While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was last reauthorized in 2004, with amendments in 2015, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) updated back in 2008, the demand for accessibility and equality in education continues to grow. Administrators and teachers, who want to help every child reach their potential, can’t afford to wait for new laws and policies. To ensure accessibility, educators need to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of accessibility initiatives, advocate for resources for their students, and anticipate where they need to go next. During the edWebinar “Accessibility: Effective, Equitable Learning Environments for All Students,” which is part of a series hosted by CoSN and edWeb.net, the presenters discussed how they approach CoSN’s five steps to ensure accessibility.
5 steps we need to take to ensure accessibility and equality in education
Step 1: Stay current with federal and state legislation.
First, every district needs an administrator who stays current on federal and state laws regarding compliance. That person then disseminates information as needed to principals, teachers, etc. The presenters also recommended reaching out to colleagues, staying in touch with state associations, and in general having an ear out for any changes.
Step 2: Develop and communicate a district-wide policy for accessibility including guidelines for accessible purchasing.
The onus is on the district leadership to create accessibility compliance policies for teachers as well as the materials they use. Previously, when talking with vendors about accessibility, the conversations didn’t go very far, but now they are able to discuss it in depth. Both sides need to do their due diligence to remove barriers to student learning. All policies should be regularly communicated to all constituents and readily available upon request.
Step 3: Build staff capacity.
Accessibility is the responsibility of all educators, staff, and administrators. All staff should receive regular professional development on the district’s guidelines and topics related to accessibility.
Step 4: Conduct regular accessibility audits.
Like professional development, audits shouldn’t be done once a year. Educators need to perform regular evaluations of how the policies, teaching strategies, technology, curriculum, etc., are being implemented and the impact on student achievement. Educators should also talk to the parents to find out their views on accessibility. The goal is to determine where there are gaps and inequities, and the school needs to understand what’s happening outside of the classroom.
Step 5: Set expectations. Model accountability.
Starting with the district office, all staff need to follow the accessibility policies. They need to be a part of the normal, everyday procedures.
Most important, we must ensure accessibility is not limited to any one group of kids or description. All of the presenters go beyond what’s required by the law to make sure that every student who needs assistance receives it.
“If you as a superintendent or one of your staff members aren’t willing to step up and take a stand for those kids, then I don’t know who would do it,” said Dr. Tom Muzzey, superintendent, Orchard Farm (MO) R-V School District. “I always think of that and make sure that I have people that are checking me and what I think and believe at all times to make sure what we’re doing is best for our students.”
About the Presenters
Matthew J. Miller is the superintendent of Lakota (OH) Local Schools. He has spent the last 24 years serving Ohio communities as a superintendent, director of student services and instruction, principal, and teacher. Miller is actively involved in the prestigious and national League of Innovative Schools through Digital Promise, also serving as an elected member of its advisory committee. He was selected as one of 100 superintendents to attend and present at the #FutureReady National ConnectED Superintendents Summit at the White House, was named to the National School Boards Association Top 20 to Watch, and conducted his first TEDx Talk in 2016: Don’t Buy the Book: Cultivate, Curate and Go Open.
Dr. Thomas Muzzey is currently serving as superintendent of schools at Orchard Farm (MO) R-V School District. Prior to his service at Orchard Farm, he served as the superintendent for Warren County R-3 schools. Dr. Muzzey has 30 years of experience in public education as a teacher, assistant principal, assistant superintendent, and associate superintendent.
Dr. Donna Wright began serving as director of schools for Wilson County (TN) Schools in 2014. Under her guidance, district-wide academic performance has significantly improved; the district is undergoing the largest school building program in the history of the county; a concentrated emphasis on early literacy instruction is a focal point; and college and career readiness is a hallmark in middle and high schools. She has worked in public school education, K-12 and higher ed, for over 36 years.
About the Host
Ann McMullan is a 34-year veteran educator who served as the executive director for educational technology in the Klein (TX) Independent School District, until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles. For 16 years Ann led the team in Klein ISD that provided professional development on technology and 21st-century instructional strategies to over 4,000 professional educators serving over 50,000 students. During that time McMullan also co-chaired the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Education Agency’s Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020.
Today, she is based in Los Angeles, California working as a public speaker, writer, and independent education consultant focused on supporting leadership, visioning, and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. She is a frequent presenter at state, national and international education conferences and serves as project director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Program. She serves on the board of PowerMyLearning Los Angeles and on the advisory board of Project Tomorrow. In the fall of 2016, McMullan co-authored and published Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby.
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