What School Information Should be Available Online?


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that an education standard should address is access to information. Educational institutions should be required to make all information available to all students, parents, teachers, and other workers in schools. For instance, schools and school boards could post information on accessible websites. Students, parents, teachers, or visitors with disabilities can read online school information on accessible computers or phones.

Online School Information: What Information Should be Accessible Online?

Forms 

Different schools or school boards could post different kinds of information. For example, schools could make copies of print forms available online for parents. Instead of handing every student a print form to take home, schools could give parents the option of receiving online forms. Many parents might prefer this option because it would be environmentally friendly. In addition, parents with print disabilities could have the same access to forms as their sighted peers.

Books

Moreover, there could be an online database where academic publishers upload accessible-format Ebook versions of all the books they publish. Currently, many publishers have Ebook options available, but the Ebooks are not always accessible. As a result, publishers must convert an Ebook into an accessible format after a student has bought it. Similarly, publishers only start converting a print book into an accessible format after a student needing one has bought a print copy. However, if all Ebooks were accessible from the start, publishers would not need to convert them later. Likewise, students would not fall behind in their course work while waiting for books they can read.

Course outlines and school policies

Similarly, when university staff upload documents, such as course outlines or school policies, they often post in portable document format (PDF). However, only some PDF files are accessible. School staff should know how to test the accessibility of any PDF files they want to post. If the PDFs they have made are not accessible, staff should post copies of the documents in accessible formats like Word or HTML.

Maps

Likewise, when schools post videos or maps for orientation, they should ensure that students of all abilities can use them. For example, they should make sure videos are captioned and provide detailed descriptions of their maps.

Finally, all schools and school boards should make any online courses they offer accessible. Our next article will explore how educational institutions can offer accessible online learning.




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Accessible Education Apps


In our last article, we outlined how educational institutions, such as schools and school boards, need accessible websites. In this article, we focus on accessible education apps.

Accessible Education Apps

Many schools and school boards now use apps in class, or to communicate with parents. For instance, teachers may use apps to help students:

  • Learn subjects like reading, spelling, math, or coding
  • Proofread their work
  • Study, such as with flash cards, learning games, or quizzes
  • Create their own study games or flash cards and share with classmates

Similarly, teachers and other staff can use apps to keep parents informed about what happens at school. For example, staff can use apps to tell parents about:

  • Attendance
  • Student timetables
  • Homework
  • Marks
  • School events, like sports games or parent-teacher interviews
  • Emergencies
  • Student records

Likewise, parents can use apps to:

  • Alert staff when their child will be absent
  • Register for events, such as field trips
  • Pay fees online

Education Apps and Web Content Accessibility

Our last article covered how large schools and school boards need to make their websites accessible. They can do so by complying with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. The requirements for web accessibility, and the standards of WCAG, apply to apps. As a result, app developers with fifty or more workers need to make their apps accessible. However, smaller developers can also make their apps accessible to as many users as possible. All developers can consult WCAG guidelines when creating or updating their apps.

Moreover, schools and school boards choose which apps they will use in class and for parent-teacher communication. Schools and school boards should choose apps that are fully accessible. Otherwise, students, teachers, and parents with disabilities are left out of learning and communication. In other words, when schools and school boards choose inaccessible apps, they discriminate against students, teachers, and parents with disabilities.

An education standard could make it easy for school staff to choose accessible apps. For instance, the standard could mandate that accessibility training for educators includes how to choose online learning tools that every student can use. Accessible education apps mean that every student, teacher, and parent can be equally involved in school life.




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Accessible Education Websites


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that an education standard should address is access to information. Schools and school boards should be required to make all information available to all students. One way for schools and school boards to do so could be by posting information on accessible education websites.

Accessible Education Websites

Under the AODA’s Information and Communications Standards, all public-sector organizations, and private sector organizations with fifty or more workers, must make their websites accessible by January 2021. In other words, school boards and other large educational organizations will soon be required to make themselves accessible online. These organizations may include:

  • Public and private schools
  • School boards
  • Colleges
  • Universities
  • School libraries
  • Producers of educational or training materials, such as textbook publishers

However, when smaller organizations also offer accessible websites, they can welcome more students.

Schools and school boards can start offering accessible information online by creating websites that comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. This international standard gives web developers guidelines on how to make their webpages accessible to computer users with disabilities.

