The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted numerous underlying inequities in education and created new challenges for meeting students’ diverse needs. Remote learning is likely to continue throughout the pandemic, making inclusive education technology (ed tech) critical to ensuring equity. A new guide from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and 10 partner organizations, “Inclusive Technology During the COVID-19 Crisis,” can help districts use this summer to make ed tech decisions that will benefit students with disabilities.
Last year, NCLD partnered with ten organizations to create a set of resources on inclusive ed tech. Our original framework remains useful, but we recognize that decisions about ed tech have changed drastically in the past few months. We have updated our district report with new guidance to meet the demands of the current moment. Our new guide names key stakeholders who should be involved in decision-making and provides guiding questions for the five phases of ed tech planning: vision, design, procurement, use, and continuous improvement.
The new guiding questions come directly from our partnership with organizations representing a range of education stakeholders. Partners include research organizations such as AIR and the Friday Institute; local decision maker organizations like ASBO International and CoSN; state policy maker organizations like NASDSE and SETDA; and national policy and advocacy thought-leader organizations like Learning Accelerator, Digital Promise, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.
With our new collective dependence on remote learning, the digital divide has been a focus of many education equity discussions. Access to the internet and digital technology is crucial, but these discussions often leave out concerns about accessibility – whether ed tech provides students with disabilities with equal access to instructional content. This summer is a critical opportunity for districts to reassess their approaches to technology and consider how ed tech products can be used to improve the educational opportunities of students with disabilities.
Districts had to pivot quickly to fully-remote learning in the spring, creating a sudden reliance on ed tech. Some districts had already invested in ed tech products and created district-wide plans for their use, while many others had minimal experience with coordinated, district-wide tech implementation. The unique needs of students with disabilities were not always prioritized in the scramble to set up remote learning, putting these students at risk of losing access to the educational opportunities provided to their peers without disabilities. Districts are now charged with making remote learning more equitable and inclusive for the next school year.
Our collective responsibility to continue educating students throughout the pandemic must center around equity and students with disabilities. To ensure that all students are able to learn, districts must use this summer to create ed tech plans that are inclusive and accessible. We know that technology will be critical to education in our new reality, and we encourage educators to see this as an opportunity to be strategic and innovative.
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