, of course in how they approach their education essentially, correct? Glenna Gallo (20:12):

Yes. And so part of that is that this IEP team has to have someone there or someone with the knowledge of assistive technology. So what are the skills, what are the tools that could potentially be needed for the student? Jessica Denson (20:31):

And another myth is that providing these devices is optional. It's not correct. Glenna Gallo (20:36):

No. So if the IEP team decides that the student needs assistive technology, then it has to be provided and it has to be paid for from the public education funds so the parents don't have to purchase it and provide it. But there are lots of ways to pay for it. So there are certain resources, not only special ed funding and general ed funding, but there are at centers and other sources of funding that could be used. Jessica Denson (21:06):

And let's explore a few more myths, and I'm fascinated by how deep your knowledge is in all of this, which shouldn't be surprising as we talked about your background, but if you find something that I haven't touched on that you feel, oh, Jess, let's go back to that. Just let me know because this is a new territory for me and I'm sure for some of our listeners. So a few more myths and facts. For instance, just giving a child a device is not enough. You have to take more steps, correct? Glenna Gallo (21:37):

Correct. And this one kind of can be kind of humorous. We all joke about the fact that if we need to learn technology, we should just hand it to a child and they'll teach us how to use it. But for this, when we're thinking about assistive technology, we really have to think about what are the services that are needed so that everyone involved in the use of the at know how to use it. So for example, does the school need training? Do the teachers need training on how to use it, how to implement it, how to use it as part of instruction? Does the student need to learn how to deploy it in a responsible manner so that they're not using it for things that they shouldn't be using it for? Is there a plan in place for troubleshooting the use of that technology? And then a lot of times, do the parents need training for how to use it or how to troubleshoot it? And so that is all part of what has to be considered when we look at assistive technology for a child with a disability is that it's not just providing the tool, but it's making sure that everyone is able to use that tool as it should be used, Jessica Denson (22:49):

Right? Because there's nothing worse than having something that's supposed to help and no one around you can help explain it or use it or your parent can't help you. This next myth kind of surprised me that accessible technology is not the same thing as assistive technology. Can you explain what the difference of that is? Glenna Gallo (23:12):

Yes. So accessible technology is a term that's used to describe technology that's designed in a way to support many different users. And a lot of times we'll use the term like universal design to show that something was designed thoughtfully on the front end from development to deployment that meets the needs of variety of end users, assistive technology or at means a piece of technology that is selected to perform a specific task for a child with a disability and that it was picked for that specific child based on their needs. So when we're talking about assistive technology, a lot of times a student may be accessing and using accessible technology at the same time. The assistive technology is part of an IEP. While the accessible technology is something that just may be working in the background at their home or in their classroom or in their district, it's important to think about accessibility of technology. One of the gaps that we hear about frequently is that when technology is purchased, when it's identified and purchased and deployed in a district, that a lot of times the accessibility thoughts aren't considered proactively, which then requires them to be retrofitted after the fact. And I think that if we were to look at identifying technology that's accessible on the front end, it's going to meet a wide variety of end users needs without requiring that retrofitting. And again, it just improves the types of supports that all of us have available. Jessica Denson (24:59):

Sometimes some of these things may seem obvious, but if you're not being very succinct or very, I'm lacking a word here, but very where you're purposely, that's what I'm trying to say. You're not purposely exploring it. You could miss these issues, Glenna Gallo (25:17):

Correct. Well, and I think that a lot of people, if they don't have or they don't see a specific need, they don't think about the fact that it may be a need for others. And that by just planning in advance and thinking about accessibility, that we could address the needs of people proactively rather than requiring them to ask for those supports. Jessica Denson (25:41):

The word I was looking for was intentional, intentionally thinking these through, which is fantastic. This report does call attention to these things. It also explores the kinds of assistive technology that can be used. They're not all necessarily computer based, there's different levels, correct? Glenna Gallo (25:58):