Highlights of WCAG 2.0

WCAG 2.0 guidelines describe how people viewing websites should be able to:

  • Perceive and navigate web content, such as with:
    • Text, instead of images of text
    • Information that can be enlarged up to 200 per cent without losing site functionality
    • Good colour contrast between text and background
    • Buttons labeled with words, not just with pictures, shapes, or colours
    • Captions available for all audio
    • Audio descriptions and captions available for all videos
  • Operate websites, such as with:
    • Keyboard commands instead of mouse clicking
    • Options to extend time limits
    • No elements that might induce seizures, such as flashing lights
    • Titles and headings that help users know where they are
  • Understand website information and layout, such as with:
      • Simple, linear layouts that are the same for each page of a website
      • Clear language, instead of figures of speech
      • Clear instructions for completing tasks, such as online exercises or tests
      • Text descriptions of errors when inputting information
      • Sign language interpretation
      • Definitions of unusual words and abbreviations
  • Visit websites using a variety of assistive technology, such as:
    • Screen readers and Braille displays
    • Screen magnifiers
    • Speech recognition programs

The WCAG webpage provides the full list of requirements, as well as technical guidance for website owners and developers on how to implement them.

All educational institutions should work on making their websites comply with WCAG 2.0, level AA. In the meantime, however, institutions can make their services accessible in other ways. For instance, educators can provide information to students, parents, teachers, and visitors with disabilities:

  • In person
  • By phone or teletypewriter (TTY)
  • By email

Reaching more people

However, accessible education websites allow more information to reach more people. This method reduces the time that educators would otherwise spend giving similar information to each person one at a time.

In addition, many schools and school boards now use apps in class, or to communicate with parents. Our next article will focus on accessible education apps.




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An Education Standard Could Mandate Sign Language Interpreters in Schools


In our last article, we outlined how a shortage of professional Sign language interpreters creates problems for students who Sign. Here, we consider why an education standard should mandate more Sign language interpreters in schools. We also explore what some of these mandates might be.

More Sign Language Interpreters in Schools

Other Communication Supports

Some schools may try to make up for the lack of professional interpretation by encouraging students to use other communication supports. However, similar barriers exist for other communication supports that students might use. For example, real-time captioning (RTC), also depends on the availability of trained staff. In addition, digital note-taking, in which key points in a communication are summarized, does not provide enough information for a school setting. Like non-professional interpretation, computerized note-taking provides students with only partial access to their lessons.

Alternatively, a school board with an interpreter shortage might suggest that a student should develop their skills in speechreading. Speechreading is a way students can read the speech of their teachers and peers instead of using Sign Language interpretation. However, this recommendation places responsibility on the student. Under the Information and Communications Standards, the school must consult with the student who needs a communication support to determine which support is most suitable. In other words, a school or school board should make every effort to provide the communication support that is best for each student. According to a position paper from the Canadian Association of the Deaf, Sign language interpretation is the best communication support for many students who are deaf. Therefore, schools and school boards should be able to provide Sign Language interpretation to more students.

Solutions

An education standard could provide many solutions for the shortage of Sign Language interpreters. A standard could mandate the number of interpreters that should be available for students at a given time. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more education and training programs for interpreters. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for interpreters, so that more people would follow this career path. Moreover, a standard could mandate that a certain number of educators should learn to sign. This solution would allow some educators to communicate directly with their signing students. More Sign Language interpreters in schools will ensure that each student learns in the ways best for them.




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Sign Language Interpreters in Schools


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that an education standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, educational institutions must make information available to students using communication supports. This mandate should mean an accessible education for all students. However, there is an important service gap which an education standard should fill. Sign Language interpretation helps students who sign succeed in school and in later life, but there is a shortage of professional Sign Language interpreters. As a result, educators cannot communicate with some of their students. More Sign Language interpreters in schools would give more students the education they need to succeed as adults.

Sign Language Interpreters in Schools

Students who are deaf may use a variety of communication supports. These supports include:

  • Sign Language interpretation
  • Speechreading
  • Real-Time Captioning (RTC)
  • Computerized Note-Taking

Many English-Canadians who are deaf communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). Similarly, many French-Canadian students who are deaf communicate using Langue des signes Québécoise (LSQ). When students who Sign in ASL or LSQ have access to professional Sign Language interpreters in class, they can understand the speech of their teachers and peers. However, there are not enough professional interpreters, so some students need to find a different way to communicate. Some schools try to fill this gap by employing interpreters with partial training, such as educational assistants who know some Sign language. However, non-professionals usually cannot interpret all the concepts and vocabulary students need to learn. As a result, a signing student might not learn everything their hearing peers do.

