Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation found that students with disabilities are now just as likely to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in higher education as their peers.
This could be due in part to the universal design standards and accessible technology initiatives that many universities have adopted, thus making it easier for all students to pursue any degree.
Also, many major tech companies have worked to ensure their products are able to be used by any student.
Educators at California State University, Northridge consider the user-friendliness of documents and PDFs they send their students thanks to Adobe Acrobat Pro. The software’s built-in accessibility checker indicates when a PDF lacks usability for all users.
“Accessible documents should include text that can be read aloud by assistive technology, images accompanied by a description (or ‘alternative text’) and logical organization,” reads the EdTech article on Cal State Northridge’s initiative.
Patrice Wheeler, an assistive technology specialist at Cal State Northridge, tells EdTech that the university’s educators also regularly use style guides in Microsoft Word to create headings to help visually or cognitively impaired students navigate a document.
“People who are blind or have low vision don’t use visual cues to read, skim or navigate text,” she says. “They need a roadmap of sorts, and headings and styles provide that to them via their assistive technology.”
Microsoft regularly updates Office 365 to add layers of inclusivity for education, business and personal use.
“At Microsoft, we envision a future where people with permanent disabilities or situational limitations have the technology they need to work efficiently and independently from any device,” reads the company’s website.
In late 2016, the company released a number of updates to Office 365 that facilitate the creation of accessible content. Updates include accessible templates and image description controls.
Microsoft also rolled out an Accessibility Checker in the Review tab in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Visio.
“These improvements address both the creation and consumption phases when working with documents,” writes Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for Microsoft Office, in the blog announcement.
Google's G Suite apps are also outfitted with accessible features and updated as a need for new features is indicated. Gmail, for example, has settings for keyboard shortcuts to help screen readers work better, a video indicates. Google Docs and Slides have dictation and voice commands available in a number of languages.
Google Chrome also has a full set of Chrome extensions with accessibility in mind.
“At Google, we believe in making accessibility a core consideration of our product designs,” says program manager Jimmy Tram in the video.