By Rebecca Sheffield, Education Program Specialist
From educational games to online libraries to our school lunch menus, everything has gone digital, and everyone should have access to these digital educational materials and experiences. On May 18, the world recognizes Global Accessibility Awareness Day to draw attention to innovations, expertise, changes, and change-makers in digital accessibility.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights defines accessibility as “when a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.” To learn more, visit What is Accessibility? from the Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP’s) National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM Center).
In the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), we strive for accessibility in all we do. Additionally, we support numerous projects, centers, and resources to help agencies, schools, educators, administrators, families, and students meet and exceed standards and best practices for digital accessibility. Here are just a few highlights of resources and centers funded by OSERS!
Tools for Your Toolbox
With the increased use of technology in all areas of education, we’ve become accustomed to using our computers to create and read educational content. We’ve learned the ins and outs of word processing, spreadsheets, email, and presentation software, and we’ve gotten creative in our use of multimedia content including videos and websites. Unfortunately, just because something is a digital product, it doesn’t mean it’s accessible, and many haven’t learned the steps to take to make content accessible for everyone.
Never fear! It’s not too late to learn to create accessible digital materials and to fix inaccessible materials so that everyone has access. These resources from OSEP-funded centers are just what you need to get started!
- Designing for Accessibility
OSEP’s AEM Center provides quick guides to making accessible documents, publications with EPUB (an e-book file format), videos, STEM materials, websites, and social media posts.
- Captioning Key and Description Key
OSEP’s Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) developed guidelines for vendors who create captioning and audio description for DCMP; this useful information is available for everyone to use in creating captions and audio description.
- We Describe the World
DCMP, in cooperation with national broadcasters, launched this national campaign to increase awareness of audio description.
- Authoring Accessible OER
OSEP’s Center on Inclusive Software for Learning (CISL) collaborates with Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education to provide free tools to support building accessible and open educational resources for all learners.
Let’s All Learn
Our increasingly digital world means that we no longer have to carry as many heavy books in our backpacks, and we aren’t limited to just the books and media in our own classrooms and libraries.
Textbooks, video collections, and even entire libraries are now instantly available through our tablets, smart phones, and laptops. Students with visual and hearing disabilities and with print-access disabilities (e.g., learning disabilities, visual impairments, or physical disabilities preventing them from using traditional books) have additional access to online libraries and repositories of accessible instructional materials.
The following collections and resources are supported by OSERS:
- Bookshare Reader
This free reader from the OSEP-funded Bookshare project is available on web browsers, iOS and Android devices, and Alexa-enabled smart speakers. Eligible students can customize their access millions of eBooks for school and leisure reading.
The American Printing House for the Blind (APH), an OSERS Special Institution, hosts the Louis Database of Accessible Materials, which is named in honor of Louis Braille. Louis contains information on accessible educational materials (braille, large print, audio, and electronic file formats) produced by more than 75 organizations throughout the United States and Canada.
OSEP’s Center on Inclusive Software for Learning (CISL) is home to this free, flexible, adaptive, and customizable digital learning environment. All software for the Clusive Learning Environment is free and available on GitHub for open-source download, development, and improvement.
- DCMP Media Center
Through DCMP families and educators who have at least one eligible student can access thousands of educational videos with high-quality audio description and captions, and many with American Sign Language, including teaching tools and videos for educators and interpreters in training.
Dicapta Corporation, an OSEP Television Access grantee, is the home of All4Access, a universal clearinghouse of accessibility assets that facilitates exchange of captions, audio description, subtitles, and sign language while protecting the rights of media creators.
Access in the Classroom and Beyond
From accessible learning for our youngest learners, to equitable participation in online assessments, to resources for post-secondary students, OSEP centers have a wealth of resources!
- Accessible Learning Across the Lifespan
OSEP’s National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM Center) developed a four-part, fully accessible video series designed to start conversations about the importance of accessibility and accessible materials.
- My S.T.E.M. Adventure
Even the littlest learners can go exploring with this accessible mobile and web-based app for developing early skills connected with science, technology, engineering, and math. This app is an innovation from OSEP’s STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) Center.
- Accommodating Deaf Students in Online Classes
OSEP’s National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC) compiles tips and resources for ensuring deaf students have equitable access in a variety of online courses.
- Assessment in Inclusive Technology Systems
OSEP’s Center on Inclusive Technology and Education Systems (CITES) supports schools and districts in procuring, designing, collaborating, and analyzing to provide inclusive, accessible assessment systems.
- Accessible Games for Learning
Bridge Multimedia, an OSEP Television Access grantee, collaborates with PBS Kids and other partners to break new ground in the accessibility of entertaining digital games for learning. Their new game Cyberchase: Duck Dash received an 2023 Kidscreen “Best Learning App, Branded Content” Award.
- Rhonda Weiss Center for Accessible IDEA Data
OSEP’s new Rhonda Weiss Center for Accessible IDEA Data helps states share their Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)-authorized data in dynamic and highly accessible digital formats.
- The Accessible Learning Experience Podcast
Check out this informative podcast from OSEP’s AEM Center and enjoy listening via the center’s ultra-accessible podcast player, built with CAST’s open-source Figuration framework for creating accessible, cross-device, interactive websites.
Looking to learn about even more digital accessibility resources? Check out this GAAD blog post from the Office of Educational Technology
Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.