Creating accessibility in education for students with disabilities is no longer optional, but a necessity. By using AI technology, you can make websites easier to navigate and a more inclusive learning environment for everyone.
Unfortunately, in the scramble to get classes online at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, an inclusive learning environment for students with disabilities was often overlooked. Overlooking accessibility guidelines created barriers for students who rely on assistive technology in the classroom and online (e.g., screen readers, keyboard navigation).
This article explores day-to-day tips to support students with disabilities, as well as information about how you can use innovative tools to promote a better, more accessible learning experience for all.
Accessibility in Schools
More and more, educational institutions are leaning on their own websites and other online platforms to deliver services, programs, and activities to their students and the wider community.
Educators aren’t webmasters, so it’s no surprise that people expect higher standards from physical learning environments than many education websites–and those who do work hard to set an accessibility standard might struggle to keep up with changing technologies requirements.
So, schools must do more to support students with disabilities and avoid discrimination lawsuits. But, who’s responsible, and what can schools do to ensure compliance and provide an inclusive learning environment?
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Education, is dedicated to maintaining schools free from discrimination–and 25% of the cases they investigate concern web accessibility.
So what’s the best way to avoid making OCR’s list of pending cases? First, familiarize yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and make the necessary changes before the investigation begins. Visit the OCR Video series which covers numerous topics on digital access in education.
Assistive Technology Online and in the Classroom
Assistive technology plays an invaluable role in education, spanning from kindergarten classrooms to lecture halls in universities.This extends beyond screen readers and braille displays for blind students. In K-12 settings, tools like text-to-speech software aid students with reading difficulties, while adaptive keyboards and mice cater to those with physical disabilities.
At the higher education level, advanced software helps students with note-taking, scheduling, and even translation for international learners. By tailoring educational experiences to each student’s individual needs, assistive technology truly paves the way for a more inclusive and effective education.
In virtual classrooms, assistive technology is a game-changer. Students can use reading support tools that highlight text and read aloud, assisting with comprehension and focus in an online environment. Voice recognition software can also help students who struggle with typing, allowing them to contribute to virtual discussions and complete assignments more easily. Tools like automated transcription services convert lectures into text, while AI-driven tools help students identify key points and summarize them. These technologies are reshaping online education, ensuring that it is inclusive, accommodating, and effective for all learners.
ADA Requirements for Schools
All American K-12 and higher education institutions need to be ADA-compliant. The National Center for Education Statistics found 19% of undergraduate students disclosed a disability–meaning inaccessible websites may alienate nearly two out of ten undergrads.
Specifically, schools must adhere to their legal responsibilities under Title II of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as the web accessibility guidelines outlined by the Department of Justice (DOJ). These requirements mandate schools provide equal opportunity and inclusive education for students with disabilities, and that applies to your school’s website and digital course material.
10 Web Accessibility Tips for Teaching Students With Disabilities
Providing an inclusive education for students with disabilities is essential. Use these tips to put your best foot forward:
- Provide concise, predictable design, navigation, and content free of flashing elements. Paragraphs should have a five-sentence maximum.
- Explicitly describe hyperlink text sitewide.
- Use built-in page layouts and styles in word processing apps like Microsoft Word and Google Docs to provide semantic structure.
- Remediate all website PDFs so they are accessible to people with all disabilities.
- Include succinct text descriptions of all images.
- Use fonts customized for people with vision-related conditions.
- Provide a stark color contrast between text, graphic elements, and all backgrounds for people with eye-related disabilities.
- Caption all videos and transcribe all audio content.
- Provide keyboard navigation for users who don’t use a mouse.
- Limit the number of tools students with disabilities are required to use, and only use ones that don’t interfere with each other. You don’t want to overburden these students with more technology than necessary.
AI-Powered Widgets for accessible learning
Understanding where to dedicate your time and resources is a crucial part of making education accessible. Constructing new websites or modifying existing ones to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a task that needs a skilled development team.
Educational institutions now have the opportunity to use advanced AI-powered technology to further accessibility and compliance. These tools can interpret images to generate alternative text, attach accessible labels to forms, and decipher headings and site structures to streamline navigation. Additionally, AI widgets can provide helpful features like overlays for text and contrast adjustments, as well as screen readers.
Because compliance is an ongoing, time-consuming process, training staff and understanding web accessibility is an essential first step to ensuring a high standard over the long term. Once there is a clear commitment to making your school accessible, an AI-powered widget can support that commitment.
How UserWay Helps Schools Provide Accessible Education
UserWay strives to create a more equitable digital world for everyone, and improving accessibility in education is a critical part of that commitment. With UserWay’s AI solution in place, schools can do what they do best: focus on educating students.
Contact a UserWay representative and start your accessibility journey today.
Why is Accessible Online Learning Essential?
More than 60% of high school students use online tools daily, and more than 50% of college attendees attend at least one virtual class. Online learning is the new norm, and it’s here to stay. So naturally, this presents specific challenges for students with disabilities and increases the need for virtual accessibility.
What Disabilities Should an Accessible School Website Serve?
Satisfying vision and sound-related requirements alone won’t make your site accessible. Some students have disabilities that prevent them from using a mouse. Others have learning disabilities that require simplified content. Therefore, it’s crucial to think ahead and eliminate obstacles by considering all disabilities.
How Do I Know if My Site Meets ADA Requirements for Schools?
Understanding where your site is non-compliant is impossible unless you know all the WCAG rules. If you identify a couple of issues just by clicking around your website or performing a scan, there are likely more you haven’t found. Requesting a web accessibility report is the best way to find your issues. Fixing these issues in-house is time-consuming and expensive, and that’s where a third-party provider can help.