New and emerging technology tools have a vast potential to make educational materials and programs accessible to many more students, provided the tools are designed with the broadest possible range of students in mind. That approach-called “universal design”-should be codified into federal law, according to EDC’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT) and a coalition of partners.
The coalition is proposing a set of amendments to be incorporated into the planned reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA) that would establish a federal commitment to the principles of universal design and increase funding for tools and services that make educational materials and environments more accessible to all students, including those with sensory, cognitive, and physical disabilities.
“We have seen over and over again that technological or educational products developed using universal design principles end up benefiting all students-those with and without disabilities” says Babette Moeller of CCT.
The proposed amendments emphasize the potential educational benefits of interactive television, mobile computing devices, and web-based media. They also stress the economic benefits of universally designed technology: It is cheaper to incorporate accessibility features during the initial development of technology tools, rather than trying to retrofit the tools later on.
The coalition cites these other benefits of universally designed technology:
- “high standards and performance expectations can be implemented for all learners when universally designed curriculum tools and materials are available in the classroom
- children for whom wide scale and/or high stakes assessments present barriers to demonstrating their skills and abilities will have classroom experiences that prepare them for the use of new accommodations and accessibility supports
- teachers and schools save time and money by teaching all students with the same educational tools
- professional development costs are reduced as the types and numbers of new technologies with which they must become familiar are reduced
- fewer children are stigmatized as a result of having to obtain “specialized” learning tools
- students with disabilities gain knowledge working with up-to-date technologies that can help them to secure employment or continue their education
- students not yet identified as having disabilities benefit from a range of options to navigate, process, and express information”
The proposed amendments outline several changes to the IDEA law, including these:
- Concepts of universally or inclusively designed technologies and educational materials and services should be incorporated throughout IDEA with corresponding levels of funding for research and development, and teacher training and preparation.
- Entities that receive grants, contracts or other federal assistance through IDEA should be required to ensure the accessibility of their project deliverables, including print materials, electronic media materials, web sites, videos, software, CD-ROMs and DVDs. Similarly, educational programs supported with federal funds authorized under IDEA or other federal authorizing statutes should be required to ensure the accessibility of their learning materials. Both of these obligations should be applied on a going forward basis, as of the date of the reauthorization.
- Funding for teacher training and preparation, particularly with respect to universally designed technologies and assistive technology devices, should be increased.
The effort to bring together these 25 organizations, discuss and propose the amendments was organized by Leslie Harries Associates (a Washington-based technology consulting firm) in collaboration with the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), and EDC’s Center for Children and Technology. Funding was provided by Verizon.
Originally published on May 31, 2002