How can postsecondary technology-enhanced learning environments be made accessible?
As technology plays an increasing role in K-12, postsecondary, and adult education, educational entities are faced with assuring the accessibility of more technological resources, including computing labs and computer-assisted classrooms. In the higher education environment, colleges historically have addressed technology accessibility by setting up small, centralized assistive technology (AT) labs, often within the context of a disability services office. Many of these AT labs, however, are set up independently of the centrally supported computing environment, and, consequently, students who use them are unable to access the full array of applications and resources or to network with discipline-specific help staff or nondisabled peers. Computer-assisted classrooms present additional challenges for the centralized AT model, since students need access to the computing environment within the real-time context of class work and discussion.
Building an accessible technology-enhanced learning program requires an examination of the environments in which students work and consideration of how those environments might be made accessible to all students, including students with disabilities. The following is a sample process:
- Identify the needs of current students, including those with disabilities.
- Project future student needs.
- Work with central computing staff to determine feasibility of networking assistive technology.
- Identify funding sources. Present a case that technology accessibility, including AT, be funded by the same source that supports other technology purchases.
- Purchase assistive technology. If feasible and available, purchase products that can be supported with site licenses or concurrent licenses. Concurrent licenses allow the product to be run on any workstation on the network. Access to the product is limited not by workstation but by number of simultaneous users, as monitored by network license management software. This licensing strategy enables creation of a universally designed computing network.
- Develop and document a plan that identifies who will be responsible for installing, monitoring, and maintaining the AT, and include deadlines.
- Work to assure that support staff, including lab staff and telephone help desk staff, have an understanding of AT.
- Identify who will be responsible for providing training on AT, both to its users and to support staff, and how and when these trainings will take place.
- Work with those who procure information technology to develop a system for identifying products that are accessible, with or without the use of AT. Build accessibility considerations into existing procurement policies.
- Establish and document procedures by which information technology will be continuously evaluated for accessibility.
- If computing support within the educational entity is decentralized, identify appropriate parties within each peripheral computing support group (e.g., by college, department, or other logical group). Assemble these parties into an Intercampus Technology Accessibility Team. Set up a means by which the team members can regularly communicate and support one another on accessibility issues, such as regular meetings and an electronic discussion list.
- Ensure that all unique technology resources are available in accessible locations. Consider facilities accessibility, such as the availability of ramps and elevators, as well as door width, aisle width, and workstation height.
Additional resources are available to assist in planning accessible computer labs. For example, DO-IT's document Equal Access: Computer Labs includes a checklist covering building access and physical space, lab staff, printed materials, computers, and software and other electronic resources. Also, the Trace Research and Development Center's document Checklists for Implementing Accessibility in Computer Laboratories at Colleges and Universities, although written specifically for 1991 technology, contains many general ideas and strategies that can be applied to today's technology-enhanced learning environments.