EdTech Accessibility: Questions, Answers and Solutions

Students raise hands with questions

Lea(R)n is committed to equity. Technology, specifically educational technology, should level the playing field — bridge gaps in environment, student demographics, learning styles and access to resources — not expand the divide. In our conversations with educational leaders at all levels, accessibility has come up again and again as an edtech equity concern. We’re answering four questions to extend the discussion and help educators across the country continue working to level the playing field and drive equitable access to benefit all students:

What counts as edtech accessibility?

Accessibility focuses on the design of products for students and learners of all ability levels. In an edtech environment, this can range from providing text alternatives to keyboard accessibility to compatibility with assistive technologies and everything in between. Addressing accessibility can feel overwhelming, or like it’s someone else’s job. But with the use of digital technology growing everyday, it is critical for educators, administrators and product providers to make sure their systems, content and tools are developed and delivered with accessibility in mind.

Why should I care about accessibility?

It’s the law. Title II and Title III of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require education institutions to make their digital content accessible to students with disabilities. Section 504 requires that students with disabilities have their needs met to the same extent as students without disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates equal access to curriculum for all learners and requires that teaching practices meet the needs of all students. The National Education Technology Plan provides a number of recommendations for accessibility and universal design.

In 2015, 46 percent of complaints to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) were disability law complaints. Last year, the OCR reached settlements in seven states and one territory related to website accessibility. On the higher education side, institutions like Atlantic Cape Community College and Miami University (Ohio) have reached settlements to revamp their policies, course materials, website and other technology to accommodate students with disabilities after being served with lawsuits.

Beyond legal requirements and liability, a commitment to providing access is the right thing to do. Post high school, young adults with disabilities have been less likely to attend postsecondary schools and be productively engaged in the community. Students with disabilities make up about 13 percent of the K-12 population and 11 percent of the postsecondary population (these numbers may be low due to underreporting). As the role of technology in student learning continues to expand, we need to ensure that we are paying attention to edtech accessibility.

What should I be doing about accessibility?

  • Continue to do research on the laws and standards (like WCAG) pertaining to accessibility compliance.

  • Stay on top of which edtech tools and digital resources you provide — and how accessibility needs are met by those programs — for students and other stakeholders (don’t forget about the parents).

  • Communicate with teachers to offer guidance and professional development on how to provide accessible tools and use assistive technologies.

  • Demand transparency and documentation from product providers on their compliance with accessibility guidelines.

  • Analyze technologies for usage and impact among students with disabilities to identify strengths and areas for improvement.

What does this have to do with LearnPlatform?

  • LearnPlatform continues to provide free usage dashboards to organizations using G Suite for Education, so you can monitor which tools are being used and how much.

  • LearnPlatform Professional allows for streamlined communication and product statuses, so teachers know which tools have been vetted for accessibility and parents have visibility to what’s being used in their students’ classrooms.

  • LearnPlatform Advanced includes custom request and purchase workflows, with the ability to collect accessibility compliance information from product providers.

  • IMPACT™ Analysis includes subgroup breakdowns so you can tell how technologies are being used by students with disabilities and report on effects with ESSA alignment.

We know that practicing effective edtech accessibility can be challenging and has a lot of moving parts. If you want to share more about your organization’s approach to accessibility and see how LearnPlatform can help, contact us.

David Cashwell