Opinion: As Tech in Colleges Turns into the Norm, a Holistic Strategy to Accessibility Is Crucial

Photograph from Unsplash.com. By Dan Cogan-Drew The author is cofounder and chief educational officer of…

Opinion: As Tech in Colleges Turns into the Norm, a Holistic Strategy to Accessibility Is Crucial
Opinion: As Tech in Colleges Turns into the Norm, a Holistic Strategy to Accessibility Is Crucial
Photograph from Unsplash.com.

By Dan Cogan-Drew

The author is cofounder and chief educational officer of Newsela, a tech firm that gives content material for educators.

Now that the second full faculty yr for the reason that begin of the pandemic is over, it’s clear that Okay-12 schooling has modified — completely. The growing use of know-how and on-line assets was already underway, however the disruptions introduced on by the pandemic enormously accelerated the development and there’s no going again. It’s a shift that has nice potential to profit college students, however we should take proactive steps to make sure all college students have the instruments and helps they should succeed irrespective of the place they’re studying.

These adjustments are good and even overdue — utilizing tech whether or not within the classroom or whereas studying remotely has the potential to maintain right now’s college students engaged. It makes it simpler to collaborate and imparts twenty first century abilities that make college students school and profession prepared — nevertheless it additionally has the potential to vastly enhance present inequities in schooling.

To make sure these new instruments work for everybody, we should take a holistic method to accessibility that takes into consideration three elements: Entry to the web; entry to on-line assets which might be optimized for all college students no matter capability or incapacity; and entry to classes and content material which might be related to college students’ lives and experiences.

On the most elementary degree, all college students have to have computer systems and secure web connections. Applications that supply free laptops or tablets can present the {hardware} college students want, however we even have to ensure college students have entry to a secure web connection in a protected surroundings that’s conducive to studying.

Everybody remembers the picture of the little women who sat of their native Taco Bell car parking zone in California to attend distant faculty as a result of they didn’t have web entry at residence. Whereas these women’ dedication to schooling is inspiring, no pupil ought to have to decide on between a protected surroundings and entry to the instruments they should study. After faculty applications are essential for serving to college students entry the web outdoors of college hours, and public WiFi tasks that enable folks to connect with the web at libraries and public parks are additionally essential to closing this accessibility hole. However extra must be executed.

After all, the job isn’t executed when college students hook up with the web. As soon as college students are on-line, they need to be capable of use the assets they’ve entry to. Making certain supplies can be found in languages apart from English, using text-to-speech know-how, and offering display readers for college kids with problem seeing are all essential steps that make on-line instruments extra accessible.

Maryland took an enormous step forward of many states when it enacted the Equal and Nonvisual Entry Accountability Act for Okay-12 Schooling this spring. This essential laws requires native faculty districts to make sure their distributors present supplies that adjust to the World Large Internet Consortium’s Internet Content material Accessibility Pointers (WCAG), a uniform commonplace for accessibility that makes on-line content material extra accessible to folks with disabilities.

Maryland’s invoice goes farther than related legal guidelines in different states by offering clear and significant enforcement mechanisms for districts to make sure compliance. It is a crucial step towards growing fairness and accessibility in studying for college kids with disabilities similar to blindness and low imaginative and prescient, deafness and listening to loss, and restricted motion.

Lastly, as soon as we’ve ensured college students are related to the web and in a position to make use of the instruments accessible on-line, we have to develop classes which might be related to college students’ lives and resonate with their lived experiences. Our analysis reveals that college students study higher once they can see themselves represented of their classes. Academics utilizing content material that displays the variety in our lecture rooms is crucial to holding college students engaged and reaching the very best studying outcomes.

The Maryland Affiliation of Boards of Schooling’s (MABE) Main For Instructional Fairness By College Board Governance Workbook is a priceless useful resource that guides academics and directors by means of step-by-step workouts to outline clear range targets and put together lesson plans that can resonate with all college students. College leaders want to make use of this and different instruments to develop supplies which might be accessible to college students of all backgrounds.

My firm Newsela, an ed tech supplemental curriculum supplier that takes actual world content material from trusted sources and makes it instruction-ready for Okay-12 lecture rooms, was proud to sponsor MABE’s workbook, which aligns intently with our philosophy of providing extremely related content material to college students of all backgrounds together with content material by BIPOC authors, African American and Latinx historical past collections, and others.

The previous three years of pandemic-disrupted education have proven us the potential of know-how to make schooling extra versatile, partaking, and well timed. Nevertheless, with these benefits come new challenges, particularly round fairness and accessibility. Maryland is main the best way with laws just like the Entry Accountability Act, however to really obtain fairness in our colleges, we have to shut the entire accessibility gaps. We should guarantee all college students have entry to the instruments to make studying enjoyable and interesting, in addition to content material that makes them need to study and that prepares them for the world as it’s right now.