Access Ready Education

Access Ready Education
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today did not exist as the ubiquitous infrastructure for information. Neither did the possibility of an information technology driven schoolhouse. Today the Internet plays a critical role in the daily, educational and professional life of Americans. Increasingly, many educational entities under Title II and III of the ADA and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are using information technology to create and provide access within and to the virtual and physical classroom. To support this, the internal facing systems of educational institutions are driven by information technology. An Access Ready Environments Policy is intended to advance accessibility across the information technology used in the educational landscape.

Information available on the Internet has become a gateway to education. Schools at all levels are increasingly offering programs and classroom instruction through websites. Colleges and universities offer degree programs online; some exist exclusively on the Internet. The information technology used by many render the use by individuals with disabilities difficult or impossible because of the barriers raised by inaccessibility. Being unable to access websites and information technology puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s technology-driven schoolhouse. The Access Ready Environment is one where the accessibility of information technology is designed in from the outset and is not an afterthought. Educators who embrace an Access Ready policy can accomplish this over a five-year budget cycle without real difficulty.

For many, it is now difficult to imagine a world without the unprecedented access to information that the web provides. Don’t students with disabilities deserve the same access? Even if educators do not offer classes online, most rely on the Internet in the application process for prospective students, for housing eligibility, on-campus living arrangements, course registration, assignments, and discussion groups, and for other administrative and logistical functions where students and staff must participate. It is a fact that the Internet is dramatically changing the way that educational entities serve their constituents. By adopting an Access Ready Policy educators can achieve and maintain accessibility through information technology. Becoming accessible is only the beginning. Without policies in place to maintain it, the effort is wasted.

In the elementary and secondary school settings, communications via the Internet are increasingly becoming the way teachers and administrators communicate grades, assignments, and administrative matters to parents and students. The availability of online services not only makes life easier for those with access, but also enables educational institutions to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. Accessible information technology should be embraced as the greatest step forward in learning since the printing press. for educators to ignore people with disabilities as a constituency for educational services at all levels is a tremendous mistake. This minority now represents twenty-five percent of the general population according to the Centers for Disease Control. An Access Ready Environments policy can move public and private education in the right direction.

People with disabilities represent a vast untapped talent pool ready to join the workforce. Given the rehabilitation and educational investment made by taxpayers, it is ridiculous not to seek out qualified individuals with disabilities to work in the field of education. What is needed is the adoption of an Access Ready Policy that applies to information technology across public and private education. Accessible education is the silver bullet. The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American, educational, civic and economic life will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to educational institutions that their information technology systems must be accessible.

Douglas George Towne

Chair/Chief Executive Officer -Access Ready Inc.