Online learning has Exploded! The number of online students has dramatically increased for both K-12 and higher educational institutions in the last 10 years. This means the past decade has taken the traditional classroom of pen, paper and chalkboard towards the digital classroom. Today’s students with disabilities are struggling with this new digital classroom environment as educational institutions are not creating course content with them in mind.
Teachers not providing assignments or syllabuses in a document that is accessible to assistive devices is a big issue. Most instructors tend to use the tools that are at their immediate disposal, and these tend to be the standard in programs used on PC’s and MAC’s. They may know how to use the common features in Microsoft Word, but they may not know how to create a proper heading, structure or layout.
Receiving documents in an alternate format that are accurate and received in a timely manner are very important for people that are blind or visually impaired. People that are blind, or have a visual disability, rely on screen reader programs such as JAWS. Most screen reader users cannot make use of a mouse, so they have to use a software program that will read the information back to them. If a document’s text is contained within an image, a screen reader user will not be able to read the text because screen readers are unable to read text within images.
Students with cognitive Disabilities may find some of the assignments or materials overwhelming. Having the materials in a different format or layout may help them process it easier. Cognitive Disabilities include a variety of disorders and injuries such as depression, epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries. This makes it difficult for educational institutions to make accomidations for people living with cognitive disabilities .
Other disabilities, such as hearing-impaired, have no problem seeing computer monitors or TV screens, but it is good to have closed captioning on the videos or text transcriptions for live video lectures. It can also be beneficial to have a sign language interpreter for live lectures if you have multiple people in a classroom that have hearing impairments.
People that have physical impairments or motor skill disabilities may have a harder time using a mouse because of the limitations of their hands and arms. As a result, they may have to use pointing devices specially made for their hands. This makes it harder for them to make quicker keystrokes, so it’s good to have keyboard accessibility such as tab orders and sticky keys. Voice recognition software is becoming a very popular assistive technology for people with motor skill disabilities. This allows individuals to provide voice commands so they can move from one program to the next.
Even though educational institutions are starting to become more compliant with accessibility laws, there is still much to be done.