Technology can be a great teaching tool when incorporated in a course, but at times, it can also create barriers to learning. Because students with disabilities generally make up a small minority in the classroom, it is very easy to overlook them during course design. An innocuous assignment, such as requiring your students to create a short video, can create problems for students with visual disabilities. While there are laws to protect these students, it often falls to the faculty to recognize special needs of students.
Faculty and staff are constantly searching for new and exciting technology to engage students inside and outside the classroom. However, certain technology can fail to meet accessibility standards and guidelines, preventing utilization by some students. This may involve university provided technology, such as a check-in kiosk at a campus office or event, or technology, i.e., apps, that faculty require students to use.
Government policies encourage universities to evaluate technology accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and state laws, detail the accessibility standards that providers must follow. However, choices made on technology purchases or even required use of technology assigned by faculty often fails to meet these conditions, opening institutions to possible legal liability. In addition to government policies, universities generally have their own accessibility guidelines. These rules are put into place to prevent or limit inaccessibility issues, be it building access or when utilizing technology.
With all of these policies and guidelines, one would think “problem solved.” Unfortunately, solving inaccessible technology issues is not all that easy. First, new technology is constantly being introduced or existing technology is constantly changing. It is difficult just keeping up with technology evolutions. What once might have been accessible can now be rendered inaccessible, due to the changes made to a technology.
Second, technology may be used without proper review. Unless there is a governing body that can police all technologies purchased or used, review of accessibility
remains largely with others, at least until there is a complaint. Because we rely heavily on self-monitoring, when technology is needed more immediately, the accessibility review can be easily skipped or ignored.
Third, lack of knowledge can create barriers to accessibility. Unbeknownst to faculty and staff, technology may be required or used that places limitations on who can use it without difficulty. Infractions aren’t necessarily deliberate; incidences may occur simply from being unaware of the importance of accessibility standards. Universities often have standards, but these standards must be communicated to gain compliance. University offices that have a firm understanding and work with students with disabilities should be encouraged to hold education seminars for the campus.
Addressing technology accessibility issues should be a priority if the university wants to expand the goal of respecting diversity and promoting inclusiveness. Universities have the power to limit the amount of inaccessible technology used or to enlist ways that would make it accessible. As a faculty member, realize that when technology is involved, an equal but different assignment for students with disabilities must be made available. Educating students, faculty and staff on the importance of universal access should be part of the process to improve campus awareness.
Using or requiring inaccessible technology limits our ability to reach a wider audience, as well as foster student potential, which is the goal of an educator. Reach out to our campus office, Disability Services: 651-5927 or firstname.lastname@example.org, to find out how you can better serve those that could be otherwise excluded.
Martha Henckell, Ed.D., Academic Technology & Emily Cieslewicz, IT User Services
Henckell, M. (2019, May 09). Email with Odhiambo, M.
Kressin, L., Shachmut, K., Vinten-Johansen, C., & Cullen, S. (2018, October 10). 7 Things You Should Know About Technology Procurement for Accessibility. Retrieved May 8, 2019, from https://library.educause.edu/resources/2018/10/7-things-you-should-know-about-technology-procurement-for-accessibility