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Accessible Technology at College and University

Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In contrast, the other committee has recommended guidelines for the university and college education system. In this article, we outline the Postsecondary Committee’s recommendations for accessible technology at college and university.

The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on publicly-funded colleges and universities. However, students and educators with disabilities also face barriers in other education settings, including:

  • Privately-funded colleges and universities
  • Transitional job training programs

Therefore, all these settings should comply with the forthcoming postsecondary education standards.

Accessible Technology at College and University

New technologies for teaching and learning that colleges and universities use must be free of technology barriers. In other words, when students and staff use new technology, it should already be compatible with the accessible hardware and software they need to use. Therefore, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities should help postsecondary institutions network with technology vendors developing new platforms and technologies. Networks should support vendors in ensuring the accessibility of technologies they create that could affect learning over the next ten (10) years. Moreover, these networks should align with the accessibility ecosystem model for AODA standards that the Information and Communications Standards Development Committee recommends.

Similarly, any current digital learning technologies should be fully accessible to students with disabilities, including:

  • Information processing disabilities
  • Sensory disabilities
  • Physical disabilities

Feedback about Accessible Technology at College and University

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility should establish a feedback process for students assessing digital technology. Students could report accessibility barriers to the Ministry compliance support services, and to their own college or university technology department. Likewise, a sample of students with various disabilities can also provide feedback on accessible technology.

If a technology is not accessible, colleges and universities should work with staff and students to develop alternatives. For instance, colleges and universities should alert students about required technology use before courses begin. For example, staff should list any technology required for assessments in their course syllabi. If these required technologies contain barriers, students may opt not to take courses requiring them. Alternatively, students and staff can work together to find other technologies that meet course requirements before the start of the course.

If alternative technologies are available, students may enroll in the course with the accommodation of using the alternative technologies instead of the required ones. On the other hand, if students facing accessibility barriers are no longer taking the course, staff should still search for solutions. In either case, staff should document any alternative technologies available. Therefore, future versions of the course can require the use of accessible technologies, rather than inaccessible ones.

In addition, students should have time to learn and practice working with accessible technology before they need to use it for courses or assessments.

Procuring Accessible Technology at College and University

Furthermore, each college and university should appoint one senior staff member to the position of Accessible Digital Technology Lead. This lead would help faculty and staff procure, acquire, and undergo training on accessible technology for:

  • Learning
  • Student support
  • Creating content

The Lead should:

  • Be qualified in the core requirements of accessible technology
  • Have knowledge and experience using assistive technology
  • Understand how to audit technology through accessibility and usability testing
  • Know about legal requirements to procure technology

Similarly, the Lead should follow Ontario’s Accessible Procurement Standards for Educational Resources to ensure that other goods, services, or facilities their school buys or uses are accessible. Other responsibilities of the Lead would include:

Smaller colleges or universities with only one (1) Accessibility Lead should require this staff member to take on these responsibilities. The Accessibility Lead should take any training needed to qualify them for the roll of Accessible Digital Technology Lead.

Accessible Digital Content

Finally, to create, acquire, and maintain accessible content, colleges and universities should have tools, processes, and resources, such as:

  • Consultation with colleagues
  • Budgets

Furthermore, colleges and universities should provide digital content in accessible formats. For example, digital file formats like Microsoft Word and HTML are accessible. In contrast, PDF files are not always accessible. Therefore, colleges and universities must train their staff to create PDF files that are accessible according to the PDF/UA 1 /ISO 14289 standard. Until staff receive this training, they should provide accessible-format versions of all PDF files they post.