Educational technology should be accessible to all students

Expert Views

Educational technology should be accessible to all students

We have seen the use of educational technology become more widespread in the last year. We have also seen additional disruption to education as COVID-19 has affected student achievement, particularly in the diverse groups of students with accessibility needs. Aside from the overarching challenges of learning from home, the nearly 7 million students with disabilities in the country had additional hurdles to overcome during the pandemic. For these students, moving to Zoom has not been a stable solution for remote learning.

We must pay tribute to schools and educators who have rapidly adopted educational technology tools to support distance teaching and learning. However, at the same time, we cannot forget that education technology and accessibility are not mutually exclusive. We have the opportunity – and the obligation – to make tools supportive of learning in and out of the classroom for everyone.

Mathematics is one area where the pandemic has created a need to highlight accessible digital and personal learning. Historically, the teaching and practice of mathematics has been a paper-based exercise. During the pandemic, math has moved online, and educators are realizing more than ever the vast benefits of creating digital math. These benefits included accessibility for those who struggle to use traditional learning materials or who need certain conveniences, such as text-to-speech or speech-to-text conversion.

Additionally, digital mathematics tools developed on the foundations of personalized learning and holistic learning design gave students choice and allowed them to play to their strengths. Students can now choose to listen to math lessons and respond by either writing or handwriting or dictating their answers. This not only helps diverse and visually impaired learners, but also provides multiple means of expression for visual or auditory learners. The accessibility and customization within these tools has made mathematics more accessible to students with pervasive abilities.

I think in the coming years we will continue to see the use of education tools and technology rise across the curriculum. Furthermore, tools will increasingly be designed to make learning accessible across student groups, environments and topics, considering learners of all abilities.

After working in education for more than two decades, I believe we need to challenge education technology providers to build accessible solutions for everyone. Being inclusive – both in and out of the classroom – makes our communities and our world stronger.

Every year, and this year is no different, my goal is to continue to increase the appreciation of what technology can do for learning and understanding. I witnessed for myself the joy of understanding what was previously inaccessible. It is worth the effort on everyone’s part.

Martin Mackay is the founder and CEO of Texthelp, a leading technology company focused on helping all people learn, understand, and connect through the use of digital education and accessibility tools.

About the author

Martin Mackay is the founder and CEO of Texthelp, a leading technology company focused on helping all people learn, understand, and connect through the use of digital education and accessibility tools.

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