Technology in the classroom should not forget students with disabilities


Two of the premises that stand out the most in the new educational law that is being implemented in Spain are the inclusion of comprehensive education through the application of the Universal Learning Design (DUA) principles and the empowerment of digital competence.

Both elements are transversal within academic planning, that is, they are applied to all learning areas without being the subject of a single subject. At first glance they seem complementary (one of the purposes of technology is to make information more accessible), but they can also be contradictory to each other.

Evaluating the technology

When analyzing accessibility to digital technology, the international standard is the WCAG 2.1 standard published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C is an international community that develops norms and design standards that improve access and use of the Internet in the medium and long term. Within the multiple publications of the W3C is this standard that allows us to analyze a technology from four indicators:

  1. Perceivable: that it is possible to see and listen to the content and, if there is any barrier to it, have alternative ways (subtitles, textual alternatives, etc.).
  2. Operable: that the usual forms of interaction are possible (keyboard, mouse, touch screen, voice). But also that, if there is any barrier or disability that does not allow it, there is the possibility of operating in a different way or through technical support.
  3. Understandable: that users understand the technology, its use and the content it transmits. For example, that the text is not only legible, but also understandable. And that the design can be used with minimal learning.
  4. Robust: compatibility with present and future technologies is maximized. If we find an accessibility solution, it should not expire every time a piece of content is updated.

Reflecting on these indicators allows us to see that the intensive use of standard technologies in the classroom can be a barrier for some students.

Accessibility issues

Students with sensory disabilities cannot access usual screens or resources, such as videos without subtitles or digital texts.

People with motor disabilities may not be able to operate with common computing devices. Touch screens multiply this problem and voice interaction does not solve the access problem for students with associated aphasia, such as cerebral palsy or some hemiplegia.

In the same way, technology is not always understandable for students with learning disabilities and could be the cause of an even greater gap with the rest of the student body.

Universal learning design

At the same time that it proposes to promote the digital competence of students, the law mentions the application of the DUA (Universal Design of Learning) principles .

Universal design was born as a current in the world of architecture in the 70s. Ron Mace , founder of the CUD ( Center for Universal Design ), coined this term to define a methodology for creating physical spaces designed to meet the needs of access , communication and use of all potential users .

Adapting the construction of the structures was more economical, functional and aesthetic than a subsequent adaptation. In addition, it was later discovered that non-disabled users also used these adaptations to make better use of the designed space.

In the 1990s, researchers David H. Rose and Anne Meyer from the CAST center (Center for Special Applied Technology) translated these terms to the educational world, revealing what we coined as DUA .

Following the premises of its predecessor, the DUA seeks to generate curricular designs thought of diversity. Its application also requires analyzing the technologies used in the classroom, so that they comply with the WCAG 2.1 accessibility principles. It is the way to prevent technology from becoming a barrier.

Augmented reality

The lack of accessibility is especially pressing in extended reality technologies (virtual and augmented reality). The use of these technologies is increasingly popular in the classroom, since with them we can bring the world closer to the students.

Thanks to virtual reality we can access places like the Amazon jungle, a historical battle or an anatomical cavity, for example, from the classroom. However, these technologies require a high sensory, operational and comprehensive interaction, without the accessible solutions being common.

Look for solutions

It is essential that in the coming years we investigate and develop accessibility requirements in educational technologies, before their use becomes widespread in the classroom.

This will not only open up more inclusive spaces, it will also save costs and future problems in the fusion between accessible and quality education, and the transversal application of digital competence.

Author Bios: Rafael Conde Melguizo is Director of the degree in Digital Arts and Jorge Andres Serrano Archila is a Doctoral student of the Faculty of Education both at Camilo José Cela University