As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, education during the pandemic has taken new forms and new strategies for success. Many of these strategies are also practices that help schools and school boards accommodate students with disabilities. Teachers and other staff are working in new ways and supporting students in diverse circumstances. In the post-COVID-19 future, more educators may learn how student performance improves through diverse teaching strategies. Consequently, more schools and school boards may continue to use diverse teaching strategies to support students with disabilities. For example, schools and school boards may offer accessible remote learning after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accessible Remote Learning After the COVID-19 Pandemic
In response to school closures, schools, colleges, and universities are implementing online learning. Before COVID-19, students could sometimes choose to take a course or program of study online. However, some online platforms or courses are not accessible for students with disabilities. As a result, these students could choose to take all courses in person. However, during COVID-19, online learning is no longer a choice. If a course or platform is not accessible for a student with a disability, schools and school boards must make that student’s online learning accessible. Therefore, some teachers or school board staff may need to use new methods of planning or teaching online courses. In addition, school staff may recognize the benefits of these new accessible strategies and offer them on an on-going basis.
Accessible Online Learning Platforms
When a school or school board offers lessons online, it must choose the educational apps or online platforms that will host courses. To reach every student, schools and school boards must choose platforms that are accessible for students and educators using assistive technology. For example, the website students log onto should be accessible using:
- Screen readers
- Screen magnification
- Keyboard or voice commands, instead of a mouse
However, because schools have turned to online learning quickly, they may not have thought about accessibility when choosing a learning platform. Nonetheless, they must still provide access to lessons for students who cannot access the learning platform. Therefore, they should work with the student, and their school’s accessibility professionals, to find solutions. For instance, schools may need to provide lesson content through email.
Accessible Slides, Audio, and Video
When teachers present lessons in-person, they often use slides, audio, or video. Moreover, teachers should have experience making these formats accessible to learners of all abilities. For instance, students who do not process visual information may not be able to read slides. Instead, they will rely on the spoken words of the lecture. Alternatively, they may find other ways to access visual elements of the lesson, such as:
For instance, a teacher may reproduce them in an accessible format, such as Braille or large print.
In contrast, learners who do not process audio information may not hear a lecture or the sound on a video. Instead, they will rely on the text and images on the slides. Alternatively, they may access information through communication supports, such as Sign language interpretation or real-time captioning.
Schools and school boards must ensure that all students receive the support they need to access lesson content. For instance, students may connect to a Sign language interpreter remotely. Likewise, teachers can create detailed verbal descriptions of visual elements.
Exercises and Tests
In addition, schools and school boards should ensure that the online versions of class activities and tests are accessible to all students. For instance, educators should avoid activities that rely on seeing, hearing, or moving and clicking a mouse. Types of exercises to avoid include questions that ask learners to:
- Choose one item in a picture
- Identify a sound
There are easy ways to avoid these kinds of questions. Educators can:
- include lists of choices and ask students to select all that apply
- use buttons screen readers recognize, such as radio buttons or checkboxes
A range of question types, such as multiple choice, true or false, check-all-that-apply, and short-answer, can provide variety while remaining accessible.
Accessible online learning should be available for learners of all abilities. There are many things schools, school boards, and teachers can do to make online courses that everyone can learn from. Moreover, these strategies will continue to be useful for accessible remote learning after the COVID-19 pandemic.