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Accessibility has been at the forefront of teaching for the past few years. Before the pandemic, new research on cultural awareness in the classroom prompted teachers to reconsider their approach, and developing educational technologies made a real impact on the way that disabled students engaged in classroom activities and materials.
When the pandemic hit, we all had to reconsider what accessibility in the classroom looked like, and became acutely aware of the impact socioeconomic status has on our students.
As we cautiously return to “normal”, now is a good time to take stock of the lessons we have learned and the technologies we have discovered. This article will share some of the best tech you can use in your classroom to improve lesson accessibility.
Teaching Children with Disabilities
There is no single solution that will serve all children living with disabilities — every child is different and has different needs. The best approach when teaching a child with a disability is to listen to them, advocate for them, and coordinate with your school or district to ensure they are given equitable access.
However, there are a few technologies that might work in your classroom that you haven’t yet tried.
A visual disability will affect students in different ways. Some folks will need screen readers to access materials, while others will need you to create classroom content that is color-blind appropriate. As a teacher, you must understand how your content will affect students with color blindness, low vision, or blindness.
To ensure your classroom tech is accessible for all, you check the following:
- Use Color-Blind Accessible Colors: Iowa State has a list of great color checkers that will ensure color blind students can access your content
- Use Descriptive Hyperlinks: Don’t just title your links as “link”, as folks using screen readers won’t know where they’re being directed.
- Refreshable Braille Displays: The American Foundation for the Blind provides a list of braille displays that may be more appropriate for your students
- Remote Teaching: Be aware of the best Zoom practices for visually impaired students. Students can enlarge their displays and close gallery views, while you should ensure you’re lit correctly and are limiting PowerPoint content per-slide
New technology for the visually impaired is being released every year, and it may make a real difference to your student’s learning.
New technology is changing the way we teach students with auditory disabilities. Many classrooms are well equipped with technology for hearing impaired students, and increased cochlear implants are reducing the barriers to learning faced by deaf and hard of hearing students.
Hopefully, technological developments like implants will help all students overcome hearing loss and deafness. In the meantime, there are still tech-based steps you should do to ensure your lessons are accessible:
- Captions and Transcripts: Providing captions is not difficult and can save hearing-impaired students massive amounts of time. You can also find a host of online transcript software to cut down on time.
- FM and Wireless Technology: FM and wireless technology allow hearing-impaired students to cut out on background noise. This improves their ability to hear the teacher’s instruction. Hopefully, your school or district already provides these services to your students — they are legally obligated to do so by IEP and 504 plans.
- Roger Pen: Like FM and wireless technology, Roger Pens help hearing-impaired students to pick up targeted speech and can be used in conjunction with smartphones, microphones, and multimedia devices.
Our understanding of learning disabilities is constantly evolving, and assistive technologies are providing unique ways to help students with dyslexia or ADHD. Here’s a quick intro to the tech that can help students with learning disabilities.
- Alternative Keyboards: Customized keyboards can help users who have a hard time using traditional keyboards. Users can opt for color coordination, change the base design of the keyboard, and can increase the size and spacing of letters.
- Word Prediction: This is a great tool for folks with dyslexia, as a word prediction tool will detect what is being written by the student and will help them find the correct spelling.
- Proofreading Programs: These programs help students who struggle with writing, and scan documents for errors in grammar and spelling.
Students’ learning can be negatively impacted by teachers’ implicit bias. Without realizing it, teachers who aren’t culturally aware create a classroom environment where students from other cultures feel excluded.
To help all students succeed, teachers should take on a culturally competent approach to teaching. This doesn’t mean you should reduce all groups into monoliths, but rather, should seek to understand the ways cultural differences are impacting your student’s learning journey.
Multicultural EdTech can support your efforts to create an inclusive classroom. There is a host of multicultural apps you can use to help you and your students understand differences in culture and will ensure that you champion diversity in education.
Access to Technology
The pandemic highlighted the socioeconomic factors which affect our students. The APA recently reported that children from low socio-economic status (SES) are five years behind their high SES peers in basic skills like literacy, as poor households have less access to learning materials and materials.
As a teacher, you should be aware of accessibility issues, and be cautious with your approach to using technology. Never assume your students have access to technology outside of school and be sure to highlight programs offered by your school or district.
Before setting assignments, consider whether or not all students will have access to computers and stable internet access (and do not expect students to come forward with issues — it can be embarrassing for them, and is not their responsibility).
Technology is making our classrooms more accessible. Advancements in things like cochlear implants and responsive braille mean that our students can interact with learning content in independent and intuitive ways. As a teacher, you can help students achieve more by actively exploring the technological options available to you in the classroom.