We talk a lot around here about digital inclusion – ensuring that everyone has access to the digital tools that they need to succeed.
But while enabling a reliable broadband Internet connection and ensuring that individuals have devices are a vital first step, we cannot stop there. Evaluating the accessibility of tech tools is a key component in any equity strategy.
Why is it so important to work towards accessibility in tech tools, and how can they be made more accessible? Let’s take a look at the challenges that individuals with disabilities often face when utilizing technology and explore some of the strategies that can be deployed to make tech more accessible for all.
Disability: An Equity Crisis
The World Health Organization estimates that more than one billion people worldwide – about 15% of the global population – live with some form of disability.
For many of these individuals – especially those with cognitive, physical, or neurodevelopmental disabilities – tech tools remain largely inaccessible. According to AbilityNet, 90% of websites are not accessible to people with disabilities who rely on assistive technology – creating significant obstacles to these individuals as they seek employment opportunities. This inequity reveals itself in the data, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 17.9% of persons with a disability were employed in 2020, a decline of 1.4% since 2019.
Nowhere is this exclusion more pronounced than within the realm of education. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and learning shifted online, disabled students and even staff members have been largely underserved. A survey released at the end of May 2020 by ParentsTogether found that 40% of special education students had not received any support at all during remote learning, and over a third of these students were participating in little to no online learning. These inequities are exacerbated by differences in household incomes and levels of community support.
Though these figures paint a sobering picture, it’s also true that the accessibility of technology has come a long way in the past few decades. Apple products come with a range of built-in accessibility features, Google adds to its range of accessibility tools each day, and videoconferencing platforms like Zoom have made leaps and bounds over the past year in making its interface easy to use for deaf and visually impaired users. And for many users, technology opens new possibilities for independence. From assistive technology to accomplishing daily tasks like ordering food or ride delivery services through apps, technology is already making a positive impact in many individuals’ lives – when it is accessible.
Tech Accessibility Guidelines
So, what allows technology to qualify as ‘accessible’?
According to the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, accessibility is broadly achieved only “when a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.”
In short, tech tools are accessible when they can be used by individuals with varying levels of ability to achieve the same results.
Established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide recommended standards for making web content accessible to a wide range of individuals. While not fool-proof, these standards provide immediate and helpful insight into how tech tools are performing in the area of accessibility.
Some examples of common technological accessibility features include the following:
- Closed Captioning
- Screen Reading Software and Integration
- Screen Magnifiers and Large Print Materials
- Text-to-Speech Systems and Voice Recognition
- Keyboard-Only Navigation
- Reminder Systems
While there is much work left to be done to reach complete accessibility in all tech tools, the tide is turning and bringing equity – which includes accessibility – to the forefront.
Accessibility in EdTech Tools
Many educational institutions are requiring that all technologies and materials purchased are accessible, and ed tech vendors are likewise making steps to incorporate more accessible features within their offerings.
To assist with this evaluation, vendors may produce a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) (an extension of the Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) to self-report on the accessibility level of their products. While it is not the only factor to consider when evaluating the accessibility of a tech tool, asking for a VPAT is a valuable place to start.
Equity and accessibility remain at the heart of Kajeet’s mission, and we are continually evaluating our strategy and business development to meet these goals. As part of these efforts, we recently announced new accessibility feature add-ons to our Sentinel® platform, which is the administrator data and device management tool used in all of our wireless connectivity solutions.
Now, Sentinel® is equipped to deliver enriched experiences for all users out of the box, and includes the following:
- Seizure Safe Profile
- Vision Impaired Profile
- Cognitive Disability Profile
- ADHD Friendly Profile
- Blind Users (Screen-Reader)
- Keyboard Navigation (Motor)
These tools, enabled by our partner accessiBe, empower all Sentinel® users to personalize content delivery, color, effects, and orientation modalities to suit their specific needs and preferences.
Through implementing incremental changes like these, we can work towards a more equitable and accessible future for all. If you are interested in learning more about how the Sentinel® platform makes managing a wireless connectivity program easy and accessible, reach out to us or check out this blog: 4 Ways the Kajeet Sentinel® Platform Makes Your Life Easier.