Technology is present in every facet of life. It is now common in classrooms of all varieties, placing a responsibility on instructors and administrators to ensure the equitable use of technology. Students at every level of education, from pre-K to graduate and professional studies, present with different abilities and needs. Technology must be accessible to each of these students, regardless of specials needs, different learning styles, or demographics. The most successful strategy for creating an equitable tech experience is the use a platform that employs an accessible design in the earliest content development stages.
It’s the Law
Creating an equitable learning experience through the use of accessible tech is not only critical to student achievement, it is also the law. Currently, multiple pieces of federal legislation mandate equal access to technology and prohibit discrimination in educational settings. Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination due to disability in any setting that receives federal and/or state support or is a place of public accommodation. These titles cover public K-12 school districts and institutions of higher education. Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act prevent discrimination due to disability in settings funded through federal assistance. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates the equal treatment of students with disabilities and guarantees the right to free and appropriate education. Additionally, the IDEA Act evaluates the actions of educational institutions in providing needed services to students with disabilities or special needs.
Consequences of Non-Compliance
A violation of any of these laws may lead to federal legal action against public schools and institutions of higher education. As educators rely more frequently on tech in their classrooms, the need for compliance grows as well. In recent years, the Department of Education, private individuals, and advocacy organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf, have filed suit against a number of public education organizations due to a failure to provide accessible web-based learning tools for students with disabilities. Following investigations, the Department of Education entered into a resolution agreement with each entity requiring review and approval for a series of actions to resolve the violations.
Organizations that entered into such legal agreements include Juneau School District, Santa Fe Public Schools, Nevada Department of Education, and Oregon Department of Education. Higher education institutions have faced similar actions taken by the federal government. Notable examples include Arizona State University, Atlantic Cape Community College, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These diverse examples highlight the need for educators and administrators at all levels of education to consider how they serve the needs of each unique student.
Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post about how WCAG 2.1 AA, technical standards from the international organization WC3, are used to measure whether online content meets the requirements of federal laws. We will also cover how future-thinking tech can help you create web-based learning tools that are accessible to all students.
CourseArc is hosting a webinar on February 13 to teach you how to make your online courses accessible. Click here to view the recording: An Introduction to Accessibility.