Students who rely on non-professional interpreters may have on-going trouble in school. For instance, a student could have trouble answering questions on tests if a partially-trained interpreter makes mistakes or cannot interpret a key concept. Likewise, a student could have trouble giving presentations if an interpreter cannot fully or correctly interpret the student’s signs to the teacher. Moreover, if students do not have accurate lesson interpretation in early grades, they will not have the knowledge they need to do well in later grades. In addition, students and teachers will have more and more communication difficulties as lesson topics become more complex.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore how an education standard can help to place more Sign language interpreters in schools.




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Braille Instruction in Schools Part 2


In Part 1 of this article, we explored some of the accessible formats that students with visual impairments can learn to read in school. We also discussed how eye specialists and teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) may sometimes decide that Braille should not be one of these formats. In this article, we consider why some specialists may think that students should not learn Braille. We also suggest that more Braille instruction in schools could help more students achieve greater success as adults.

Students with Visual Impairments

Why Specialists may not Choose Braille

Eye doctors may choose not to recommend Braille because they cannot read Braille and they think it is harder to learn than print. Similarly, TVIs may think that Braille is hard because they learned as adults and do not use Braille in their every-day lives. However, young children learn Braille as easily as their fully sighted peers learn print. Some children learn both writing systems at the same time. Others learn Braille after they have learned print.

Alternatively, specialists may think that students who can read some print should use it as long as they can. Specialists may hope that reading print will help students with visual impairments feel more like their fully sighted classmates. However, students who will need Braille one day will need to learn to accept their difference from sighted classmates. If they learn Braille at younger ages, they may accept their differences more easily than they would in later grades.

Audio and Computer Technology

Moreover, teachers and doctors may believe that Braille is becoming obsolete. Instead, they may recommend that children with all degrees of visual impairment learn using audio and computer technology. These methods are useful and students can easily learn them at the same time as Braille. However, if students always use them instead of Braille, they may have trouble in school. For instance, they may have trouble hearing a teacher if they are trying to find a textbook page by listening. Likewise, they may have trouble hearing the teacher and taking notes with a screen reader. In contrast, students can easily keep up when they can hear the teacher and feel their book or notes.

Similarly, students who always use audio or computers rely on their technology more than sighted print readers. When this technology breaks down, these students have no other way to learn. In contrast, students who read Braille can continue learning when technology breaks down. When students read Braille, they read letter-by-letter on a page or screen the way fully sighted people read print. Teachers do not tell fully sighted students that they should listen instead of reading. Therefore, audio by itself is not equal to print, but Braille is.

Solutions

Braille is easier to produce now than ever before. People can print documents in Braille using translation software and Braille printers. In addition, students with visual impairments can use Braille displays to read information on computer or phone screens. These students will grow up to use Braille at work. A recent report from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) indicates that blind people who read Braille have more success finding jobs than blind people who do not read Braille. Blind adults can also move around more independently if they can read Braille on signs, room numbers, and elevator buttons. In short, blind people often have a better quality of life if they learn Braille in school.

An education standard could implement many solutions for the shortage of Braille instruction in Ontario schools. A standard could mandate that all TVIs have enough Braille training to confidently teach their students. With training, sighted TVIs can read Braille as easily as TVIs who are blind. Government could partner with other sectors to develop more education and training programs for TVIs. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for teachers of Braille, so that more people would follow this career path. More Braille instruction in schools will ensure that each student learns in the ways best for them.




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Braille Instruction in Schools


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that a standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, schools and school boards must make information available to students using accessible formats. This mandate should mean accessible schooling for all students.

However, there is an important gap which an education standard should fill. In all other sectors, people know what accessible formats they need. However, young children do not yet know what formats will work best for them. Instead, teachers and specialists must choose which formats they think will work best for each child. Then, teachers must teach students to use those formats. Braille helps students with visual impairments succeed in school and in later life, but educators sometimes choose not to teach their students Braille. More Braille instruction in schools could help more students succeed as adults.

More Braille Instruction in Schools

Parents of young children with visual impairments need to find out what formats their child should learn to read. To do so, they need to consult specialized teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), and/or eye specialists. Formats that children may learn include:

  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Electronic formats like Word or HTML files
  • Audio
  • Tactile maps or pictures

Braille or large print?

