Have you ever felt frustrated when you can’t quite reach something? You can see it up there, on the tippity top shelf—but try as you might, you can’t make your fingertips do more than push it further back.
What about when you need to make an appointment, but there’s no provider available within a hundred mile radius, or none that have an available time slot this millenia?
Ever tried to log onto a website but can’t for the life of you remember the unique password you thought was so clever when you created it but forgot to write it down?
Not being able to access what you need is pretty annoying at best, and downright disheartening at worst. It can stand in the way of you getting what you want and require in your daily life.
Now, imagine you were unable to access a free and fair education, just because you had a mental or physical issue that limited your ability to participate and engage in the school experience, without support and assistance…
That’s more than frustrating—it’s downright unfair.
The good news is, there are laws in place that ensure all students in this country have access to the full, robust, inclusive education they deserve. Because education is a right, not a privilege.
Accessibility in education falls under the category of civil rights. That’s because everyone, regardless of their abilities and differences, has the right to be integrated into a classroom setting and to access the same information and knowledge as their peers.
If you have a child with a physical or learning difference or disability, the concept of accessibility in education is vital for you to understand in order to advocate for your child and know their rights.
Let’s explore the concept of educational accessibility, so you can feel confident in understanding this important principle in action.
What is accessibility?
According to a joint statement from the US Departments of Justice and Education, accessibility in education in this country is defined as giving those with disabilities the ability to “acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services” as people without disabilities.
It further stipulates that these goals must be met “in an equally integrated and equally effective manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.”
Ok, great. Now, let’s break down what that means in practice.
Accessibility in education simply means that all students are given equal access to educational experiences, tools, services, and informational resources.
This ensures that students with differences and disabilities are provided with the tools, supports, modifications, and accommodations they need to enjoy full access to the same educational accoutrement as their peers.
Because the ability to access a full and robust educational experience looks somewhat different for everyone, especially for students with disabilities.
Another aspect of educational accessibility is making sure that whatever accessibility features are offered are easy for the students who need them to find and use.
After all—what good are accessibility features if you can’t actually use them?!
For the past few decades now, the awareness of the importance of making learning materials and technologies accessible to all students has grown exponentially.
Done well, accessibility promotes the inclusion, participation, and progress of all learners. It ensures kids are provided with what they need to learn the way they learn best.
Let’s explore how accessibility looks in action in the classroom, as well as why it’s a vital concept in modern education.
Why is accessibility important in education? And how does it work?
Accessibility eliminates the barriers to learning that might otherwise be faced by students with physical and mental differences and disabilities.
It ensures that learning environments are set up to encourage and promote the ability of all students to access the information and materials they need to enjoy a robust, inclusive learning experience.
And here’s an important truth about inclusion in education—it not only benefits the students for whom it’s directly intended. It’s been shown to benefit all students.
When teachers are planning their curriculums, accessibility is an important consideration. In order to create lessons and learning experiences that are accessible for all, teachers must consider a wide range of student characteristics.
This includes things like disabilities, but it should also include considerations of race, gender, age, and ethnicity. Other considerations to ensure accessible learning include accounting for students’ learning styles, preferences, and language abilities.
Planning with accessibility in mind is a proactive way of ensuring that potential learning barriers are addressed and removed ahead of time, without compromising the academic validity of lessons.
Of course, teachers can also always adjust their teaching methods to better suit their students, if they find that some barriers still exist past the planning stage. This can include classroom strategies such as grouping students by their preferred learning style.
Fortunately, when it comes to designing accessible classrooms and learning materials, teachers don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offer a roadmap to making classrooms that are designed for all students to learn how they learn best.
UDL helps educators use a proven framework when developing materials, assessments, and lesson plans that’s designed to be accessible for all types of learning styles.
At its core, UDL accepts that learning environments should be fluid and flexible—this way, they can meet the needs of the real students who are in them.
Some core principles of UDL-designed materials are that they should involve-
A variety of ways to learn and interact with lessons and materials
Opportunities for movement during the learning process
Assignments that feel relevant and promote engagement
Multimedia presentation of learning materials (such as in audio and visual forms)
Information presented in multiple ways, to promote holistic engagement and interaction
UDL promotes the ability of all children to learn, by modifying teaching approaches to suit all types of learners—rather than expecting kids to conform to one type of instruction.
Nowadays, it’s also vital to recognize that accessibility in education must also extend to the online space.
Most students use the internet as a source of information. As a result, web designers and online educational providers must take care to ensure their sites are accessible to all types of users.
This includes providing alt text for all images used on a website, to provide accessibility for visually impaired users. It also includes things like considering what font to use, and selecting a text size that can be easily read by all visitors. It also involves adding closed captioning to videos and live events. In this way, the internet and the information available on it can be accessed by all types of people.
What types of learners can benefit from accessibility?
The truth is—all types of learners prosper when accessibility is on the menu.
There are a wide variety of learning styles, and accessibility offers students many different ways to access the information they need.
Plus, research shows that creating and fostering inclusive classrooms benefits not only students with learning differences and disabilities, but is a great benefit to all students.
Accessibility in education may have been initially created to support students with disabilities—but it truly supports all students in their learning goals, by removing barriers and ensuring flexibility in instruction.
If your child has a diagnosed condition that’s known to impact learning and developmental skills, they stand to greatly benefit from enhanced accessibility standards in education.
Accessibility in education is especially important for learners with issues like—
Nowadays, we recognize that learning and thinking differences are abundant. And, we know these differences shouldn’t be stigmatized, but should instead be celebrated. But, above all, learning and thinking differences shouldn’t stop a child from getting the education they deserve.
How can I make sure my child benefits from accessibility in their education?
When you’re a parent, it’s a full-time job looking out for your child’s best interests. This is doubly true if your child faces any learning challenges or diagnoses that may impact their educational experience.
You’re in their corner, ready to fight for what they need in order to learn and achieve their highest potential.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had someone there beside you? Someone with the expertise and leverage to make sure your child gets everything they need to thrive in school and in life?
At The Loop, we’ve made it our mission to support and uplift families just like yours—to ensure a full and equitable education is accessible to all.
If you have questions or concerns about accessibility in your child’s school, we can help support both you and them in getting everything they need to thrive.
We’ll help remove any barriers, create customized supports, and ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to giving your child what they need to succeed.
We offer educational consultancy and advocacy services, to give families the expert guidance you need to navigate the educational system and ensure your child gets the support and assistance they need, throughout their educational journey.
Interested in learning more about how the Loop’s educational consultancy and advocacy services can support you in getting your child the educational experience they deserve? Find out how this vital learning support service works in our deep-dive article.
When Chicago students face educational challenges and obstacles—The Loop is here to make sure their path is clear for the educational experience they deserve.
With our team of dedicated professionals and our extensive menu of therapy and learning support services, we’re always ready to support our Chicago private school partners in offering the best, most inclusive and accessible education to the families they serve.
The Loop is here to support accessibility and inclusion in education. We offer top-notch speech, language, occupational, and behavioral therapy services to our Chicago private school partners, as well as an extensive array of learning support services, including executive function coaching, learning remediation, and educational consultancy and advocacy.