Equal Access in Information and Education

Equitable technologies are one of the most important gateways into higher education for students with disabilities

What are Assistive Technologies?

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 2004 defines assistive technology as:
“any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability”

Assistive Learning Technologies (ALT) are assistive tech designed specifically to help people with conditions (either cognitive or perceptual) that can impede their access to education.

How can they help?

Assistive Technologies (AT) are intended to provide support, and to aid independence and personal agency in a variety of ways - they are not intended to “fix” medical conditions, be the sole method of addressing disability, or bear the entire load of teaching and doing for a person.

As devices for aiding personal independence, assisistive technologies can generally be considered either compensatory or remedial.

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Disabilities as an Impediment to Learning

The Social Model of Disability

If I have a physical condition that restricts me from certain typical abilities, how "disabled" am I?
It depends on how much my built or social environment caters exclusively to those typical abilities.

A person in a wheelchair is more disabled by a building filled with stairs than by the basic fact that they move using wheels. Generally, it is considered a society's responsibility to build itself in a way that maximizes access for all its people.

This means that it is a school's responsibility to ensure access for all potential students

Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Impairments

Although the name Assistive Learning Tech might bring to mind cognitive, or so-called "learning," disabilities, people with wide varieties of cognitive and non-cognitive conditions can be impeded by conventional educational tools.

Specific cognitive disabilities affect roughly 20 million people in the United States - that's 7% of the national population. These conditions can be congenital, or acquired from physical trauma, and come with tremendously various symptoms. They might range from mild learning challenges to diagnosible conditions such as

Physical conditions, such as vision, hearing, or mobility impairments, may not affect cognition, but they still frequently impede access to common educational formats that hearing and sighted people use to communicate information.

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Challenges for Universities

In universities, students face a greater emphasis on independent learning. Success in school may depend on reliable access to online materials, or on shared electronic resources provided in classrooms and libraries. These resources must be accessible for students to find success in academia

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a set of principles that guide the design of shared resources towards being usable by all people.

The term “universal design” used to suggest a single, idealized form that works identically for all people. However, modern UDL stresses easy adaptability, modularity, and access to specialized tools. Current UDL guidelines require "multiple means" of usability, and optimized access to assistive tools.

To truly be universal, technology design must be as flexible as possible

Web Accessibility

Internet content creates issues of accessibility that are often overlooked, but that can cause major barriers to information equality.
The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) regulates international web accessibility standards through its Web Accessibility Initiative, and publishes guidelines online

Especially for universities, where students are required more and more to work through online tools such as Learning Management Systems, student accessibility is becoming a key design issue for these kinds of software.

There are several options for LMS software that maintain accessibility working groups, and that have built compliance with W3C's Web Content Accessibility Standards into their corporate goals. These softwares include