One of the great things about educational technology is its seemingly limitless potential. It allows both instructors and learners to achieve more and bridge gaps across location, language and other barriers that traditional course materials cannot.
However, not all digital course materials are equally accessible. Sensory and mobility impairments, learning disabilities and other issues can prevent some students from being able to utilize their digital content.
That doesn't mean that educational tech can't or doesn't work for students with these different needs, but it does mean that educators will need to take special consideration to their choice of digital adoptions if they want to ensure all students can use them, regardless of ability.
With that in mind, there are some accessibility considerations that are easy to overlook if you're not careful. Here are some tips of what you need to know and keep in mind as you select your digital course offerings to ensure they're as accessible as possible.
1. Standards are hard to agree on
In a modern age where more educational content is being produced explicitly for digital delivery and use, you might think that accessibility function is ubiquitous in the content publishing industry. Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of universal standards, which can create issues with how accessibility features and functionality are implemented.
While certain elements of digital content do fall under the jurisdiction of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the ADA does not have formal outlines on accessibility compliance for digital course materials. However, many digital material providers and companies are turning to the Web Accessibility Initiative and Section 58 of the Workforce Investment Act for a more formal set of guidelines to utilize when developing accessible technology. This includes guidelines for narration on pre-recorded and live video content as well as contrast and color usage for visibility and other considerations.
Bottom line: Because there aren't hardline universal standards, you have to be sure to look at each individual option you are considering for adoption to ensure they have the accessibiltiy features you need.
2. Not all features will work for all ability levels
In an effort to create more engaging and stimulating content, many publishers have implemented more multimedia content in their digital offerings. These features are often great for students who can use them, but unfortunately they aren't always compatible with screen readers or other third-party accessibility software that blind or visually-impaired users rely on to access their coursework.
This can create problems for certain activities within digital courseware. For example, drag-and-drop activities or multiple choice assessments that haven't been properly tagged can be difficult to use for users who can't use a mouse or see what's displayed on a screen.
Bottom line: Some of the features that may have attracted you to digital content in the first place may be issues from an accessibility standpoint. It's important to research options you're considering to make sure these functions are in place, and consider alternatives or workarounds if they are not.
3. Sometimes, the solution lies in the hardware
Accessibility isn't always just a matter of software. Certain accessibility features have become so commonplace in smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices that content publishers have foregone including them directly within their content. For instance, text-to-speech functionality that's useful for students who aren't able to read their content on their own is available out of the box on Windows, iOS and Android devices. If your device or course material is browser-based, there are many plugins and extensions for Chrome and other browsers that can provide these features as well. For schools with 1:1 technology plans, keep under consideration the built-in accessibility features your technology offers your students when considering corresponding course content.
Bottom line: Even if some seemingly common-place features are absent from content, don't fret: those features may be available elsewhere, for free.
In addition to often costing less than their print counterparts, digital course content can be a terrific way to reach and engage students with a richer learning experience. By making sure that content is also as accessible as possible, you can provide that same experience to all of your students.