Teaching all students has always been a real challenge. Promoting accessibility in digital environments and ensuring that all course interactions and online teaching materials are accessible to all learners is the new normal for educators, and is necessary in order to offer equal opportunities.
In 1990, the United States instituted the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities. The act has also established that new business constructions must be accessible and that existing businesses are required to increase the accessibility of their facilities when making renovations.
Laws mandating that the physical environment must be accessible have been in place for many years, including everything from elevators and ramps in buildings to sidewalk curb cuts outside. The digital environment is now rushing to catch up and the imperative is real since the laws are now clear.
Accessibility and nondiscrimination standards in education are covered by Section 504, which is a federal law that prohibits any entity that receives federal financial assistance such as grants or student loans, from discriminating against persons with disabilities, and Title II of the ADA is a federal law that prohibits state and local governments (such as public school districts, public colleges and universities, and public libraries) from discriminating against persons with disabilities.
According to the World Health Organization, people with disabilities experience lower educational achievements and less economic participation. Children with disabilities are less likely to start school, and they have lower rates of staying and advancing in schools. Promoting accessibility in education is the best way to change those numbers.
Students today are becoming much more aware of their rights and also more active in fighting for accessible education. In the United States there has been a growing surge of litigation and investigations in higher education to identify barriers or those that are violating accessibility. This threat of financial exposure is changing the environment for students with disabilities, as institutions realize that it can become very expensive to go through a litigation process.
Another cost of inaccessibility is that people are not receiving the education that they want and need, so educational institutions are not able to fulfill their mission. At this point educational institutions are all aware of what accessibility is and they understand that they must include people with disabilities, but very few are quite sure how to go about it. It is imperative that they create and implement an accessibility policy across their institutions.
At the end of the day, improving accessibility to inclusive education for everyone just makes sense. By offering a better experience and including individuals of all different styles, abilities, understanding and comprehension, the entire community wins. Education should be available to all.