Our last article explored how information standards in education make information accessible to some students, parents, and educators with disabilities. In this article, we discuss how stronger information standards in education are needed to fully support students with disabilities.
A Call for Stronger Information and Communications Standards in Education
The regulations in the existing Standards provide an important starting point for educational accessibility. However, under the current standard, educators, students, or parents must request accessible-format materials at the time they are needed and wait until the school or producer can create them. The Standards mandate that formats and supports must be available in a timely manner. Nonetheless, in an educational context, students may need information much sooner than they can access it. For example, a teacher might request a textbook from a publisher at the beginning of the school year. The educator, and the student who needs the accessible book, must then wait for the book to be produced. By the time the accessible book arrives, the other students may have been using the book for several days or weeks.
An education standard could improve school access by mandating that academic publishers create accessible-format versions of everything they publish. Moreover, this requirement could apply to both print and online resources. Educators who request accessible resources could then receive them at the same time they receive standard print resources. In this way, every student would have the same access to their textbooks.
Expanding the Information Standards to include mandates for students with parents with disabilities and teachers
In addition, the Information Standards’ focus on accessible information supports only students with print disabilities. For instance, these rules support students who are/have:
- Visually impaired
- Learning disabilities that affect reading
- Physical disabilities that affect their ability to hold or turn pages
However, there are no rules supporting the accessible-format needs of parents with disabilities. For example, the standard could mandate a process for parents to request alternate-format copies of:
- Their child’s report cards
- Consent forms for field trips or other school activities
Moreover, there are no mandates that detail how teachers should make their lessons accessible for students with other disabilities. For instance, there are no rules in the standards about providing communication supports during lessons for students who are/have:
- Hard of hearing
- Speech disabilities
- Learning disabilities affecting verbal information processing
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Intellectual disabilities
- Mental health challenges
As more people develop disabilities, access to information will become more important, in education and in all other sectors. The new education standard will need to ensure accessible lessons and books for students with all disabilities.