2003 Conference Proceedings

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ACCESS IS ELEMENTARY:
WEB ACCESSIBILITY IN THE K-12 EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT

Presenter
Terry Thompson
AccessIT
Box 355670
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Voice 206/221-4168
TTY 206-685-3648
Email: tft@u.washington.edu

According to Education Week's fifth annual 50-state report on educational technology, twelve states have established online high school programs; five other states are developing them; 25 states allow for the creation of so-called cyber charter schools; and 32 states are sponsoring e-learning initiatives, which include online testing programs, virtual schools, and Internet-based professional development. [1]

As growing numbers of educational entities embrace educational technology, it is critical that the accessibility of these programs be addressed. Technology should enhance the learning experiences of all students and serve as an equalizer rather than a barrier to students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities are only part of the concern. Many of the K-12 Web-based information and services that are emerging are designed for teachers, and many are designed for parents. For example, many schools have web-based "homework hotlines" where teachers post homework assignments so that parents and students can keep track of project timelines and due dates. This content will create barriers for teachers and parents with disabilities unless it is developed with an awareness of accessibility issues.

Much discussion, training and policy has developed around Web accessibility in government and in postsecondary education environments. But to date little has been done to address Web accessibility in K-12. In K-12 education, policy is often made at the district, building, or even classroom levels with active participation by faculty, parents, site councils, and others. This decentralization of policy making has allowed considerable flexibility, creativity, and responsiveness to local need. This same decentralization has also made it more difficult to implement statewide policies with respect to issues such as accessibility of IT. Also, accessibility issues have often been considered, "special education" issues when they more appropriately should be considered as part of the mainstream discussion about design and procurement of Information Technology.

Schools are required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to make education accessible to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment with reasonable accommodations when necessary. When Information Technology is accessible, fewer students with disabilities will require accommodations to access IT, and the accommodations needed, including assistive technology, will be reduced and/or function more effectively when IT is accessible.

This presentation will focus on the problems and solutions of Web accessibility in a K-12 environment. Specifically, we will address the following questions:

  1. How is the Web being utilized by K-12 students?
  2. What accessibility problems might these students face?
  3. How is the Web being utilized by K-12 teachers?
  4. What accessibility problems might these teachers face?
  5. How is the Web being utilized by parents of K-12 students?
  6. What accessibility problems might these parents face?
  7. What are the solutions to all these accessibility problems?

The solutions we discuss will include technical solutions, but they'll be presented for a non-technical audience. Additional solutions will include practical solutions (i.e., how do we get our school to comply?), case studies, and promising practices.

References

[1] Education Week (2002). Technology Counts 2002: E-Defining Education. [Online]. Available: http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc02/


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