Five Tips for Running a Successful Digital Media Program with Students with Disabilities

By Celia Hughes

There are many free and low cost media apps that provide engaging formats to help equalize a student with a disability’s experience with their typical peers when making visual art, animation, movies, and music. For instance, iMovie is good for students who have some experience with digital storytelling, and iMovie Trailer is accessible to all students regardless of their knowledge of technology. It has templates that allow students the opportunity to conceive the story, act out the characters, choose the sound effects, and participate in other meaningful ways.

Careful consideration and planning are important as educators prepare digital media classes for students with disabilities. The following tips can also help save some heartache—and headaches—for everyone involved.

1. Maximize student engagement. Choose age-appropriate applications that are socially and culturally relevant for your students. Start with a basic app like ImageChef to determine their knowledge of technology and need for accommodation. Allow time at the beginning of the first class for students to explore the program before attempting any guided instruction. This can be especially important for students who have autism as it helps them know where the class is going to end up and prepares them for the learning experience. Remember to offer side-by-side instruction for students who have cognitive difficulty transferring information projected on a screen to their device.

2. Manage content and login information. Do your research and have the student accounts ready to go, with logins and passwords set up, prior to the first class. Ensure that the computers have access to the online accounts and that all apps are available and working. If you have to set up the accounts during the first class time, be mindful to capture each student’s login and password information. Some apps may require you to send the image to an email address. Set up a designated email address to keep them separate from your other email. When information is saved to the computer or device, number them and have students sign the same one out each time.

3. Avoid frustration and feelings of failure by reminding students to save their work. Some students will need to be reminded to save their work often throughout the class period. Make sure they understand there may be more than one step to save. Some newer programs use pop-ups to ask additional save questions. When working with Go Animate, I have seen students expend concentrated effort to design and build an animation, only to lose their work because they closed the pop-ups without saving. Sometimes the work can be recovered but only if you look for it immediately; it will be gone once new actions are taken.

4. Students can really get lost in the weeds if they don’t have a clear idea of where they are headed. Sending instructions ahead of time to students who are blind allows them to upload them to their device for easy access. Many programs, like Vyond, have a large selection of characters, props, scenes, etc. to choose from. Encourage students to use the search function when looking for design elements. Starting with a narrative with dialogue and storyboard can reduce the amount of time spent looking and increase time creating. This can help reduce anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. Some students don’t feel confident with their ideas. Some students have a specific character they draw all the time. Spend time with each student to find the certain spark that ignites their imagination.

5. Remember that digital media is their cultural language. Students today, regardless of their disability, were born in a new era of accessible media tools. Be open to learn what they have to share. You will be amazed at what you can create, together.


Photo of Celia Hughes, a woman with brown wavy hair wearing a light blue sweater, smilingCelia Hughes is the Executive Director of VSA Texas and has overseen the New Media Arts and It’s My Story digital media programs for over 10 years. Jeannine Chartier, Executive Artistic Director of VSA arts Rhode Island, is her training partner for the VSA Intersections Hot Topics & Cool Tools presentation.

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