US Justice Department demands accessible educational technology
Posted by John Kleeman
The US Justice Department made an important intervention last week, that could tip the balance in making educational technology more accessible for learners with disabilities.
They are intervening on the side of the learner in a court case between a blind learner and Miami University. The case is about learners with disabilities not getting the same access to digital content as other learners. For example, according to the complaint, the university required all learners to use applications with inaccessible Flash content as well as an LMS that was not usable with screen readers.
To quote the US Justice Department’s motion to intervene:
“Miami University’s failure to make its digital- and web-based technologies accessible to individuals with disabilities, or to otherwise take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with such individuals, places them at a great disadvantage, depriving them of equal access to Miami University’s educational content and services.”
Questionmark has long taken accessibility seriously. When we re-architected our assessment delivery engine for our version 5 release, we made accessibility a priority – see Assessment Accessibility in Questionmark Perception Version 5 . Our platform includes several standard templates that include “text sizing” and “contrast controls” that administrators can make available to participants – these can be helpful for certain visual impairments.
Here are some other aspects of the delivery platform that we have optimized for accessibility:
- The administrator can override an established assessment time limit for certain participants
- Participants can use a pointing device other than a mouse or navigate the assessment using keystrokes such as the “tab” key
- Screen readers can be used to clearly dictate assessment questions, choices and other content
Please note that preparing assessments for participants with disabilities takes more than an optimized delivery platform: assessment authors and administrators need to plan for accessibility as well. For example, items that rely heavily on graphics or images must use suitable description tags, videos should be appropriately captioned, and so on. Vendors and testing organizations alike must make a constant effort to ensure that material stays accessible as technology changes.
Providing you are following best practice for developing accessible content, the Questionmark delivery platform can complete the loop and help you give all of your participants–including those with disabilities–a reliable and fair test-taking experience.
Accessible software is good for everyone, not just those who are temporarily or permanently need accommodations for their disabilities. Many of the technologies required to make software accessible also enhance delivery on mobile devices and improve blended delivery in general.
With the US Department of Justice now engaging in lawsuits against institutions that do not take accessibility seriously, accessibility support will become more important to everyone.