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5 Ways to Think About Accessibility in K-12

by Ellen Ullman, on Jan 23, 2024 11:17:12 AM

Promoting accessibility in K-12 education is crucial to ensure that all students, regardless of their challenges, have equal opportunities to learn and participate, but when district leaders hear the word accessibility, they usually think about their websites. 

“Websites are only one aspect of accessibility,”  says Luis Perez, the Disability & Digital Inclusion Lead at CAST, the nonprofit organization that helps educators design equitable, inclusive learning experiences. 

Here are additional areas to consider when working on accessibility efforts.

EdTech Procurement
Whether your district is purchasing a learning management system, tablets, a math app, or a communications platform,  you need to ensure that every single student is able to use what you’re buying. CAST’s National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning (also known as the AEM Center) has tons of free resources that can help educators learn how to evaluate products, including questions to ask vendors and more. “When you acquire a system for 10,000 students, that equals 10,000 opportunities to change someone’s life by providing a more equitable experience,” says Perez. 

Communication, Part I
Purchasing and creating accessible resources is a great start, but it’s important to be transparent. “If your videos have captions, make sure people are aware of that and know how to turn the captioning on,” says Perez. He recommends writing an accessibility statement and making it visible and easy to find, such as at the bottom of each page on the district website. “Tell your community what you’ve done and how they can use it,” he says. Check out CAST’s accessibility policy for ideas on the information you might include in your district’s accessibility statement.

Communication, Part II
Using the right language when addressing individuals who use accessible resources can be tricky, but Perez says the key is to use inclusive language. “Some people prefer person-first language, such as ‘person with a disability,’ while others may identify as a ‘disabled person.’ When in doubt, ask and listen.” Once again, you can avoid misunderstandings by being transparent about the choices you’ve made. One way to do that is to include a section on your accessibility statement that explains the different ways people in the disability community use language

Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework pioneered at CAST that aims to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. “Accessibility is a foundational component of UDL—but it is not the end goal,” says Perez. “The more important thing is to empower learners to turn accessible information into meaningful and useful knowledge.”  That requires learners to have opportunities to reflect not only on what they are learning but how they learn best. As learners develop self-understanding about their needs and preferences, they are better able to advocate for the support that can help them thrive by mastering learning itself. CAST’s UDL Guidelines help educators design barrier-free and equitable learning environments and experiences for everyone. 

Parent and Community Involvement
Engage parents and the community in discussions about accessibility. Gather input from families with students who have disabilities to better understand their needs and concerns. This collaborative approach strengthens the bond between the school and its community and ensures that educational strategies and initiatives will address the diverse requirements of students with disabilities, promoting a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for all.

Accessibility, inclusive communication, and barrier-free learning experiences are key to ensuring everyone is seen and heard, feels like they belong, and can realize their full potential. By embracing these practices, educators and administrators can create a more inclusive and accessible K-12 education system for everyone.