For students with disabilities, accessibility challenges were an issue long before the shift to remote and hybrid learning. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, brought those challenges to the forefront.
Unfortunately, ensuring that digital materials are accessible to students with disabilities is often still an afterthought at some colleges and universities. “Accommodations are reactive rather than proactive,” says Mark Newmiller, director of the Disability Resource Office at North Carolina State University. Many higher education institutions and their IT departments, he says, have yet to adopt a mindset that prioritizes accessibility from the outset.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19 percent of college students in the U.S. report having a disability. And many of them might struggle when using technology. A Pew Research Center survey found that disabled Americans ages 18 and older are less likely to feel confident when using the internet and other electronic communication tools.
Improving the online learning experience for students with disabilities can be especially challenging, considering that students’ impairments can range from mild to severe. Many will need customized tools, tailored assignments and individualized support to help them succeed.
For university IT teams looking to make remote, online and hybrid learning more accessible and effective for students with disabilities, here are some critical considerations.