The idea of using multiple presentations of the same, or related information to support a challenging document/source/topic is nothing new to special education teachers; we call it multisensory learning. It is my job to find ways to expose students to content through multiple formats until it finally “clicks.” This is similar to utilizing online reading comprehension skills in the general education setting where students have access to content through multiple multimedia presentations of information. However, in this model students are also making choices regarding the information they use. This requires students to take ownership of their learning. Allowing students to have some control over their content makes the experience meaningful, and is a proven motivator which leads to greater success (see RSA Animate's video featuring Dan Pink). This also allows special education students a chance to participate in a classroom activity in the same manner as their nondisabled peers, which in and of itself is a tremendous motivator for inclusion students.
There are also pitfalls in using the internet as a source of information. In Watch IT. The Risks and Promises of Information Technology for Education (2000), Burbules and Callister group the negative side effects of using the internet under the headings: Misinformation, Malinformation, Messed-Up Information, and Mostly Useless Information. I think these heading can be applied to printed texts as they also display variances in credibility. For example, The National Enquirer and The New York Times share a shelf but are certainly not equals. Lawless and Schrader (Handbook, 2008) bring the discussion on open- and closed-media into the mix as well. While closed-media sources cannot be altered and have some governing body prior to publication, open-media is ever changing and anyone can alter the information. Again, there are pros and cons of both. Closed-media is already dated once it is in the hands of the reader, where open-media has the potential to stay current. Closed-media is often a physical object which can be manipulated. A book with missing pages and crossed out text, or a scratched CD-ROM which skips could cause both to fall under one of the headings described above.
While planning lessons and IEP goals and objectives for students in my life skills class, I had to consider what educational skills doubled as functional skills. Online reading comprehension is one of these crossover skills. Whether it is locating an owner’s manual on a website, filling out a job application, finding a bus schedule, or ordering groceries, my students needed to know how to navigate to the correct place and retrieve the correct information using the internet. People with disabilities also have talents and interests which need to be developed. The internet is full of options for them provided they are given guidance and support through instruction in online reading comprehension skills. I would also advise educators and caretakers of people with disabilities to employ filters and use safe search engines such as www.kidrex.org while monitoring their time online.