elementary students learning in computer lab

The Accessibility Imperative in K-12 Education


The Need:

Designing learning to meet the needs of all students is an imperative in K-12 education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education, 11% of K-12 students aged 6-17 in the United States have some form of disability. Only 66% of these students graduate with a regular high school diploma and 18.5% of these students drop out before completing high school. Simply put, our students need and deserve accessible digital content.

For a plain text version including the statistics, select this image.

The Risk:

If your school doesn’t make your digital content accessible to students with disabilities, you may be susceptible to legal action under Title II and Title III of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires equal access to curriculum for all students, as well as teaching practices which will accommodate all learners.

“Institutions that have an accessibility policy and dedicated resources, and who are acting in good faith are less likely to be sued. Institutions that are not implementing policy are vulnerable.” – Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice

Helpful Resources:

Here are some accessibility resources to help you stay ahead of compliance with digital accessibility requirements:

  1. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act – Section 508 is the federal statute that requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. While Section 508 does not explicitly apply to federally funded programs like K-12 school systems, schools typically are required to comply with the law because states will not receive funding from the federal government through the Assistive Technology Act unless they guarantee that all of their programs, including K-12 school systems, comply with Section 508. In 2017, Section 508 was updated and harmonized with standards issued by the European Commission and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, an internationally recognized accessibility standard for web content and information and communication technology.
  1. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0– WCAG 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content more accessible to a wider range of disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, cognitive limitations, and others.
  2. Universal Design for Learning Series– Offered by the National Center on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the UDL Series provides web-based rich media presentations and resources to increase understanding of the UDL framework, enhance utilization of UDL tools, processes, and resources, support effective UDL implementation, and inform UDL advocates, families, and communities about professional development and policy initiatives.
  3. CAST– A nonprofit education research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning. CAST pledges to work to understand the full extent of human learner variability and to find transformative approaches that make education more effective for all.
  4. Quality Matters– A faculty-centered, peer review process that’s designed to certify the quality of online and blended courses. Submit a course for review and receive feedback.
  5. The National Center on Disability and Access to Education– Addresses issues of technology and disability in education policies and practices to enhance the lives of people with disabilities and their families.

We here at Blackboard offer valuable resources, as well. For example, we have a section of our Help Center devoted to accessibility.

Are you in need of more than just web accessibility resources? We recently launched a new product to help you create more inclusive digital learning environments, Blackboard Ally.  While legal frameworks are an effective mechanism for establishing change in our industry – let’s not forget that our primary motivation is the students themselves. When we build accessibility into the learning environment, everyone benefits.

Want to learn how you can create more inclusive K-12 classrooms?  Download our eBook today.