Every two or three years, state and federal laws regarding accessibility in education change. However, the goal is always the same: making sure that every student, at every level (classroom, building, district), has access to the resources they need to meet their learning goals.
During the edWebinar “Accessibility for All: Creating an Equitable Learning Ecosystem,” the presenters discussed the lessons they’ve learned, especially regarding technology as an instrument for accessibility.
7 key roles tech plays in accessibility
1. While there is no substitute to having an attorney or special education director focused on special education legislation, there are additional services that can keep the flow of information coming. The presenters rely on state associations for updates, but they also use legislative news services to get updates.
2. Apps and software are a boon for special needs students, but teachers shouldn’t download whatever they feel like. In addition to keeping student privacy and school budgets in mind, teachers also need to make sure that the tools work in the school’s technology environment. All software—and hardware—should be vetted by a team of faculty and IT staff.
3. Similarly, when vetting tech tools, the contracts should include the district’s accessibility requirements. Any upgrades should maintain, if not increase, a resource’s support for accessibility.
4. Websites can be fantastic tools for providing equitable access to educational information as long as they are coded properly. Teachers should consult with the IT staff to ensure that screen readers and other assistive tech can give students with special needs the same learning experience as their peers.
5. And while teachers may embrace using technology, they won’t necessarily understand how to use it effectively. Online training is useful to get staff up to speed on current legislation and trends, but face-to-face meetings, like working with a technology coach, are imperative to ensuring each student’s needs are met.
7. As with any technology, staff must conduct frequent audits and determine if the technology is doing what it promised to do. Many schools are drawn to the bright and shiny tool, but they need to drill down and see if there are results.
8. Finally, staff should talk with parents and students to get their perspectives as well. Ask them which tool is the most helpful and why, and if they are using anything at home that has the potential to assist them in school.
The key lesson all of the presenters learned is that technology related to accessibility benefits the entire school community. “This is really for all learners—adults as well as students—not just for those students with disabilities,” says Dr. Carol Kelley, Superintendent of Oak Park Elementary District 97 (IL). “When you’re providing the tools to help students access information or to be able to engage with information in different ways, it’s really helping everyone.”
About the presenters
Dr. Doug Brubaker serves as Superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, AR. Over a career spanning 24 years, he has served in a variety of leadership roles in school districts ranging in size from 7,000 to 60,000 students. As Superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, Dr. Brubaker launched the district’s Vision 2023 strategic planning initiative and worked with students, parents, educators, members of the community, and the FSPS Board of Education to identify, prioritize, and begin to address the district’s greatest needs. In May 2018, in part due to broad-based support for Vision 2023 goals, the district passed its first millage referendum in over 30 years. A dedicated funding stream for technology replacement has been a key accomplishment. Dr. Brubaker and his wife, Heather, have a daughter who attends school in the district. Dr. Brubaker has CoSN CETL certification and a Ph.D. in educational computing from the University of North Texas.
Dr. Carol L. Kelley is superintendent of Oak Park Elementary School District 97, a PreK–8 public school system in Oak Park, IL, with 6,150 students. Dr. Kelley is deeply committed to addressing historical disparities in school systems and realizing a compelling vision of educational equity for every student. A sought-after speaker and thought leader, she has been widely recognized for her professional work and contribution to education. Before joining District 97, Dr. Kelley spent three years as Superintendent of Schools for the Branchburg Township School District in New Jersey. Previously, she was Director for Curriculum and Instruction for Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey. Earlier, she served as a building administrator and elementary teacher, also in New Jersey.
Randall Squier is currently the superintendent of schools for Coxsackie-Athens Central Schools, NY, which are located 20 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River. Randy is in his eighth year at Coxsackie-Athens Central Schools and 14th as a superintendent, previously serving Oxford Central Schools for six years. He has presented regionally, statewide and nationally on topics that have a foundation in professional learning communities and innovative schools. Coxsackie-Athens Central Schools is currently ranked first in the nation by the National School Boards Association for its digital conversion that includes providing a mobile device for every student in K-12 as well as shifting most back-office storage functions to the cloud. For the last seven years, Coxsackie-Athens’ graduation rate is 16% higher than the previous eight years. The district was one of three schools recognized nationally by ISTE for its digital badge program. Randy was a Tech & Learning Magazine runner-up for 2017 digital leaders.
About the host
Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director, Educational Technology in the Klein Independent School District, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 professional educators serving 50,000 students. Ann served as co-chair of Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020. Today, Ann is based in Los Angeles working as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Project Tomorrow advisory council and is a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann co-authored Life Lessons in Leadership, a guide for leaders ages eight to 88.
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Super-Connected is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders.
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