Report: Accessibility and inclusivity must be considered at every stage of the technology process
Technology can be a double-edged sword for students with disabilities. It can provide opportunities for greater inclusion and engagement, or it can perpetuate existing inequalities and impose additional barriers.
How to make sure that the former becomes the rule is the focus of a new report and accompanying primers on inclusive technology from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) in collaboration with 11 partners.
“To effectively support all students—especially students with disabilities—it is critically important to consider accessibility and inclusivity as essential components whenever technology is conceived and used in classrooms or schools,” notes NCLD in the “Inclusive Technology in a 21st-Century Learning System” report.
Achieving inclusivity requires stakeholder awareness, adds Ace Parsi, NCLD’s director of innovation and primary report author. Educators, administrators, state agencies and vendors must consider how technology will facilitate the higher-level learning needs of all students, he says.
The report has two companion primers:
- “A Collaborative Local Action Primer” focuses on identifying key local stakeholders and offers a set of discussion questions.
- “Student Experiences and Four Key Federal Laws” includes information about how the Americans with Disabilities Act, Every Student Succeeds Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Rehabilitation Act safeguard students’ rights and impact local and state edtech decisions.
Following are among the takeaways from these three resources:
- Technology affects everyone. Every general education classroom has students with special needs, including English language learners, Parsi says. “It’s not just about providing assistive technology in one room; it’s about all technology,” he says. “If the product or the initiative is designed for the mythical average student in mind, it’s not just the kids with disabilities who will be left behind.”
- Stakeholders must work together on edtech inclusivity. “The idea of bringing everyone together and doing a national push from a variety of organizations that represent different stakeholders really raises the visibility of this and the need,” says Christine Fox, deputy executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association, one of NCLD’s partners on the primers, and a featured speaker for DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference in 2020. “It’s important to have the right people at the table to discuss these issues because local conditions will vary,” she adds.
- Address inclusivity throughout edtech implementation. All five stages of implementation—vision, design, procurement, use and continuous improvements—should cover inclusivity. “If you take the full-scope approach … it’s a much more planned-out process that includes all learners from beginning to end,” Fox says. NCLD’s report offers guiding questions for each stage:
- Vision: Does your vision cover all students’ needs?
- Design: Can the vendor ensure the edtech product will accommodate a range of learners’ needs?
- Procurement: Are you clearly communicating the required accessibility needs and are you able to validate the vendor’s success in achieving accessibility?
- Use: Can educators and other personnel use the product to provide high-quality learning for all students?
- Continuous improvements: Is there a process in place to help educators learn from and act on best practices and challenges?
“A district that’s making a multiyear bet on technology needs to make sure they’re not just meeting the law, but going beyond it, and operating with a true vision of meeting all learners’ needs,” Parsi says.
Jennifer Herseim is an editor for LRP Media Group and program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.
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