Verizon Gives $100,000 to Improve Learning For Children with Special Needs

Educators, Parents to See Demonstration Today at Boston's Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

BOSTON - Digitizing textbooks and putting them online could aid learning for more than five million public school students with dyslexia, vision problems and other special needs, estimates the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Students using specially designed digital books with embedded research-based computer tools improved their reading comprehension in a recent CAST research study.

Verizon Foundation, Verizon Communications' philanthropic arm, is donating $100,000 to CAST to help build its cyber Universal Learning Center. The center is a Web-based service that provides teachers and special needs students with digital classroom materials.

"Verizon's support comes at a critical time in our efforts to leave no child behind because he or she is unable to learn from the same material as their classmates," said David Rose, co-executive director, CAST. "Our pilot program is the final step to launching this nationally significant accessibility program that we are sure will make a tremendous difference in millions of young peoples' lives."

Verizon and CAST will hold an open house at 9:30 a.m. today at Boston's Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The school is one of 100 nationwide picked to be part of CAST's pilot program that began last fall using 9th and 10th grade literature and social studies curricular materials. Distinguished education professionals, teachers and parents will see a demonstration showing the benefits of putting textbooks, a 500-year-old technology, online.

"It's time to update a 500-year-old technology," said Rose. "Today's technology can transform textbooks and other learning material by making it available in a customized digital format so it can be used to match the learning needs of individual students."

Once digitized and Web-based, material can be manipulated in different ways. The text can be made larger for children with low vision. Software tools, such as text-to-speech readers, can be added to assist students with dyslexia or other cognitive or physical challenges. Pages can be turned with eye movements of students with physical disabilities. Textbooks and supplemental reading material can be ordered online for downloading to special Braille output devices.

"CAST is doing something that Verizon strongly believes in -- using technology to improve literacy and learning," said Keiko Harvey, senior vice president -- Advanced Services for Verizon. "Our foundation grant reflects our enthusiastic support of this innovative program."

The Universal Learning Center will make selected classroom material available in three different formats -- HTML, Braille and DAISY-NISO for teachers at the 100 participating pilot schools.

A complementary effort to educate teachers about the Universal Learning Center and its mission will be a primary focus for CAST when the center is launched nationwide during the 2003-2004 school year. A companion Web site focused on teaching students with digital curricular materials will be linked to the students in their classrooms by integrating digital standards-based classroom materials into their instruction.

Verizon's Advanced Services group is responsible for the company's Internet and broadband services businesses. These businesses offer dial-up and digital subscriber line (DSL) service to businesses and consumers and wholesale DSL service to more than 400 Internet service providers. Verizon has more than 1.2 million DSL high-speed Internet access lines in service in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

Verizon Foundation

Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, is committed to helping Verizon employees, customers and the communities in which they work and live make progress every day. The foundation supports a variety of programs that focus on improving basic and computer literacy, bridging the digital divide, enriching communities through technology and creating a skilled work force. The foundation promotes partnerships in technology with organizations serving the needs of diverse communities, people with disabilities, and the economically and socially disadvantaged. The foundation also supports Verizon Volunteers, an incentive program that encourages Verizon employees to volunteer in their communities and provides matching gifts to nonprofit organizations. For more information on the foundation, visit www.verizon.com/foundation on the Internet.

Center for Applied Special Technology, CAST

Founded in 1984 as the Center for Applied Special Technology, CAST is an educational, not-for-profit organization that uses technology to expand opportunities for all people, especially those with disabilities. In addition to the Universal Learning Center other CAST accessibility and educational inventions include Bobby WorldWide (www.cast.org/bobby), a service that checks the accessibility of Web-pages and software including CAST eReader™ and Wigglesworks®


CAST news releases, initiatives, biographies, media contacts and other information are available at www.cast.org. For a demonstration of the Universal Learning Center, contact Larry Raff, lraff@cast.org.