With the changing realities of the world, the education landscape has been forced to adapt to remote learning and adopt digital learning tools.
The rise of remote education has raised concerns about the learning environment becoming challenging for students with vision and hearing impairments and those on the autism spectrum.
“Particularly for students with disabilities, the transition to remote distance learning can really impact how they learn and what their needs are,” says Cyndi Wiley, program manager for digital accessibility at Iowa State University, as per a report in EdTech Magazine.
Despite all odds, educators, schools and other organizations worldwide are gearing up with tools, resources and processes to meet the requirement of the hour to offer smooth learning experiences to students with special needs.
Solutions for Students with Vision and Hearing Impairments
To help address the challenges of remote learning for students with vision and hearing impairments and to support uninterrupted learning of students with special needs, two organisations have published sets of best practices and guidelines:
Disability Access Information and Support has published a set of best practices. Disability Access Information and Support offers technical support and professional development to the higher education community.
The two most important things that edtech providers and educators need to take care of while creating lessons for remote learning are:
a. Accurate closed captions for students with hearing loss
The accuracy of automatic closed caption on video platforms like Youtube and Zoom is generally as low as 80 percent. Therefore, it is important to add correct captions to lectures and videos lessons to make learning smooth for students with hearing impairments.
Tip for instructors: Writing captions from scratch can take a very long time. Therefore, start with auto captions and edit them for accuracy. You can also use third-party companies to write and add captions to your lectures and lessons.
b. Screen-reading software compatibility for text lessons
Ensure that your text lessons are delivered in a format or through a medium that is compatible with screen-reading softwares, so that students with vision impairments can access lessons easily. Screen-reading software verbalize or translate print into Braille.
Some softwares used by visually-impared students on laptops and desktops are NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) and Job Access with Speech (JAWS).
Elangovan B, principal, JSS Polytechnic for the Differently Abled, Mysuru, India, said that they are using Whatsapp audio and text messages to connect with students. For students with hearing impairment, they conduct video classes in sign language, as per a report in Times of India.
Tips for instructors: Ensure that your documents and lesson delivery websites and learning management systems follow accessibility standards. Apps like Microsoft 365 help check accessibility of online resources and lessons. Here are some tips by NFB to make nonvisual accessible documents.
As per National Federation of the Blind (NFB), for a document or platform to be accessible, it should have an H1, a clear heading hierarchy, short headings, and a decluttered flow of text.
“It does take time to make course materials accessible,” Wiley says. “Do it in steps and phases. Ask what resources your institutions may have to help you along. One step at a time, these little changes can go a long way.”
Solutions for Students on the Autism Spectrum
The struggle is even more heightened for students on the autism spectrum. A student Vignesh Sanjay Pawar (14) in Mumbai, India, has been missing schools due to lockdowns.
Vignesh’s mother Sanjana Pawar is trying to continue his schedule as normally as possible by dressing Vignesh up in his school dress everyday and making him video chat with his teachers.
Sanjana says, “When the lockdown was initially announced, he would often cry to go to school, since Autistic children like him are often not able to express themselves and resort to other ways of letting out their emotions. I try to replicate his school environment at home by conducting that (the lessons) we receive on Whatsapp. Most activities are practical-based as his syndrome requires him to work on motor skills.”
Archana Chandra, the CEO of Jai Vakeel Foundation that runs VIgnesh’s school said, “We are currently in the process of creating a structured timetable that will mimic the school through a resource bank of videos that will cater to different levels of functioning. Teachers and therapists are connecting with children and their families through Whatsapp, audio and video calls.”
Such efforts by educators and schools will go a long way in restoring some level of normalcy to the learning environments of students with special needs.
Creating accessible lessons with attention to quality and consideration for diversity of needs of learners is the key to ensuring that all the students are able to learn without interruptions.
The Edutech Post team offers news and reviews on edtech products for learners, parents, educators and edtech businesses.
Their aim is to assist in making education accessible to all with the help of technology.