By Adopting Accessible Technology, Educational Institutions Provide Equal Opportunity for Individuals With Disabilities.
When the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, the Internet as we know it today the ubiquitous infrastructure for information and commerce did not exist. Neither did the information technology driven workplace or school house. Today the Internet, most notably the sites of the Web, plays a critical role in the daily personal, Educational, professional and civic life of Americans. This encompasses more and more how government and private education does business.
Increasingly, many public and private educational entities under title II and III of the ADA and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are using websites and information technology to provide the public access to their programs, services, and activities. To support these activities the internal or employee (teacher) facing operations of government and the private educational institutions are driven by information technology products and services.
Information available on the Internet has become a gateway to education. Schools at all levels are increasingly offering programs and classroom instruction through websites. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs online; some universities exist exclusively on the Internet. Even if they do not offer degree programs online, most colleges and universities today rely on websites and other Internet-related technologies in the application process for prospective students, for housing eligibility and on-campus living assignments, course registration, assignments and discussion groups, and for a wide variety of administrative and logistical functions in which students and staff must participate. Similarly, 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.
Educational barriers are posed when websites and software used by educational institutions are designed without accessible features, putting individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage, and preventing true equal access to education.
Being unable to access websites and software puts individuals with disabilities at a great disadvantage in today’s society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic educational, market and workplace which provides unprecedented access to information.
The Internet is dramatically changing the way that educational entities serve the public.
Both public and private educational entities are increasingly providing their constituents access to services and programs through their websites. Through educational websites, students can obtain information or correspond with teachers and administrators without having to wait in line or be placed on hold. They can also pay fees, apply for student lones, renew student identification, register to vote, sign up for classes, request copies of vital records, and complete numerous other everyday educational tasks. The availability of these services and information online not only makes life easier for the students, but also enables educational entities to operate more efficiently and at a lower cost.
For government and private sector education to ignore people with disabilities as a constituency for goods and services is a tremendous mistake. This is a group that now includes twenty five percent of the general population and that number is only going to keep growing.
People with disabilities represent a vast untapped talent pool ready to join the workforce. With the rehabilitation funding available educators must see the necessity of providing access, not to do so would again be another great mistake not to provide educational opportunities to qualified individuals with disabilities.
All that is needed is for educational institutions to adopt an Access Ready Environments policy to better serve this constituency. The ADA’s promise to provide an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from all aspects of American civic and economic life will be achieved in today’s technologically advanced society only if it is clear to educational institutions and other places of public accommodations that their websites and internal facing information technology systems must be accessible.