Introduction | D2L
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Web-based technology has transformed classrooms around the country, offering tools for personalized learning, digital instructional materials, and adaptive course content, among others. Often however, students with disabilities are not able to fully utilize these online tools or experience the benefits afforded to their peers without disabilities. Students with disabilities are often accommodated with alternative materials that, while providing the equivalent academic content or standards, fail to offer the same user experience and other benefits.

School districts and institutions of higher education are required under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and general education statutes, to ensure their educational programming is accessible for students with disabilities. While the provision of alternative materials for students with disabilities is allowable under law [1] and can be appropriate in certain cases,[2] too often alternatives are provided where an equivalent, accessible technology could be provided to all students, regardless of disability, or a technology provider has not built standard accessibility features into their product. These cases tend to occur more out of a lack of familiarity of available technologies and accessibility standards rather than negligence or malice, but they have serious consequences. For school districts and institutions, this could mean the loss of federal education funding and a private right of action under the ADA. For students with disabilities, it means the loss of opportunity to learn and fully participate in the educational experience.

In the last few years, school districts and institutions of higher education have come under increasing scrutiny for the accessibility of their web-based education technology.[3] Parents and disabilities advocates have stepped up their review and reporting activities and the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has conducted a steady string of investigations and enforcement actions.[4]

A resounding call from these stakeholders has been for schools and software providers to act now in providing tools for all students. Schools should not wait for a student with a disability to enroll and then identify him or herself before starting to procure accessible technology or make vendors aware of your accessibility needs. Schools should assume today that a student with a disability has already enrolled or will soon enroll. If you wait, you are already too late to rectify the situation and the student will lose.

These guiding principles are intended to help school districts and institutions of higher education make smarter technology procurement decisions regarding accessibility of web-based technologies and, in doing so, move the needle within the industry to ensure all education technology tools are “born accessible”–tools that are designed and built from conception with accessibility as a core component.

These principles are not a total and complete guide to accessibility for technology, but offer a step forward in the conversation amongst educators and between schools and their vendors.

Guiding Principles

  1. Require Accessibility Standards in Procurement
  2. Ask for Transparency and Validation
  3. Reserve Alternatives for Last Resorts
  4. Have Policies for User-Generated Content

Categories of Disabilities

Visual – Blindness, low vision, color-blindness

Hearing – Deafness and hard-of-hearing

Motor – Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control

Cognitive – Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information

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