‘Born accessible’ describes out-of-the-box accessibility

The 2016 National Education Technology Plan includes a call to action for education stakeholders to develop a “born accessible” standard around the design of learning resources.

What does this mean for school districts?

“Born accessible” describes technology or educational resources designed from the earliest stages to be fully accessible. When technology is developed with accessibility in mind, it’s less likely that the end result needs to be retrofitted for a particular user, said Luis Perez, an inclusive learning consultant.

That results in more access for students, especially those with disabilities and English learners, right out of the box, Perez said. It also benefits the education and technology industry as a whole, he added.

“When we think about accessibility from the start, we generally end up with a more elegant solution and one that typically costs less.”

Moving toward born accessible standard

Disability groups have long advocated for companies to produce “born accessible” tech, and in recent years, there are signs that the idea is starting to take root in everyday technology.

For instance, your smartphone probably has voice recognition software built in. Prior to that feature becoming standard, people who had difficulty typing or people with low vision had to find their own solutions through assistive technologies or other means to be able to send a text message.

The development of more digital educational content brings the opportunity to embed accessibility features such as these into resources from the get-go, Perez said.

“We’re at a transition period from a reliance on traditional materials to more digital content,” he said, referring to a national #GoOpen campaign encouraging the use of open educational resources.

Building the foundation for inclusive learning

Accessibility is really at the foundation of inclusion, said Jamie Basham, associate professor of special education at the University of Kansas and cofounder of the global UDL Implementation Research Network.

Both the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, and NETP encourage districts to use a universal design for learning framework to develop inclusive learning systems, he said.

“These plans take into consideration both accessibility as well as user ability — and the goals of what a learning environment is supposed to do,” he said.

Actions districts can take to shape the conversation:

– Model born accessibility. An important step in moving toward a born accessible standard is for districts to model this idea through the materials they develop in-house, Perez said. For instance, train teachers to create accessible PDFs, make sure online materials and videos are captioned, and build websites using Web accessibility standards, he said.

– Prioritize accessibility in procurement of outside resources. In looking outside for born accessible resources, districts have a variety of options, Basham said.

They can reach out to universities and companies to build partnerships around accessible, inclusive design, he said. “Industry needs to know that the market needs certain things before they move forward.”

Districts can also shape the conversation by making accessibility a priority in the procurement process, Perez said. (Find a review of accessibility features of some common educational resources from the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.)

– Vet accessibility by conducting user trials. Finally, districts can test accessibility and usability in trials with students and teachers who will actually be using the product, Perez said.

Don’t just include in your free trial the innovators and early adopters in your district, Basham said. These people tend to find a way to make technology useful by accommodating students or finding AT solutions. “You want to use your free trial to really test your user base. Actually motivate the late adopters to try it because that’s where you’ll see issues emerge,” he said.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

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