Exploring the ABCs of Accessibility in Education 

By: Sarah Roberts
A stack of books with an apple on top and ABC blocks

Scott Ready, Global Head of Accessibility & Inclusion at Verbit, is a renowned accessibility advocate who regularly speaks on how to improve everyday environments with a Design Thinking approach to make them more inclusive for everyone. 
His decades of experience in the education field prompted Accessibility.com to recruit him to speak at its recent webinar, Class is in Session: The ABCs of Accessibility in Education.  

Why you should watch

The webinar tackled subjects like how ensuring students have access to the resources they need to learn and grow should be a top priority for every institution. It also spoke to the legal ramifications that educational institutions must consider when failing to meet today’s accessibility standards. 
While there are moral, professional and legal reasons to provide the most inclusive environment possible, achieving that result is rarely easy. In recent years, online accessibility has further complicated the issues, leaving many confused about what they need to do, what they should do and how to take action. 
Ready, joined Darcy Hardy of Anthology Inc. and Bryan Gould of the National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH, to address these issues and set educators and students up for a successful year. The three panelists shared their perspectives and addressed what it takes to be an inclusive student environment in today’s digital world.  

Girl with denim jacket wearing a backpack and carrying books

How Scott Ready offers a unique perspective 

Ready has gained a lot of wisdom in his 20+ years working in the education space. However, what really sets Ready apart is his unique personal background and more than 30 years of experience promoting equity, accessibility and inclusion. On a personal level, Ready grew up surrounded by these issues. Both of Ready’s parents were instructors at the Missouri School for the Deaf, and his first language was American Sign Language.  

Ready’s intimate knowledge of the accessibility space gives him valuable insights into the importance of inclusive classrooms. Additionally, the many years Ready spent working in education and accessibility have allowed him to track the evolving trends that schools need to understand. Given the massive changes in education, including the impacts of distance learning and technology, now is a great time to think about how these issues intersect with accessibility.  

Addressing recent events which sparked change in education 

The webinar also addressed how remote learning has drawbacks, but how many instructors learned valuable lessons and skills when forced to attempt virtual courses. Students gained perspective about their autonomy, rights and what it means to be included.  

“Having experienced education being delivered remotely, students are more forthright in requesting adjustments and accommodations in order to better succeed,” said Ready.  

Interestingly, the rapid and significant changes helped some students find their voices. Certainly, students needed many tools to perform their coursework remotely. Perhaps schools were more open to those requests, or instructors were more active in soliciting feedback from their classes. After all, for many educators, the circumstances and rapid shift to remote learning meant they needed to find new tools to engage their students. 

Rather than falling into a comfortable status quo, university leaders were actively engaging in adaptation. Within that environment, some students found room to request better support from their educators. Also, educational institutions had to find ways to keep their students happy. Without the social piece, students might’ve been more inclined to consider the value of the education their schools were offering.  

Ready and the panelists will explore that reality, as well as how enrollments are down overall. Students pursuing higher education are increasingly concerned about getting educational experiences that will prepare them for the professional world. The percentage of nontraditional students attending college is rising at the same time. These students have responsibilities like full-time jobs and children. As a result, online or hybrid courses and their flexibility offer attractive alternatives to on-campus education. Therefore, today’s schools need to consider how to ensure that their online courses accommodate diverse students.  

Student holding a backpack

Discussing how students are paying the price of exclusivity in education 

With webinars like this one being of high interest, it’s becoming clear that many people in the world of education are ready to embrace true inclusivity. Perhaps they’re finally seeing that the damage inaccessible education causes is real and devastating.  

“Accessibility in education is key to inclusivity,” said Lori Litz of Accessibility Plus, the organization hosting the webinar. “When we prohibit specific demographics from access to areas of education, we limit the pathways in life they can travel.” 

In other words, if students want to pursue a specific career, but the class offerings in that field aren’t accessible, they face unfair barriers. No student’s future should face limits because educators didn’t take reasonable steps to make their courses accessible.  

These issues are now playing out more often in digital spaces. Fortunately, many educational institutions are proactively implementing policies and solutions to address online access.  

“By bringing awareness of the need for digital accessibility in classrooms and eLearning to the front of educators, administrators, and students’ minds, we start to bridge the gap that has excluded many people from achieving careers and obtaining the education that so many of us take for granted,” said Litz. 

Learn how educators can address online accessibility 

Remote learning presents unique challenges for educators. Even professionals with the best intentions might struggle to know what steps to take. These panelists provided helpful insights, and tackled how to handle the lack of clear guidance in laws like the ADA. Without specific legal requirements related to online access and virtual courses, many universities base their standards on the WCAG guidelines.  

WCAG is an international set of web accessibility guidelines that continue to evolve as technology and expectations change. Although they aren’t legal requirements, many universities use them to make their internal standards. Because the WCAG changes more frequently, the requirements to meet the most up-to-date version will exceed legal standards.  

Watch these experts address how while online accessibility requirements aren’t new for universities, the need for them is more pressing now that so much instruction is happening virtually.  

Girl wearing backpack in front of flowering trees

Let’s explore the evolving world of education together 

Educators looking to navigate the changing higher education landscape need opportunities to learn from one another and experts in the field. This webinar provided a chance learn from educators and accessibility professionals who understand the industry’s current state.  

Verbit and its leadership, like Ready, serve as accessibility partners to educational universities, businesses and other institutions worldwide. Watch the event here and find out what Scott Ready and other accessibility advocates have to say about this timely topic.