Discussion Summaries

Below are participant responses to brainstorming sessions included in the CBI.

How do current digital learning research and practices contribute to the exclusion and marginalization of individuals with disabilities?

  • Institutions and instructors continue to select tools and resources without any consideration of accessibility. For example, classes that use Google’s collaboration tools are often inaccessible to students with some specific disabilities.
  • Designers and developers rarely understand accessibility, which leads to inaccessible technology being created and sold to schools.
  • Digital learning research often does not include people with disabilities. It aims to design products for the average student instead of all students.
  • Professors often feel overloaded with online classes and don’t have time to meet with students, connect, or provide accommodations. Larger classes and amounts of course content can make the task of providing all materials in an accessible format daunting.
  • Professors claim they don’t have students with disabilities and therefore don’t feel a responsibility for accessibility.
  • A focus on high-tech tools can often leave students with disabilities excluded. Make sure those technologies are accessible so that everyone can participate and learn.
  • Captioning should be a top priority in every class.
  • If online classes only provide information in one method without alternative options, students with disabilities may not receive content. The burden of making sure they receive content is also put on the student, even though they may not know all the content they are missing.
  • It is hard to connect with people in online classes. Informal communication can often be lost, especially for students with disabilities who may not be able to participate in every facet of a community. These connections should be made multimodally, using different group types and making sure the main method is accessible.
  • Faculty often see their students as numbers instead of people in online classes, since they don’t have faces to match with names. This can make faculty less likely to want to provide accommodations or humanize their students’ problems.
  • Faculty get very little training in how to be welcoming and inclusive to students with disabilities. Faculty are often unaware, and students have to walk the faculty through giving them their accommodations. Students may need training on how to manage these relationships.
  • There’s no incentive structure for faculty to make their courses more accessible. There needs to be more standards for teaching online and quality checks to pass.
  • Departments can often collaborate in online learning classes, which can be difficult when departments have historically different theories and approaches (e.g., learning sciences may use situative theory, while special education uses behavioral theory). There can be challenges and oversights when trying to merge the ideologies of two departments.
  • Many grant funders don’t see how disability affects the greater population. They may not understand why disability is part of the great broadening participation goal.
  • Since research about students with disabilities and accessibility in online learning is minimal, it is hard to find data to support the needs of students with disabilities and apply tested practices.
  • Accessibility is often an afterthought after tools, software, and curriculum is already designed, and therefore accessibility is sort of tacked on and not thought through.
  • Who is responsible for paying for specific accessibility needs (e.g., captioning, audio description, time for making documents accessible) isn’t always clear.
  • Universal design is still not widely practiced or incorporated into departments.

What challenges do students and instructors with different types of disabilities face in using current and emerging digital learning tools and engaging in online learning activities? How do current digital learning research and practices contribute to the exclusion and marginalization of individuals with disabilities?

  • When a course if fully online, it is hard to make connections between the students and faculty. People don’t feel as comfortable sharing as much when they can’t have smaller conversations or share about themselves more readily.
  • In discussion boards, students need to be taught how to simplify their responses and make sure they are connected back to the original question, not just by visual alignment, but in a text-based manner, since many screen readers won’t tell the listener about the formatting of these discussion boards.
  • Electronic does not mean accessible. A lot of technology and software cannot be used by screen readers.
  • In online discussions, it can be hard for students to parse out meaning and feeling behind a comment. This is especially hard for people with learning and emotional disabilities. Educators should lead students in how to answer questions, give information, and parse out responses.
  • Give more thought to invisible disabilities. It can be hard for technology designers to think about invisible disabilities when designing, since people with invisible disabilities have a wide range of needs and how they use different tools can be a bit more ambiguous.
  • The students we hear from are often the successful students with disabilities, not those who have been failed by the system.
  • Deaf students and students with learning disabilities can often feel left out in a text heavy world. If there aren’t other modes of learning and interacting, students with disabilities may get left out or feel left behind in discussion.

What specific actions can digital learning researchers, funding agencies, educators, and other stakeholders take to systematically address issues with respect to disabilities?

  • To receive funding from specific agencies, accessibility or universal design plans should be required just as broadening participation plans are often required.
  • More training is needed about disability for decision makers (they could be based out of understood.org).
  • Talk to Congress and State Representatives about where funding needs to be and how disability laws need to be supported.
  • Pull data from NSF’s CEOSE database, which includes information on broadening participation.
  • Reach into NSF and other big organizations to people you know and use that leverage to make sure disability and accessibility is considered important.
  • Talk with the procurement and higher faculty to ensure that software is only purchased once it has been approved to be accessible.
  • Students can rally together and report accessibility problems and demand solutions to their access. Often students see problems in the educational system since they are the users in the system compared to the faculty and educators designing the courses.
  • Challenge journals and publications and make sure they are both accepting publications on universal design and accessibility as well as working in an accessible manner and putting out accessible articles.
  • Educators and stakeholders need to include more people with disabilities in all of their work, including technology and curriculum creation.
  • Make sure terminology being used is respectful and follows the wishes of the population in question.
  • Accreditation boards can make a difference by adding working about accessibility and disability into their accreditation and certification requirements.