System Change in New Mexico: A Promising Practice on Improving Access to E&IT in a K-12 System
As society progresses farther into the digital age and electronic and information technology (E&IT) becomes as integrated into the classroom as paper and pencils, the question of how to make E&IT accessible to all students, faculty and staff becomes more critical. In a project funded by the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education a practice was developed in New Mexico to implement system change regarding the improvement of E&IT access at the K-12 level.
According to Karen Peterson, a project partner from the New Mexico Technology Assistance Program, the "project engages in simultaneous top-down and bottom-up activities to educate stakeholders and demonstrate accessible E&IT within and between the state government educational agency and public schools. The top-down endeavor includes establishing legislation on accessibility and working with the public education department's technology staff in creating compliance policy and practices for public schools. The bottom-up approach includes establishing memorandums of understanding with certain districts as demonstration projects where accessibility is assessed and an improvement plan is developed and implemented."
For evaluation purposes the project team developed seven indicators by which they measured their success in increasing the accessibility of E&IT. These indicators are:
- The school's Web site (www.animask12.net) is accessible to all students, staff, parents, and members of the community, including those with disabilities.
- The technology staff became versed in accessible information technology and is prepared to train other district technology staff through a regional technology consortium.
- District technology instructors now include accessibility lessons for students as part of their technology course curriculum.
- In addition to students with sensory and mobility impairments, those with learning disabilities have also benefited from access to information through speech output, speech-to-text and other assistive technology.
- The district's technology plan now includes language on Web accessibility and procurement of accessible technology.
- The district has upgraded three of their four computer labs with current hardware and operating systems that possess built-in accessibility features.
- Yearly training in accessibility for faculty is required.
In this exploratory work, creating a diverse team to champion an information technology accessibility project and develop and implement an organized set of outcome deliverables proved successful in improving accessibility at the district level. Each team member tackled tasks specific to his/her area of expertise and subsequently learned from the others. The team readily realized that they were not involved in overwhelming or costly projects, and showed a great deal of enthusiasm. The team now provides technical assistance to other districts ranging from a phone call or e-mail to a full training session. An 'expert network' is being constructed throughout the state. Since accessibility knowledge and practice is now built-in to the curriculum and into administrative procedures and practices, it is gradually becoming a standard for practice. Students in technology courses are also learning about how to improve access to information technology for people with disabilities.
The project benefited from the full support of the superintendent. When asked about the impact of the project on the school district, Mr. Paul Benoit, the Superintendent, said, "The accessibility project has heightened staff awareness of the importance and availability of the wide range of software and hardware and accessibility attributes that have been developed to assist students with disabilities. In fact, all students are benefiting from this increased knowledge and training our staff has received. The development of accessibility policies and training, as part of our overall district technology plan, will ensure continued focus on accessible technology by the district administration and teaching staff."
The effort described in this Knowledge Base article represents a promising practice in promoting the use of accessible E&IT in K-12 schools state-wide. For more information on how this project is improving the accessibility of E&IT in New Mexico please visit Systems Change Regarding Accessible Information Technology in the K-12 Educational Environment in the August 2005 volume of Information Technology and Disabilities, which is devoted to sharing promising practices in promoting accessible E&IT in education.