edtech for IT: Assistive Technologies & Accessibility

School IT professionals often collaborate with special education teachers, leaders, and consultants to select, install, configure, maintain, and manage assistive technologies necessary for students who need them. These devices include items such as Braille printers, keyboards for specialized input, specialized displays, assistive listening systems (for individual students and for groups in presentation spaces), and other devices. In many cases, these devices are needed only by specific students, so many of the selection and configuration decisions are made by others and are made to meet the needs of the one individual using the device. School IT professionals may be asked to understand the configuration and operation enough to provide troubleshooting support for these devices. In schools that enroll older students, many of the assistive learning devices that students use have been in service for many years as they were obtained when the student started school, and they have used them throughout their school careers. 

Many IT professionals find this to fall outside of their area of expertise, but schools are organizations that cannot deny any student access to education (except in very exceptional cases). Because of this, school IT professionals do have responsibility to provide adequate support for these users and devices, and denial to do so will likely represent a violation of school policy.  

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities act became law in the United States. This civil rights law is intended to ensure all individuals have access to public resources regardless of their disability status. For educators, this means the materials they use in class (such as textbooks, videos, and presentations) must be available to all. For the resources created by publishers, obtaining alternative versions of resources is not a problem as they understand this requirement and have prepared the necessary versions. For example, it is usually easy to obtain audio or Braille versions of textbooks from traditional publishers. For those materials created by teachers, it is necessary they take steps to ensure their materials are accessible. It is also necessary to take steps to confirm resources from publishers are accessible. For example, the presentations that are included in the instructor resources that accompany textbooks are not always accessible.