My second semester of freshman year in high school (which was in January 2012), I received approval to start using a laptop in the classroom. I had an IEP for low vision and dysgraphia, and was beyond thrilled to finally have a device in the classroom that I could use. Technology was a rare sight in the classroom, and assistive technology was even rarer, so I didn't have very much support from staff. However, this laptop completely changed the way I accessed materials and completed schoolwork, and for that I am grateful. Read on to learn more about the different applications I used, and how my laptop was integrated into the classroom environment.
About the laptop
The school did not have laptops for student use at the time, so my family and I bought a laptop with our own money. The school did not give us any guidelines on what to purchase- luckily, I am very technology savvy, so this wasn't much of an issue. Read about what to look for when buying a laptop here.
My first high school did not allow students to access the internet, so I did not have access to wifi as a result. Information and assignments were transferred via flash drive. My second high school had wifi for all students and while flash drives were still used for sensitive documents like tests, I was able to use cloud storage software like Dropbox to send and receive information, and I could also easily access the internet.
Microsoft Word was the software of choice for my assignments, as .doc and .docx were the most common formats I received materials in. This is a good thing, as I could easily enlarge text, tint backgrounds, and change fonts if needed. I also could use Microsoft Word with other applications and devices easily, like the ScanMarker Air (ScanMarker Air review can be found here).
When taking notes in class, I love using Microsoft OneNote, as students can use more than just text. It's easy to draw, insert in pictures, add audio, and more. Full post on Microsoft OneNote coming soon!
My teachers would give me copies of the lecture slides so I could follow along on my screen and take notes easily. I also could disable animations easily, which was awesome because I have photosensitivity and do not respond well to flashing lights (read more about photosensitivity in the classroom here).
I have an entire post on why I prefer my assignments digitally here, and I estimate I received about 60% of my assignments digitally in high school, not counting my virtual classes (read more about taking virtual classes in high school here). In college, I receive at least 90% of my assignments digitally, so having practice with accessing digital assignments in high school was invaluable.
I couldn't see the traditional graphing calculator, or the emulator on the computer, so I had to improvise and find a way to graph equations for math class. I downloaded an application called Graph for free and used it with a magnifier software to graph equations. Tutorial coming soon!
I received textbooks from the state accessible materials center- in Virginia, that organization is AIM-VA, and you can read more about AIM-VA here. I had my textbooks in a PDF format and would read them using Adobe Reader. I could also do basic annotations as well. If internet access is available, I would recommend using Notability for annotating PDFs- read more about annotating here.
Connecting other devices
I often used other devices in the classroom, including my iPad, Android phone, and even a portable scanner, though I now recommend using the ScanMarker Air. In college, I also use the Eschenbach SmartLux and E-Bot Pro.
I had mixed responses from my teachers about using a laptop in the classroom. Some really embraced the technology and inspired me to find new ways to integrate it into the classroom, and some teachers frequently accused me of cheating and saying people with disabilities shouldn't use technology- as if assistive technology didn't exist. However, I was able to use my laptop for classwork in every class...well, except band.
I'm very grateful that I was able to use a laptop in high school, even if it wasn't connected to the internet and I had no support available for technology. This is why self-advocacy is so important, as no one is going to be around to help all the time, and it's important to be proficient in technology, especially when you have a disability. It's amazing to see how a computer can revolutionize learning so much.