Yes. So assistive technology doesn't always mean that it has to be electronic, digital, or high tech. It could be things as low tech as squishy relaxation balls, visual calendars, binder clips. We also know that we see a range of low tech, mid tech, and high technology. So examples of low tech could be rubber pencil grips and modified scissors. Mid tech would be calculators, digital recorders or audio books. And then we see high tech routinely too, right? Screen readers, voice recognition, AI powered caption programs is an example. And then a lot of times we think about those that are in use for school age that I just gave all of those examples. But we also know that there's assistive technology for infants and toddlers and their families. This could include things like pictures of activities or objects that help infants and toddlers express their wants and needs or tactile books that can be felt by those with sensory issues as well as adapted seating or standing aids that can help with infants and toddlers with mobility needs. Jessica Denson (27:17):

That's incredible. I would not even thought for babies or infants, that would be a need, but that makes sense now that you explain it. What are some other technologies being used in the classroom for children with disabilities? Glenna Gallo (27:30):

Well, my favorite because the one I use all the time is captioning software. And honestly, it's made such a difference in my life. But when we think about universal design, the use of AI captioning software that's built into phones nowadays as well as to teams and Zoom and all of those online meeting platforms is a great option. We have text to speech software, word prediction devices that help when we're writing or typing things. The one that I think most people think about is augmentative and alternative communication devices such as communication boards for students who may be nonverbal or need assistance with their communication. And another one that we see frequently with students with disabilities is the use of visual schedules or visual timers. So something that shows them what the plan is for the day or the amount of time that they have remaining. I'm giving you a lot of options that we use in classrooms, but I think another myth is that when we talk about assistive technology, it's that it's only considered for the classroom, but it's really about the wide variety of activities. So we need to think about the day in a life of a student and that the classroom is only part of it. Other parts would be like those transition periods, lunchtime, recess times, things that they need to do, homework interaction with the community. And so when we look at accessible technology and assistive technology, we're looking at that wide variety of needs, not just academic, but social, emotional and behavioral as well as communication. Jessica Denson (29:19):

So some of these devices can be used in those other ways, is what you're saying? They're not in just classroom. Glenna Gallo (29:27):

Correct. And the IEP team is for assistive technology needs to consider that as well as what do they need at home in order to be effective in doing homework, in working towards their IEP goals and ultimately that outcome of being prepared for life after school, further post-secondary education and employment. Jessica Denson (29:51):

What does the research show about these at devices, these assistive technology devices? What's the impact that you see on educational performance? Glenna Gallo (30:02):

Well, I mean, as we know when our needs are met, we do better, right? It's easier to interact, it's easier to demonstrate our learning, it's easier to communicate what we're trying to say. And so we also see an increase in motivation. So we see students engaging in learning and demonstrating that learning. We hear that children with disabilities that listen to texts through speech, through their assistive technology devices while also reading, we're seeing better outcomes and comprehension and completion of assignments. And we know that teachers and parents are finding at very important or extremely important in their child's ability to complete learning tasks. And we definitely saw that during the pandemic when we switched in many places to remote learning. We also know that at devices and services is improving outcomes across settings. We're seeing positive outcomes including increased post-secondary education employment, improved outcomes in academics, both in school age and post-secondary settings. We're seeing more access to vocational opportunities and career opportunities and improved independent living skills. And we're seeing transition of students using those at across settings and taking them into post-school life. Jessica Denson (31:38):

So in seeing these outcomes, why do you think some of these myths still persist even now when you see positive things like that happening? Glenna Gallo (31:51):

I think a lot of it has to do with we fall back on our experience, and so what do we see being used? What did we have available to us? And we may not be as current as to the opportunities that are available now in the resources that are available to us now. So a lot of times we share stories of barriers that have continued to be barriers, but are not finding the latest information or the latest resources, and that makes sense. We're all incredibly busy, we're all working on important activities. And so we needed to find a way to make sure that families and educators and leaders had the most current information and resources. And that's why we decided to do this kind of myth busting is because these are the things that we kept hearing at our level is that people would say like, oh, assistive technology is too expensive. There aren't resources to provide it. It can't be used to do this task or that task.
Students who are blind or have low vision, there aren't any resources or assistive technology that would address their mobility needs. And so all of those things are things that we thought were going to go directly into and identify in an easy to understand way for people across all areas of life so that they could have those answers and could use this as a way of saying, wait a minute, I have to change my perspective on this area. This is an area that I can learn more about. This is an area that brings a great deal of promise towards the learning and outcomes of children with disabilities. And this is really an exciting area of things that are going to support all children and children with disabilities. Jessica Denson (33:55):

