Accessible Education Technology

Cynthia doesn’t need a fancy adaptive device to use a computer at school. This 14-year-old with cerebral palsy takes advantage […]

Cynthia doesn’t need a fancy adaptive device to use a computer at school. This 14-year-old with cerebral palsy takes advantage of built-in software features that make the computer accessible and user-friendly. Operating system accessibility features allow Cynthia, who has limited vision, to enlarge the text and select a high contrast color scheme to see the screen more easily. Cynthia also has difficulty using her hands to type, so she uses Filter Keys, a feature that instructs the computer to ignore brief or repeated keystrokes.

As computers, the Internet, educational software, and multimedia products are more commonplace in today=s classrooms, it is critical that this technology be accessible to students with disabilities. Accessible education technology not only gives students with special needs better access to technology used in schools, but it also promotes inclusion of students with disabilities in the general curriculum.

Accessible education technology incorporates principles of universal design. Universally designed products and services are created for use by a wide range of people with different abilities and disabilities. Most of us are familiar with universally designed building features, such as ramps and automatic doors, that provide access to people who use wheelchairs. Universal design concepts can be applied to educational technologies as well. For example, an educational software program that reads text out loud and provides captioning accommodates the needs of a variety of learners, such as students with dyslexia and those who are deaf.

Universally designed education technology also provides increased access to curricular materials for students with special needs. An example of this is the availability of digitized instructional materials. A digitized textbook (such as a book on CD-ROM) can be loaded on a computer and modified to meet the needs of individual students. Thus, a student with low vision could increase the font size; a student with severe physical disabilities could turn the page with a switch or other alternative input device; a student with blindness could have the computer read the text aloud; and a student with dyslexia could click on a difficult word to see a definition.

In many cases, accessible educational technology may reduce the need for assistive technology. However, it does not eliminate the need to provide individualized accommodations for students with disabilities. If a student requires assistive technology, such as an alternative keyboard or a screen-reading program, accessibly designed technology is generally compatible with these products.

The benefits of accessible educational technology are not limited to students with special needs. Just as parents with baby strollers benefit from curb cuts designed for people who use wheelchairs, accessible education technology is advantageous to students without disabilities. For instance, a PowerPoint presentation that contains audio description for students who are blind might also benefit students who are auditory learners.

Schools are beginning to explore strategies to implement accessible education technology in the classroom. This trend is spurred by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act that requires electronic and information technologies that federal agencies procure, develop, maintain and use to be accessible to people with disabilities. While many questions have arisen as to whether this legislation applies to public K-12 and post-secondary institutions, many educational entities have chosen to adopt the information technology accessibility guidelines recommended by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), www.access-board.gov.

Do you want to learn more about accessible technology in schools? Simon Technology Center offers technical assistance in the Midwest region to parent centers, educational agencies, advocates and families on the topic of accessible technology in schools. Call us with any questions: 952-838-9000 (voice), 952-838-0190 (TTY). The following organizations and Web sites are also good resources for information.

National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education (AccessIT)
Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)
Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI)
TRACE Center
Microsoft Accessibility
National Center for Accessible Media

Annette Cerreta is the Assistive Technology Specialist, PACER Simon Technology Center. This article is reprinted with permission from PACER Center.