To continue the advancement of higher education during the pandemic, many are adapting to digital learning platforms. For non-disabled students, reading digital articles, browsing websites, or streaming videos may be a seamless learning experience. Students with special needs, however, rely heavily on digital accessibility in order to obtain the same information. For example, e-readers lacking the text-to-speech functionality, online videos that do not contain captions, or web pages without proper linking might not be usable for disabled students. In order to provide an inclusive digital environment, educators and parents must proactively remove digital barriers that are hindering their special needs students from learning.
Who Benefits from Removing Digital Barriers?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven million American students with disabilities account for 14 percent of public school enrollment. Some of these sensory, cognitive, or physical impairments include hearing, vision, dexterity, or mobility. To promote equal opportunities and leave no child behind, it is essential to identify and eliminate digital barriers.
Assistive Technology (AT) is designed to assist those with disabilities to navigate digital devices. For example, there is screen reader software that converts text displayed on a computer or smartphone into an audio format for the vision-impaired. Similarly, there is a specially-designed pointer that follows the direction of the user’s head movement in lieu of a computer mouse.
Even still, many in need have limited access to AT devices. These high-tech devices are expensive and are not easily available. Most devices are not versatile for a variety of real-use situations and are only applicable at home. Furthermore, the AT devices acquired by special needs students do not follow Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
Digital transformation in the education sector is about incorporating technology to streamline teaching and learning processes, improving staff productivity, and enhancing overall user experience. It requires many necessary upgrades, like school tablets or implementing software to aid learning students and teachers.
Creating a diverse learning platform should include incorporating more accessible websites. For example, students studying in institutions may encounter language barriers if English is not their first language. This problem has been addressed with emerging translation technologies.
Addressing Digital Barriers in Education
For complete digital transformation to take place across all educational establishments, many crucial factors should be considered. In the 21st Century, there are learning institutions that are still grappling with outdated technology or slow internet connections. Furthermore, teachers and students must be provided with the necessary training to apply new technology. According to one survey from 2017, 96 percent of respondents praised the positive impact of technology in education. But there is more that can be done. Investing in digital transformation and relevant resources will yield long-term benefits for teachers and students.
Issues Resulting from Technology
Some educators fear the adverse effects of extended use of technology devices among students, while others acknowledge the disparity in students’ lifestyles across the digital divide. Some families can afford to live in fully-endowed establishments, while others can barely access basic technological services. Institutions with increased student enrollment or great need for funding should be the target to help them potentially decrease the gap of digital accessibility.
A New Digital Age
The government has a fiscal responsibility to ensure equality in education and digital accessibility. Technology firms are rapidly developing relevant software to address user needs, and guidelines have been established on what is required. We must remember our ultimate goal is to ensure all students, regardless of their limitations or social status, can obtain access to basic learning tools that enhance their potential.