edtech for IT: Accessibility

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in the United States. This civil rights law is intended to ensure all individuals have access to public resources regardless of their disability status. For educators, this means the materials they use in class (such as textbooks) must be available to all. For example, Braille or audio versions of textbooks must be available. 

For the resources created by publishers, obtaining alternative versions of resources is not a problem as they understand this requirement and have prepared the necessary versions. For those materials created by teachers, it is necessary they take steps to ensure their materials are accessible. 

In June 2018, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1. This specifies the characteristics of digital media that are accessible. WCAG addresses four characteristics of the materials: 

Perceivable—Teachers must ensure materials can be seen or heard through multiple senses. For example, videos used for instruction must be closed captioned, digital text must be structured so that screen readers can navigate it, and images must have alternative text attached to that those who cannot see them are given in verbal description of it.  

Operable—User must be able to navigate materials without using a mouse or keyboards, flashing displays are not used. 

Understandable—Text is clear and has cues to aid navigation and understanding. 

Robust—The materials must be compatible both forward and backward in time.  

While originally intended to provide access to instructional materials for those with disabilities, many educators are finding resources that meet the WCAG standards improve the learning experience for all students. 

IT professionals working in school should be prepared to support teachers in their efforts to create accessible materials. This includes using accessibility checkers in productivity suites (both configuring them and showing others how to use them) and checking that web sites and other digital materials are accessible.