Welcome to another edition of Friday accessibility news! April is almost over (it’s already the 21st)! Continuing on our accessibility in education trend, we’ll cover the push to make digital learning tools accessible for all ages. We’ll also talk about a choice by University of California, Berkeley that has left many accessibility advocates with questions and concerns. Finally, we’ll give you a link to find the most disability-friendly online colleges this year. Let’s jump right in and start learning!

Accessibility in Schools

Education Dive brings up a great point in an article they published this week – what about digital accessibility in all schools? No, not just colleges and universities. They’re talking the little kids all the way up until high school graduation. They underscore this point by stating, “…assessments of digital resources and services for disabled users continue to show a ‘lawsuit waiting to happen’ at many colleges and universities.

But K-12 schools and districts should be vigilant on the issue, as well.”[1] And they’re absolutely right. More schools are starting to find new and interesting ways to teach kids, and a lot of these innovative techniques involve technology. Kids are also learning to use digital devices at increasingly younger ages, so it isn’t such a strange thing to say that even preschoolers and kindergarteners will expect to see tech at school.

The Huffington Post wrote about this issue back in 2012 saying, “We need to be preparing teachers who know time-tested methods for teaching young children (yes, keep the play dough!) but who also see new technologies as a tool for sparking a love of learning.”[2] While the author here was focusing on general teacher training, accessibility is another important consideration when brining technology into the classroom.

Every student won’t interact with the tech in the same way, and accommodations should be available to ensure they get the support they need. With the huge amounts of work that teachers already have on their plates, digital accessibility features for classroom technology should be made easily accessible and intuitive for children to use. Hopefully, educational app and tech developers will work to incorporate inclusive modifications into their products from the outset. That sort of consideration will go a long way to helping many children to learn more effectively.

When a Compliance Request Backfires

There is sometimes a lurking concern that a push for accessibility could backfire in unforeseen ways. According to Inside Higher Ed, that’s what happened when the Department of Justice sent University of California, Berkeley a bit of mail. Apparently, the Department had sent a letter asking that the University take the necessary steps to make all of the content that it has available to the public accessible for people with certain disabilities.

Inside Higher Ed then explains that the content was then just restricted so the public no longer had access to it instead of being made accessible. “Rather than comply with this request, the university took the outrageous step of ending public access to those valuable resources, which include over 20,000 audio and video files, to avoid the costs of making the materials accessible.”[3]

While the content not being accessible is one issue, another issue has apparently been the responses to this action. The article explains that the public has put the blame onto the people who want the accessibility modifications. They summarize this, unfortunately, common opinion by saying, “Many misrepresent this issue as one where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”[4] I very much recommend reading the full Inside Higher Ed article to learn just why it isn’t the needs of a few.

Which Online Colleges Are Supportive?

A press release posted on PR Web heralds a new college ranking system that is important to take note of if you or someone you know is considering attending college. This new ranking is to discern which online colleges give the most support to students with disabilities. The release states, “…a list of online colleges that provide the highest level of support, the widest breadth of accommodations, and the most comprehensive resources for students with disabilities.”[5] Online education can be a great option for students and knowing that these 47 schools provide the best accessibility is an excellent way to narrow down the options even further.

Check out the Guide to Online Schools’ list of 2017 Top Online Schools for Students with Disabilities.

Education and Accessibility

Digital accessibility is important in every field, but we are seeing a lot more news stories regarding how to make education more accessible. This is great because if students are shown accessibility early on, they will likely grow up seeing inclusion and universal access as a standard. A lifelong understanding of accessibility would be helpful as these kids grow up and start developing new technology themselves. However, that’s a long-term goal. Even in the immediate, students need access to the tools that will help them learn best. Sometimes accessibility modifications can make all the difference, and schools should work to make educational environments that are inclusive for all students.