Skip to main content Skip to main menu

Preventing Technology Barriers in School

Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended guidelines for preventing technology barriers in school.

Preventing Technology Barriers in School

Technology barriers happen when websites, apps, software, or hardware are not accessible to people with disabilities. For example, a school board’s learning management system (LMS) may not be compatible with students’ assistive software or hardware. For instance, an LMS could have features requiring students to click with a mouse. However, this requirement is not accessible for students who use other input devices or methods, such as:

  • Keyboard commands, with a screen reader or Braille display
  • Voice recognition
  • Trackballs
  • Head pointing systems
  • Mouth sticks

As a result, students who use this technology do not have access to any online courses their school offers. Therefore, these students have fewer educational opportunities than their non-disabled classmates, and this loss could limit their career paths. In other words, technology barriers in school could impact the rest of a student’s life. Consequently, the Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education, and school boards, create action plans consisting of policies for preventing technology barriers in school. School boards should make their action plans available to the public, in accessible formats. Since technology changes quickly, school boards should update their plans every two (2) years.

Procuring Accessible Technology and Resources

For example, school boards should have policies requiring them to research the accessibility of technologies they intend to buy. The Ministry of Education and school boards should always procure only accessible technologies when they buy programs or partner with web-based learning materials. If a product turns out not to be fully accessible, the company who created it should have the responsibility to remove any barriers within the program or site, at no cost to the Ministry or school board. Until these barriers are removed, the Ministry or school board should not use the program or site.

Moreover, school boards should also procure textbooks that are already accessible for teachers and students with disabilities. When choosing textbooks, school boards should ensure that the publishers can provide accessible digital versions at the same time as print copies.

Creating and Using Accessible Technology

The Committee also recommends that school boards should create documents in accessible formats. For example, all students and parents with disabilities should be able to read report cards and individual education plans (IEPs). Likewise, the Ministry and school boards should create all their electronic documents in accessible formats. For instance, formats such as Microsoft Word or HTML are often more accessible than PDF. For existing PDF documents, such as policies and plans, the Ministry and school boards should post alternate versions in Word or HTML.

Furthermore, all technology that students use should comply with principles of universal design, unless compliance would cause undue hardship. For instance, students should be able to use any E-learning websites, hardware, or software in a variety of ways. Barriers that prevent students from fully using their technology should also be removed. For example, school technology may be set up to restrict access to most websites, or prevent installing new software. However, these set-ups may prevent students from installing software they need, or accessing the websites to download this software. Removing these barriers will allow all students to use the programs they need to ensure a thorough education.

Similarly, teachers should use accessible features of their school’s LMS, and avoid any features that are not yet accessible. Likewise, educators with disabilities should have many ways to access any intranet sites their school boards use. Finally, the Ministry should develop and implement an action plan to make its own E-learning content fully accessible. This plan should include measurable goals and timelines, and be available to the public. Likewise, the Committee recommends a similar action plan to ensure accessible E-learning through TVO.

Accessible Virtual Education

In addition, any virtual events impacting education should take place on accessible meeting platforms. The Ministry should create and update lists of platforms that are appropriate for school boards to use for virtual events, including:

  • Classes
  • Meetings with:
    • Students
    • Parents
    • School board staff

The Ministry and school boards should also invite feedback from anyone experiencing accessibility barriers at virtual events.

Furthermore, students who use technology in school should be able to bring their technology home. This flexibility gives all students the same chance to do their homework, complete projects, or study for tests.

Finally, the Ministry of Education should fund any form of technology students need, such as smart phones. The Ministry should provide enough long-term funding to support the technology needs of every student with a disability.