Equity covers many different and broad ideas that are important to student learning. Educational equity requires that schools and districts implement systems that ensure that every student has an equal chance to achieve success. The goal of all learning with technology should be to provide all learners with access to opportunities that can lead to long-term opportunities for educational success.
While the goal for equity is often clear, the path to creating this reality is usually nebulous. When technology accessibility is discussed, most people stop at the ability to access. When discussing technology, this usually limits the conversation to whether or not students have access to devices or are able to log into educational software. However, accessibility is much more comprehensive than that.
When defined in terms of instruction, accessibility is broadened to ensure that students are able to benefit from instruction using technology. This means students should not only be able to access the digital learning environment but also that all learners are able to understand and apply the content within those environments. In practice, equitable and accessible use of technology impacts how tools and applications are selected. The selection process should have a focus on ensuring that learners’ variable needs are met so that they can fully participate and benefit from instruction.
By designing with the end in mind, districts and schools can establish a process that factors the needs of students. In K-12, districts and schools are already aware of the most common student needs. These usually include accommodations such as other languages, text to speech, extra time, and other support. If these needs are not intentionally addressed when technology is being acquired, then students who require these supports will be “othered” when they are inevitably separated from their peers’ learning environment (digital or physical) in order to receive these supports. While some of these needs might be currently addressed by special education, multilingual, or 504 departments, a holistic and comprehensive approach at the district level usually leads to cost savings and more meaningful educational technology purchases.
The implications for educational technology choices lead to some clear and actionable steps that all districts and schools can take:
- Create RFPs that set minimum accessibility and equity requirements by intentionally including features that support students’ needs. Also, consider how the platform or application addresses and supports diverse student representation.
- Prioritize budget allocations for applications that serve diverse student needs. By focusing on the needs of underserved students, institutions are more likely to find technology that meets the needs of all learners.
- Challenge current vendors to improve accessibility and functionality to support variable learner needs. Be specific and ask for specific features and timelines.
- Evaluate the EdTech ecosystems in schools and districts to identify gaps in how technology is serving all students. Devices and applications are frequently updated and features are often underutilized.
- Prioritize interoperability and integration with student information systems and single-sign-on capabilities. These features ensure that students have a seamless experience as they access different technology tools.
As you consider these steps, these are some questions to consider:
- Which languages are supported or translated?
- What types of common accommodations are provided natively?
- Adjusting time/due dates
- Text to speech/read aloud
- Functionality with assistive technology and devices your district uses
- Usability by learners with different needs, both cognitive and physical
- Are people of different genders, races, ethnicities, cultures, and abilities/disabilities represented?
- Does the platform or content perpetuate stereotypes of any one group?
- Does the software provide the user with the ability to customize their learning experiences?
- Voice/physical controls
- Usability by users with different needs, both cognitive and physical
- Can instructors present instruction in different ways, such as audio, text, and video?
- Can students engage with content in different ways?
- Can students demonstrate mastery through different modalities?
While these questions are not exhaustive, they are a starting point in assessing how the technology is being implemented accessibly and equitably. More importantly, it will help you identify areas for improving the instructional experience for all students.
Author: Dr. Rita Fennelly-Atkinson, Digital Promise; CoSN Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee Member
CoSN is vendor neutral and does not endorse products or services. Any mention of a specific solution is for contextual purposes.
Resources to Learn More
Universal Design for Learning Guidelines: https://udlguidelines.cast.org/
Educating All Learners Tool Library: https://educatingalllearners.org/tech-tool-library/
CAST Accessibility and Inclusive Technology: https://www.cast.org/our-work/accessibility-inclusive-technology
Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/NETP17.pdf
Foundational Concepts of Affirming Language: https://edib.harvard.edu/files/dib/files/foundational_concepts_and_affirming_language.pdf?m=1605601285\
Equity in Education: What it Is and Why it Matters: https://www.thinkingmaps.com/resources/blog/equity-education-matters
Digital Promise Certifications: https://productcertifications.digitalpromise.org/