Computers, multimedia, software, electronic communication, the web, and other information technologies are common in educational institutions today. The ability to access and use this technology has become essential to full participation of students in academic and other school-related activities. For most educational institutions, accessibility is commonly addressed as an afterthought and on an individual basis, often making it difficult, time-consuming, and costly to provide adequate access. A better approach is to consider the needs of all possible users in the planning phase, when considering the role that technologies will play in an educational entity's future. This approach, known as universal design, results in a technology-enhanced learning environment that benefits all users, including those with and without disabilities. For more on universal design, see the AccessIT Knowledge Base article What is universal design?
If an educational entity's technology environment has been established with a universal design process, all students and staff can participate in and benefit equally from the activities of that entity. Below are a few examples:
- Accessible web pages allow students with disabilities to access information; share their work; communicate with peers, teachers, and mentors; and take advantage of distance learning options.
- Accessible instructional software (on disks, CDs, or other media) allows students with disabilities to participate side by side with their peers in computer labs and classrooms as they complete assignments; collaborate with peers; create and view presentations, documents, and spreadsheets; and actively participate in simulations and all other academic activities.
- Accessible multimedia, including captions and audio descriptions, is accessible to all students, including those with visual or hearing impairments, and is more easily understood by students for whom the video is not in their first language or who learn best or otherwise benefit from multisensory input.
- Accessible telecommunications and office equipment make communication and educational administrative functions accessible to everyone, including those with mobility, visual, and hearing impairments.