May 24 2023

Why Effective IT Leadership Must Have Inclusive Technology Systems

One-to-one programs are changing the learning experience for every student, including those with disabilities.

Cerebral palsy confined Mercy, a third grader at Jenks (Okla.) Public Schools, to a wheelchair and prevented her from speaking or fully participating in learning activities. That was until a team of teachers, therapists and technology staff worked to find a solution.

They attached a tablet loaded with text-to-talk software to her chair, and those educational technology tools changed her life. She is now an active student who uses the big toe on her right foot to type, while the tablet reads out loud.

Mercy is among the 7.2 million students in K-12 who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the 2020-2021 school year.

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Accessible Ed Tech Should Be Provided to All Students

Effective IT leaders must promote a balanced and inclusive technology ecosystem that examines assistive technology (AT), educational technology and IT that support students like Mercy.

Where is your school on its inclusive technology journey? Inclusive educational systems are not simply nice to have. They are a civil right for students with disabilities, according to Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Students with or without individual education plans or 504 plans can leverage accessibility features such as text-to-speech, speech recognition and closed captioning to create inclusive and personalized learning experiences. Such features should be provided to all students.

How do your teams ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, have seamless access to instructional materials, educational tools and resources for learning?

LEARN MORE: What does assistive tech look like with one-to-one programs?

Ask These Questions Before Getting Started on Accessible Ed Tech

We have seen schools and districts proactively include the needs of students with disabilities in their technology and curriculum planning, and we’ve also seen schools get started with a technology planning team.

If you are just beginning to examine the equity of your district’s technology infrastructure and practices, your team should ask the following questions:

  • Do we have a technology planning team? 
  • Is there a leader from AT on the technology planning team? 
  • Have AT users tested the accessibility features offered to students or under consideration? 
  • Does our IT or ed tech team regularly meet with special education teams? 

Oklahoma School District Gets Help Creating Inclusive Learning

CAST, the nonprofit educational research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework, launched the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) in 2018.

The center promotes a framework of evidence-based practices aligned to the 2017 National Education Technology Plan. The framework is designed to empower school districts to create and sustain inclusive technology systems that serve all students, including students who require AT or accessible educational materials. 

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, this work focuses on identifying how the technologies are acquired and implemented and how students are supported.

In 2020, Jenks Public Schools was one of five school districts to partner with CITES to remove barriers for students like Mercy and end the stigma of being “different” for using customized learning tools.

Using the CITES framework, the team created a district technology plan  that included input from all stakeholders. It set goals to update procurement and curriculum adoption practices and, most important, change the culture regarding accessibility.

WATCH: See how ed tech prepares students with disabilities for careers. 

The district also has a vendor survey for all curriculum adoption, requiring vendors to share accessibility features. Products are eliminated from consideration if they do not meet specific accessibility ratings.

To support the shift in mindset, the ed tech team posts weekly tips to increase understanding of small changes teachers can make to improve access for all students. Jenks is committed to this journey and continues to drive change to meet all students’ needs and even exceed expectations.

Implementing the CITES self-assessments helped the leadership team identify areas with accessibility gaps and change those practices. “We are proud of our participation in the CITES framework development process and the enhanced focus on strategies to support all students," says Jenks Superintendent Stacey Butterfield.

All of our students deserve appropriate time, energy and financial support to reduce barriers and increase opportunities for their achievement. Please take the time to review your district’s inclusive technology policies and practices, and visit for more resources. 

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