And I would applaud you guys on how you and your team have organized it because it is easier to understand. And as you said, we're all so busy. I can't imagine teachers, administrators, they are exceptionally busy as well. So having something that's easy to digest and understand is important. One of the things that you explored in this was regarding deployment and cost of AT or assistive technologies. What are some important points that stand out in that area for you? Glenna Gallo (34:25):

So effective assistive technology doesn't mean that it has to be expensive or cost prohibited. So many things are low cost or free now, and I'm going to go back to captioning on my phone. It's built in. It's an accessibility feature. It's not something I have to pay for. And so really making sure that we're aware of those, the full range of activities. We also know that assistive technology isn't a one size fits all approach and it needs to be individualized for the students' needs. But we also know that incorporating it into education programs can benefit all students. And an example of that are these universal design, these things that could be accommodations or assistive technology for one student, but that other students can see and access in the classroom and benefit from as well. We know that providing a device by itself isn't enough. We have to make sure that everyone who's involved in deploying that or using that device has been trained and know how to use it. And we really need to be thoughtful about using and building upon the technology supports that are already available in the school and classroom. So districts need to ensure that tech purchases are accessible prior to purchasing as part of the contracting process and are selected to meet the needs of all students and staff and really look at that universal design process. Jessica Denson (36:01):

Did your team explore or look at the importance of having access to the internet, not just at school but also at home and how important that is for children with disabilities? Glenna Gallo (36:12):

The National Educational Technology Plan is the ed department's flagship policy document, and it provides recommendations around the systems that we need to build to achieve bridging the digital access divide. So that's the way that we got in and looked at that. The national ed tech plan calls to action around that addresses opportunities for that equitable access to educational technology, whether that's connectivity, whether it's devices and its digital content. We also have, as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021, the Digital Equity Act, which provided the 2.75 billion to support efforts to close that digital access divide. And so we provided guidance in addition to those funds going out to states ed published guidance just recently in 2022, really addressing and outlining the unique needs of learners that are furthest from opportunities. And then later this year, we're going to see additional funds start to be distributed through the Department of Commerce around that digital equity piece. Jessica Denson (37:31):

At Connected Nation, we're very much in support and advocate for access for all. So applaud all that work. I know I can't keep you all day. You're endlessly fascinating though, I have to say. Your depth of knowledge is incredible. What do you hope comes from sharing these myths and facts surrounding assistive technology for children with disabilities? What do you hope comes from this report? What would you like to see happen? Glenna Gallo (38:02):

Anytime we release guidance, it's intended to help us further our mission, right? And our mission at oars and at the Department of Ed is to improve outcomes and raise expectations for individuals with disabilities. So to that end, we want to make sure that this guidance can help students achieve better learning. We want them to be able to access instruction on an equitable basis. We want them to be able to demonstrate the learning that they based on that, and we really want to set them on a path to academic and post-secondary success and readiness, whether that be further education or career. We also want to make sure that we have a prepared workforce, that we have educators and service providers for individuals with disabilities of all ages, from our youngest babies to our adults with disabilities. We want to make sure they're provided with professional learning and job embedded coaching opportunities and development opportunities, and have examples of how they can incorporate assistive technology to support individuals with disabilities.
And then we want to make sure that we really use evidence-based practices. We're fortunate to have great research showing us what's effective around instruction for individuals with disabilities and what's not effective. And with the rapid pace of technological advancement, we're learning more and more, right? And we have great opportunities to try out things at a low cost and switch if those aren't effective. We want to make sure that we're accelerating the use of inclusive materials and technologies, not only to help them in learning, but to equip our students with the tools and knowledge that they can apply towards post-secondary and employment success. And as part of that, I want to make sure that our families and our individuals with disabilities are knowledgeable about the fact that they have these resources available to them and that they're entitled to them. And we want to normalize using these resources in our day-to-day work, whether it's in schools or out in the community or in the workforce. And so this guidance is really meant to be pivotal in providing all of this knowledge and information to the variety of stakeholders that are involved in this and really move them forward with assistive technology and accessible technology. Jessica Denson (40:39):

