The Challenge of Digital Accessibility for Edtech

Technology is now a fundamental consideration in education – it can’t be separated from the policies and practices to improve education. With the growing use of technology in education, issues and concerns are also increasing. State leaders need reliable information about these issues and its effect on education. A challenge the educators face in edtech is to make digital content and sites accessible to students with disabilities, in compliance with the Disabilities Act and other regulatory requirements, through design, professional training and instructional practices.

As online and blended programs in secondary and post secondary classrooms have proliferated, and digital content has grown substantially, accessibility of digital content and websites is now a critical issue in education technology because. Students with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive impairments have the right to access this digital content and online instruction in an equally effective way as students without disabilities. However, many schools and colleges have still not made digital content and online instruction as accessible to these students as is required by law.

Faculty members often create online course components without accounting for students with disabilities. They have to make last-minute modifications to course content when they are notified that they have a student with a disability enrolled in a class, and their students are often short-changed with less-than-standard accommodations.

Speaking about the U.S., Federal policy and guidance direct educational leaders to address digital accessibility at every opportunity; still, many institutions do not make their digital content and websites accessible. They risk lawsuits from the Department of Justice or the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights when they deny students with disabilities equal access under the law. Complaints can be filed by students, disability organizations (such as the National Federation for the Blind), and individual citizens and the responsible federal agencies are required to investigate.

Many publishers and other vendors have not produced fully supportive accessible materials despite federal laws clearly indicating that educational entities are responsible for the accessibility of the materials they purchase. Faculty who are not alert often purchase inappropriate materials for use online without regard to applicable accessibility laws. To overcome this shortcoming, the educational institutions need accessibility training, improved communication, legal compliance awareness, clarification on purchasing policy, and vendor and technology support.

Educational agencies, schools and institutions need to have a comprehensive accessibility plan which includes acceptable practices, a communication plan, training, and an evaluation process to ensure that policies are followed. Agencies should purchase contract language that not only requires a voluntary product accessibility statement but also addresses the consequences for the vendor if materials and services purchased are not accessible. Accessible content and universal design for learning benefit not just disabled students but all learners, especially English language learners and students with different learning styles or learning disabilities.

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