Questions, Challenges, and Joys to Give Voice to the Voiceless

Today’s Contributor: Brian Miller

For the past 25 years, I have taught in life skills classrooms at The Rosedale School. Over the course of my career, I have worked with all ages and populations of students at Rosedale. Currently I teach a class of 16-18-year-old, non-verbal and non-ambulatory students with complex chronic medical issues. I am a National Board Certified Exceptional Needs Specialist, originally certifying in 2004 and renewing in 2013. I have been involved with innovating technology on campus since the mid 90’s days of the CTLT (so many years ago), and have been a CIC for the past two years.

I have been a die-hard Trekkie since I first watched the original “Star Trek” on syndicated afternoon reruns in middle and high school during the late ‘70s-‘80s. Creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned a universe where human ingenuity and innovation imagined, made, and then utilized technology to overcome any obstacle placed in humanity’s path. In one episode, “The Menagerie”, Mr. Spock’s first Captain, Christopher Pike, is seriously injured in an accident. Left neurologically damaged and physically paralyzed, he is only able to communicate by answering yes or no questions with the aid of his 1960’s nerd cool 23rd century life support box wheelchair thing. Tragic story, yes. But amazing to a fourteen year old boy: “He answered questions. . . with his mind!”

Fast forward a decade give a year or two. It’s 1993. I am beginning my teaching career in special education at The Rosedale School. Technology in the classroom as we know it today is non-existent. I think we still had a ditto machine. (Millennial: “Ditto machine? What’s that?” Me: “Google it.”) You had to go to the office to use a phone. If you wanted anything (dot matrix) printed in color you got out the crayons or the markers. The Internet? Still little more than a dream in William Gibson’s eye.

Technology was lacking, but there was an abundance of human ingenuity and innovation. I observed students of all ages, with the most serious and debilitating physical and cognitive disabilities in the school district, come up with ways to express their wants and needs so that they were met. Rosedale students had the ingenuity to create innovative ways to get what they wanted. They lacked the third side of Gene Roddenberry’s triangular future vision for human problem solving: technology.

This is where I come in.

I have always shared this vision to harness the power of technology to improve the lives of individuals, to give voice to the voiceless. As a Campus Innovation Coach, it is one of my job requirements.

I am fortunate to work for a school district that strives to ensure that students with the most significant disabilities have access to the same technology as their general education peers. When AISD made its first big push towards digital age student learning in the late ‘90s, I jumped at the opportunity to use these tools with my students. I remember getting my first classroom Mac like I remember getting my favorite childhood Santa gift.

But what to do with it? How to use the technology in ways that have value for our students? Technology usage at Rosedale is not measured by apps, it’s measured by access. How can a student use this device in a meaningful way? Can they use a mouse? Can they touch the screen? Does it work with a switch? Technology usage at Rosedale is almost driven more by durability than data. If this device is knocked off a table or thrown at me will it still work?



Inevitable questions about district technology mandates also arise. How do I use a BLEND lesson with a student who lacks the motor skills to operate an iPad or the visual acuity to see it on a Chromebook?George

And there is always the part of me that wants to go all Trek: “Have we reached the point yet where they can just use this thing to do stuff with their minds?”

These questions, and many more about how to best integrate technology into the Life Skills classroom for students with serious disabilities are asked at The Rosedale School on a regular basis. My role as a CIC grants me the tools and the opportunities to pursue answers to these questions.J Carlos.jpg

Searching for answers is one of the greatest challenges of my job.

Finding an answer is one of the greatest joys.  

And who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be part of the team that creates the first version of Captain Pike’s 1960’s nerd cool 23rd century life support box wheelchair thing.

1 Comment

  1. SO powerful to hear about how you’re using technology in settings many of us aren’t familiar with. Thank you!

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