In the scramble to move classes to a digital format in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the needs of students with disabilities can sometimes be overlooked.
Cyndi Wiley, the digital accessibility coordinator for Iowa State University’s Information Technology Services says we should “do better” by making investments in software that continuously provides alternative, accessible material formats for students with any disabilities.
According to Chris Danielsen, the director of public relations for the National Federation for the Blind, the primary issue for blind students is learning materials not being compatible with screen readers, which read and navigate course documents and sometimes transcribe them into Braille.
Wiley said students who are dyslexic, on the autism spectrum or who have a learning disability that requires text be read to them can also run into problems when screen readers process documents that are images instead of text.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing students may also face new challenges with remote learning, said Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. Live teaching formats over the internet may not provide them with American Sign Language interpreters or real-time captioning (transcriptions of speech produced by a person, not computer-generated).
Those who have not paid attention to accessibility are now being forced to in the middle of a crisis, said Lainey Feingold, a disability rights attorney who works on digital accessibility. Accommodations are required by law, from a legal standpoint, technology should always be usable for every student, unless it’s an “undue burden,” she said.