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Nov 27, 2016

The Role of Accessible Technology in Inclusive Education

By Kit Mead

Introduction

Accessible technology can serve an important role in inclusion of students with disabilities. Not all technology is accessible, however. First, we will define accessible technology, and give examples of both accessible technology and inaccessible technology. Then we’ll have a two part section on how it maximizes inclusion, by helping students with disabilities learn and by incorporating the concepts of universal design into learning. Lastly, we’ll talk about some barriers you might face

What Is Accessible Tech?

According to Accessible Tech.org, “Accessible electronic and information technology is technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It incorporates the principles of universal design,” and it includes “computer hardware and software, operating systems, web-based information and applications, telephones and other telecommunications products, video equipment and multimedia products, information kiosks, and office products such as photocopiers and fax machines.”

To break that down, it means that accessible technology can be used by a wide variety of people, including people with disabilities. Its primary purpose is to make sure that people with disabilities can fully participate - hence being accessible - but can be used by anyone, and benefit anyone.

Some examples of accessible materials are: 

  • Closed captions on videos
  • Transcripts for videos
  • Audio transcripts for if the person does not have a screen reader
  • Alternatives to sound cues
  • Flexible formatting
  • Logical order to content that is easy to understand
  • Alt text for images
  • Navigation is mouse-free
  • Formatting can be changed to meet preferences
  • Compatibility with text to speech and supported reading software
  • Time limit extensions for responses that have time limits

Some examples of inaccessible materials are:

  • Uncaptioned videos
  • Content that is organized randomly and without order
  • Images without alt text
  • Formatting that cannot be adjusted
  • Incompatibility with text to speech and supported reading software
  • Navigation cannot be mouse-free
  • Sound cues are the only option
  • Untranscribed videos
  • No audio transcripts for text

Maximizing Inclusion, Part One: How It Helps Students With Disabilities   

What are the benefits of accessible tech? How does it help students with disabilities learn? Accessible tech obviously creates more access for disabled students to learn. If the materials are accessible, they can fully participate and learn from the material. They able to participate and be included because they are not being left out and left behind.

You can learn specifics of ways to make specific technology accessible, and more about acquiring digitally accessible materials and making them accessible at the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials’ webinar on the subject, and at Accessible Tech.org.

Maximizing Inclusion, Part Two: Accessible Tech For Everyone

How does accessible tech incorporate elements of universal design? How does universal design benefit everyone?  Because it is designed to have options that can be toggled at will - countering one of the common arguments that having too many options would be confusing - it can be adjusted to meet anyone’s needs or preferences.

A student does not have to be disabled to benefit from accessible tech - if they prefer a certain format, then logic follows that they will learn best from that format and possibly enjoy it more. In addition, some students could be undiagnosed and will also benefit from a wide variety of options.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)follows the same principles - designed with a wide variety of students in mind to reach said wide variety of students. And universal design fosters disability acceptance by making commonplace the needs of disabled students - they aren’t seen as special or extra or as accommodations that are exceptions to the usual rule.

Thus, it creates social inclusion (by making commonplace disabled students’ needs, so that the students and their needs are less othered) and educational inclusion (by making sure everyone is included under the umbrella of options).

What Barriers Might I Face in Making Technology In The Classroom Accessible?

What are some common barriers that you may have to overcome? What are some possible solutions to those barriers?

One potential barrier is the cost of the accessible technology. A possible solution would be: If you are in a position to advocate for accessible technology, point out that universal design can ultimately cost less because they are spending less money on individual accommodations. 

Another potential barrier is conflicting access needs (when someone’s need for something to participate conflicts with someone else’s). A possible solution would be to create different versions of the teaching lesson, or try and reach a compromise. One resource is this guide on Conflicting Access Needs, and another is this blog post by Real Social Skills.

Retrofitting existing digital materials is nearly impossible - according to a report by the Center on Online Learning, “The combination of rich media – text, audio, images and video/animations and the multi-faceted sophistication of CMS/LMS platforms easily overwhelms the capacity of schools to modify or even create accommodations for accessibility.”  One solution would be to carefully review digital material you plan to assign for accessibility, and assign materials that are accessible.

Conclusion

 Accessible tech plays an important role in inclusion of disabled students, both educationally and socially, through disability acceptance and making sure students aren’t left out and left behind. It enhances all students’ learning experiences, not just disabled students’. Some barriers to having accessible tech exist, but solutions can sometimes be found. It is vital to make sure the materials are accessible from the start so that everyone can reap the benefits. 

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