I will include a link to that report in the description of this podcast for our listeners, anybody who wants to share it or just go through it and really read all through the myths and facts. There are 28, so we only touch the top of the surface of this report of what this explores. Glenna Gallo (40:57):

So before I let you Jessica Denson (40:59):

Go, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you what's next for your department, anything that you're working on or an issue that's important to your team that you'd like to discuss? Glenna Gallo (41:09):

We are working on resources that we're hoping to come out at various points this year. One, we're working on resources that clarify inclusionary practices in the use of evidence-based practices for instruction, not only academics but social behavior. Our rehabilitation services administration just announced 236 million in available grant funding to create a 21st century workforce of youth and adults with disabilities as part of the 236 million in available grant funding to create 21st century workforce of youth and adults with disabilities. We're anticipating funding 23 to 29 model demonstration projects that are focused on increasing competitive integrated employment applications are due for that by July 8th. And that's a great opportunity for people in looking at career development. And then we continue our efforts across ED to support the Raise the Bar, lead the World initiative around academic excellence, improving learning conditions, and creating pathways for global engagement. And some of the work that we're leading out from OSERS is expanding access to school-based services for mental health and wellbeing, as well as increasing the number of school-based mental health providers.
And I say that because we know that we're at a critical stage for mental health for our children, and children are six times more likely to access mental health supports when it's provided in schools, which is why we're really focusing on increasing those providers that are available to schools and to the students directly. And like I started, I want to remind your listeners that all activities that improve education for all students also support improved outcomes for students with disabilities. And so as we're going into spring, this is the time where people start planning for post-secondary education, the completion of the FAFSA for financial aid, for post-secondary school planning for afterschool and summer enrichment activities. And so this is a great opportunity to really think about assistive technology and accessible technology and how it can support all of those activities. Jessica Denson (43:39):

Yeah, you have your hands full. You are doing quite a bit. I applaud you for it and your whole team. I can imagine sometimes it's hard work, but rewarding work. Any final thoughts that you'd like to close on regarding what we talked about today with assistive technology or the department? Glenna Gallo (43:59):

Well, thank you so much for bringing this issue to your listeners and really addressing the needs of students with disabilities and children with disabilities and assistive technology as part of the technology and digital divide efforts. I would also like to express my appreciation for the families and educators and providers that work with our children and individuals with disabilities. It really takes all of us working together to identify not only what is leading to better outcomes, but also how do we implement policy changes to address the gaps that we have. And so I just want to encourage each of us to consider opportunities to advocate for accessibility, to learn more about opportunities available to increase knowledge and use of accessible technology and assistive technology to advance learning and to use it in workplace and the community. So if you haven't seen them yet, I also invite you to look at these resources, the at miss and facts, the National ed tech plan, and the Raise the Bar Lead the World Initiative work. Jessica Denson (45:11):

Well, Glenna, I've enjoyed talking to you. Thank you for sharing all the good work that your organization is doing, that your team is doing. I'd love to revisit as you explore new things that we should learn about children with disabilities and technology. I'm sure as time goes by, you're constantly finding out new things and better ways to do things. So anyway, I appreciate it and I would love to have you back in the future. Glenna Gallo (45:39):

Great. Well, thank you so much, Jessica. This has been enjoyable and I love hearing more about what your podcast is talking about. So thank you Jessica Denson (45:56):

Again. We've been talking today with Glenna Gallo, assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, which is housed within the US Department of Education. Again, just a reminder, I'll include links to the report in the description of this podcast. As Glenna mentioned, there are important details in the report for educators and parents and other stakeholders, I'm Jessica Enson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connect or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.

Glenna's background
Glenna's current position
The importance of being a "child first"
Exploring the "myths and facts" surrounding assistive technology
The different kinds of assistive technology
Explaining why not all devices are classroom-based
Breaking barriers in education
Deployment and cost of assistive technology
What Glenna hopes comes from this report
Conclusion + Outro