Specialists recommend Braille for students who are totally blind, and large print for students who have some vision. Specialists may recommend large print because they believe that a student’s vision will stay the same. However, specialists may sometimes recommend large print for students who will lose their vision over time. In this case, the students will need to learn Braille in later grades or as adults.

In other cases, students can continue reading large print but have more and more difficulty doing so as they grow up. For instance, they may have eye strain or headaches when they spend more time reading print in later grades. Furthermore, they may read more slowly than students with full sight. In contrast, when students learn to read Braille at the age their sighted classmates learn print, they develop the same reading speed. Additionally, they can keep up with their classmates as they age because reading does not give them eye strain or headaches.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore why specialists might choose not to recommend Braille. We will also outline how more Braille instruction in school can help children succeed later in their lives.




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Braille Instruction in Schools: Part 1


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. One issue that a standard should address is access to information. For instance, under the Information and Communications Standards, schools and school boards must make information available to students using accessible formats. This mandate should mean accessible schooling for all students.

However, there is an important gap which an education standard should fill. In all other sectors, people know what accessible formats they need. However, young children do not yet know what formats will work best for them. Instead, teachers and specialists must choose which formats they think will work best for each child. Then, teachers must teach students to use those formats. Braille helps students with visual impairments succeed in school and in later life, but educators sometimes choose not to teach their students Braille. More Braille instruction in schools could help more students succeed as adults.

More Braille Instruction in Schools

Parents of young children with visual impairments need to find out what formats their child should learn to read. To do so, they need to consult specialized teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), and/or eye specialists. Formats that children may learn include:

  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Electronic formats like Word or HTML files
  • Audio
  • Tactile maps or pictures

Braille or large print?

Specialists recommend Braille for students who are totally blind, and large print for students who have some vision. Specialists may recommend large print because they believe that a student’s vision will stay the same. However, specialists may sometimes recommend large print for students who will lose their vision over time. In this case, the students will need to learn Braille in later grades or as adults.

In other cases, students can continue reading large print but have more and more difficulty doing so as they grow up. For instance, they may have eye strain or headaches when they spend more time reading print in later grades. Furthermore, they may read more slowly than students with full sight. In contrast, when students learn to read Braille at the age their sighted classmates learn print, they develop the same reading speed. Additionally, they can keep up with their classmates as they age because reading does not give them eye strain or headaches.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore why specialists might choose not to recommend Braille. We will also outline how more Braille instruction in school can help children succeed later in their lives.




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A Call for Stronger Information and Communications Standards in Education


 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:

  • Blind 
  • Visually impaired
  • Deafblind
  • 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:

  • Deaf
  • Hard of hearing
  • Deafblind
  • 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.




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Accessible Information in Education


The AODA does not yet have an education standard. Two committees are making recommendations about what an education standard should include. In the meantime, however, there are still AODA requirements for educational institutions to follow. Educational institutions must follow the regulations in the Information and Communications Standards that apply to other organizations. In addition, there are also regulations especially for educational institutions. Accessible information in education makes school settings welcoming to students, parents, and workers with disabilities. Educational institutions that need to make information accessible are:

  • Public and private schools
  • School boards
  • Colleges
  • Universities
  • School libraries
  • Producers of educational or training materials, such as textbook publishers

Accessible Information in Education

Under the Information and Communications Standards, producers of educational materials must make textbooks available in accessible formats. They will need to make all other educational or training materials available in accessible formats by January 1st, 2020. For instance, materials that will need to be produced accessibly include:

  • Handouts or lecture notes
  • Student records and information on program requirements
  • Other classroom materials that are visual in nature, such as maps or globes

Moreover, educational institutions must also provide accessible versions of all resources that they buy, borrow, or create. They must do so:

How to Make Educational Materials Accessible

Institutions may make some materials accessible themselves. For instance, school staff can:

  • Photo-copy handouts in large print
  • Emboss them on a Braille printer
  • Post course outlines or calendars on websites
  • Record audio versions of print book excerpts
  • Create tactile maps, diagrams, or pictures

Alternatively, institutions may need to contract third-party companies to produce other materials, such as Braille textbooks or tactile maps. Producers of educational materials must provide them in formats that are either accessible or conversion-ready so that other people can complete the conversion process. Producers that cannot make a material accessible must explain to their client why they cannot do so. Then, they must provide summaries of everything they cannot convert.

Our next article will explore how stronger information standards in education can more fully support students with disabilities.




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