As schools increasingly use digital tools and online learning materials, it is vital to focus on ensuring digital accessibility so that students with disabilities get equal access to the new learning formats. Schools should work to optimize both hardware solutions and software solutions to empower students with disabilities to enjoy a complete learning experience.
Student participation and engagement
A key element of inclusive learning is that every school student must feel like an equal in class. Therefore, digital tools or online learning materials used in lessons should be accessible.
If a student with a disability cannot fully use the digital media needed for class, their engagement and motivation levels may drop. Basic measures, such as providing audio descriptions via headphones, can enhance the learning experience for a student without causing a distraction to others in the classroom.
Collaborative learning environments
Collaborative learning is an integral element of education because it keeps lessons interesting and engaging and helps students learn critical life skills such as group communication and teamwork. With the increasing use of digital means to promote collaboration in educational settings, it’s vital to pay attention to digital accessibility so that students with disabilities can be equal participants in the collaborative process and freely team up with their peers for group activities.
Equal access to digital resources
Digital accessibility in schools matters because it supports the fundamental objective of providing equal access to educational resources. When educational content creators develop digital content, they should ensure that the content is accessible in multiple formats—including text, video, and audio—to address the needs of students with disabilities. Universal design principles should be used while designing digital content for students.
Unlocking a student’s full potential
Digital accessibility in schools can help students with disabilities unlock their full potential because digital tools and technologies can make learning more effective and inclusive. For example, Microsoft has developed innovative tools such as Inclusion Math, Immersive Reader, Closed Caption, and Translator to enable classroom teachers to provide a more accessible learning environment for everyone. The Immersive Reader gives students access to education in customizable formats that can improve the student’s reading skills and comprehension.
The power of digital literacy for all
The concept of digital literacy is fundamental to the goals of digital accessibility. It can be described as the ability of information, communication, and telecom (ICT)-related technology to discover, create, share, and deliver information. In other words, digital literacy refers to having the specialized skills necessary to thrive in a digitized world.
Developing digital literacy as a student is vital for preparing to participate in a digitally-driven modern society. In addition, digital literacy has become a highly sought-after skill for employment, so students lacking these skills may face challenges when seeking employment opportunities in the future. So implementing digital accessibility in schools should be a high priority.
Schools neglecting digital accessibility may face lawsuits
Website accessibility lawsuits have increased in recent years, and educational institutions are among the more common targets of these lawsuits. Schools make extensive use of digital platforms, increasing their responsibility to make them accessible to students and teachers.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR)of the Department of Education is responsible for keeping schools free of discrimination, and web accessibility is a part of this. Nearly 25% of all discrimination cases currently under investigation at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools in the country are related to web accessibility. Schools need to focus on digital accessibility to mitigate their risk of OCR complaints and web accessibility lawsuits.
Digital accessibility: an important equalizer in schools
Educators and all other stakeholders involved in school-based education must recognize the value of digital accessibility for students with disabilities. As schools digitize, all students should have access to new technologies, online media, software programs, and learning apps, regardless of any disabilities or impairments they may have.
Digital accessibility in schools provides an equal opportunity for all students to enjoy their learning experience and serves as a solution to help level the playing field as students prepare for the competition they'll face in the professional world in the future.