K-12 classrooms are embracing technology and are working to overcome accessibility issues associated with digital and online educational materials. While there are legal accessibility standards in place (see resources below), educational materials are not always accessible to students with visual impairments or blindness. Most developers – and the companies who produce digital/online educational materials – are more aware of accessibility and are often striving to incorporate accessibility into their products. For some, the lack of awareness and/or the lack of accessibility knowledge is a key factor. This is especially true with educational app developers who produce a small apps geared for emerging readers or basic math apps for young students.
Many larger organizations that are creating digital textbooks and online assignments have a small accessibility team. Unfortunately, accessibility is not always given priority and companies need a gentle push to bring or keep accessibility as a priority goal. States and school districts do have the power of writing accessibility into their contracts with providers.
Is your school using a school-wide platform, app, digital textbook or online assessment that is not fully accessible for your student? Document what is/is not accessible for your student; be sure to include what device, software version, accessibility features, etc. that your student is using. It might be something simple – such as a navigation button that is not labeled for a screen reader or a missing image description – these issues can be resolved fairly easily. Other issues maybe more system-wide and will require work to make the product accessible. What can YOU do? Double check with your AT and IT departments. Is there a setting on your device that needs to be turned on/off that is impacting the accessibility? Contact the company that produces the educational material; if available, contact their accessibility team. Have discussions with your school and/or district’s Curriculum/Assessment person and with your district’s Special Education Director. If the product is a state-wide education tool (such as your state’s end-of-grade assessments), talk with the state-wide assessment/curriculum department.
Work directly with your teachers of the visually impaired (TVI) and if possible, observe first-hand as the student tries to access the material. Document what is/is not accessible along with the device, software version, accessibility features used, etc. Use your contacts with the company – including the sales person that you regularly deal with. Connect and network with your Special Education Director about the accessibility of educational materials and the specific issues with an individual product. If the product is a state-wide purchase, talk with your counter-part at the state level. Education Dive recently published an article about how tech is making education more inclusive. Education Dive highlights that a major pitfall is that accessibility is overlooked during discussions with potential vendors.
Make sure to specifically include accessibility in the legal contract when purchasing educational products! The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials provides information and sample contract language.
By Diane Brauner