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This year has been a year of change, and that’s putting it lightly. It’s been a year of change, especially for children who are in school. Some of these children are used to having IEPs and special attention while they’re in the classrooms — but suddenly, their classrooms are in their houses, on their computers.
With more and more schooling moving online, it must remain accessible, just as it would have if education were in the classroom. However, there isn’t a ton of knowledge about accessibility requirements alongside online learning.
Probably because there’s never been an event that forced children who require accessibility accommodations into only having a computer to learn from.
But What Is Accessibility?
Accessibility is the act of being inclusive. Everyone should be able to have access to everything, with accommodations as needed. Some accessibility accommodations that you see every day are things like captioning, Braille restroom signs, and wheelchair ramps.
Accessibility for the web is a bit different. To make websites more easily accessible, you have to take into account things like website design, site colors, pop-ups, disorganized content, and more. This is, however, becoming more prevalent in education as COVID is making online education required across the country and around the world. If school websites and educational portals have not been designed — or redesigned — with web accessibility in mind, they are essentially ignoring an entire population of students.
How AI Can Make Education Accessible
Artificial Intelligence enables computers to act “human.” Most recently, a company called Otter.ai has taken AI one step further and partnered with Zoom to do so.
Otter Live Notes is a system that can be enabled on Zoom to allow collaborative note-taking, the ability to sync audio, text, and photos together. This program also allows for things like word clouds to be created, and best of all, captioning in real-time. The best part of this tool is that it constantly learns and betters its captioning capabilities, to provide flawless real-time captioning.
If Otter Live Notes is enabled, your Zoom call can be transcribed in real-time and visibly to every member of the room. It’s also available cross-platform, no matter the device or the operating system.
The AI functionality mirrors the AI movement in the medical field, which has improved patient care in a variety of ways. Not only has it begun eliminating human error, but improved AI has also allowed computer operations to become, by contrast, “more human.” This has opened doors to make healthcare, and by extension education, more accessible for those with hearing loss, visual disabilities, and more.
How Assistive Technology Makes A Difference
Assistive technology is especially helpful for students with dyslexia. Most things that are considered assistive technology are not even marketed for assisting people with dyslexia. They just happen to work.
Some familiar tools that are considered AT:
- Livescribe Pen
- Dragon Speech Recognition
- Google Voice to Text
The Kindle is such a good example because there are so many customizable options — from font type to font size, page color, and more. All of those changes can help make reading accessible to someone with dyslexia or visual impairment. The latest Kindles can even be adjusted to use audiobooks alongside the written word.
This is important because something as simple as font size can dictate whether someone with dyslexia can read what is in front of them.
Another tool, the Livescribe Pen, addresses dysgraphia. Dysgraphia often goes hand-in-hand with dyslexia, and primarily affects the ability to write text. This pen records while you write, and using special paper, you can upload what you’ve written to online software that will turn your handwriting into typewritten text.
Furthermore, if you need to listen to the lecture you were writing about, your pen also records audio. That recording will upload as well, and you can listen to it as you go through your notes.
Dragon Speech Recognition:
Dragon Speech Recognition software is a dictation software, great for students who have trouble reading or writing, or speaking publicly. Dragon can successfully record your spoken words with 3x the speed seen in other software and can even be set up for specific uses such as practicing a speech.
What Do Smartphones Offer?
Smartphones are mass-produced, which means that a lot of them have very similar features — this is especially true when it comes to accessibility features. Many smartphones feature similar settings to make them accessible to people with all kinds of disabilities, from visual, auditory, or muscular.
This also means that they’re affordable. If the smartphone does not come with a built-in accessibility function, it can be found in the app store, more likely than not.
Things a smartphone has that makes it accessible:
- Text reader
- Virtual assistant
- Text size
- Access to change fonts
- Hearing aid connectivity
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Video calls
- Flashing alerts
What is TTY/TDD?
TTY means “Text Telephone”, while TDD means “Telecommunication Device for the Deaf”. TTY is the most common of the two terms. This is a special device that lets people who are hearing impaired, deaf, or speech impaired communicate via the telephone. This device is required on both ends to work properly.
And if you do not have a TTY device, you can use a Telecommunications Relay Service or TRS. These services are often free, and are often available year-round, twenty-four hours a day. Essentially TTY or TRS display spoken words as captions, making telecommunications accessible.
What is a Text Reader?
A text reader is something that reads the information on your screen aloud. Most computers have one built-in, under Accessibility, and so do most cellphones. With this option on, everything is read aloud by a synthetic voice. This is great for anyone with visual impairment, or dyslexia.
How Does A Cellphone Help With Education?
There are many applications out there that offer educational value. From transcription apps to narration apps, to video calls, and more. Some applications allow you to turn spoken words into notes, and so much more.
Technology Is Moving Education Forward
When it comes to technological advancements and accessibility, technology has made it possible for accessibility to be widespread. Certainly, some applications and software are expensive, but not all.
Cellphones are the most accessible piece of equipment for anyone, with or without a disability, and almost everyone has a cellphone. Computers have so many applications, free or otherwise, that provide accessibility as well.
Technology is moving education forward, in a good way, especially with the pandemic pressuring education to become more accessible to students who are suddenly displaced. The best part is that many students have a good grasp of using the technology at their fingertips.