Creating Accessible Remote Education

By Adrian Johansen

All students have a right to quality education, regardless of the challenges they face in their young lives. Many teachers and parents do what they can—often without government support—to make certain that kids are empowered to learn and follow their educational curiosities or ambitions. Unfortunately, there will be times that the events of the world intervene to disrupt these efforts.

The recent pandemic has been difficult in this regard. To keep children, faculty and their respective families safe there has been and, in many areas of the country, continues to be a need to minimize the number of students gathering in classrooms. As such, remote learning has quickly become a reality for most students. However, this move has resulted in an onslaught of additional challenges, and these can exacerbate the hurdles faced by those children who live with physical, intellectual or learning disabilities.  

As remote learning continues to be a feature of schooling, and perhaps even become part of widespread blended learning models in the future, there needs to be a focus on making it more accessible. We're going to examine how parents and teachers can work to ensure that no child is left behind as a result of this shift in environment.

Teacher and Children talking: Accessible Remote Education

Photo credit: Pexels

Agile Planning to Accommodate Multiple Needs

One of the issues that teachers faced—particularly at the beginning of the pandemic—is that the methods of teaching in physical environments don't necessarily translate directly to a remote environment. As such, to make remote education accessible, there needs to be an agile approach to planning lessons which should take the following into account:

Technological Gaps

The tools required to partake in lessons can represent hurdles to students. Those with mobility or learning challenges may be utilizing assistive equipment or software which results in their inability to use remote tools as easily or swiftly as other students. Not to mention that those from marginalized backgrounds may not have access to high-end equipment or as fast internet connections as others. Remember that 26% of lower-income households use mobile internet rather than a broadband connection. When planning lessons make sure that these can be accessed using entry-level equipment and minimal internet speeds.

Video Use

Teachers' interactions with students in remote learning are often truncated. So, making educational videos has been a solution to providing students with longer lessons, and the ability to pause and repeat certain aspects as needed. However, these videos also need to be created with an agile approach. When outlining and storyboarding your video content, consider a multimedia approach that takes into account the varying needs of students. Including visual references is a key aspect of any educational video, but make certain to include on-screen text information alongside audio descriptions to cater to students who may struggle learning from lectures alone.

Cooperative Spirit: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

At times of significant challenge, one of the worst things anybody can do is to try to go it alone. This especially applies to providing remote education for those with accessibility difficulties. Schooling from home is still a relatively new scenario for many teachers, students and parents alike. As such, perhaps the most sensible approach to creating the most accessible remote educational experience is to work together.

The first step is to arrange meetings between teachers and parents. Talk about what the remote teaching plan is, and discuss how this may result in additional challenges for the student. Talk about how to address the accommodations the child has at school, and how these might be replicated for the remote environment. If necessary, include the school's special education administrator in this discussion, and go through the individualized education plan (IEP) to identify where activities need to be altered to meet the plan's goals. Once you have started implementing these changes, make regular review appointments to assess the efficacy of the approach and any changes that need to be made.   

However, it is also vital to include the student in these plans as much as possible, particularly if they are in higher grades. They understand their individual needs better than almost anybody else and will be able to identify what aspects they struggle with. Excluding them from this planning and execution process limits their empowerment to take control of their own educations and their futures. Indeed, conductive education has posited that students' self-image suffers if they are considered to be the "sick kid." Work to give them some independence in their education by encouraging their input into the process.

Push Inclusivity

One of the most prevalent issues with accessibility when it comes to remote education is making it an environment where all students can thrive. This doesn't just mean from a strictly academic perspective. Rather, there also needs to be attention to how to mitigate the potential for learners to be isolated from their peer group. This can often occur to those who experience disabilities of any type, and isolation tends only to exacerbate feelings of loneliness, depression and stress that may arise from the situation. 

Accessibility in Education. Girl using Sign language over Zoom.

As such, teachers and parents alike need to apply effort to making the remote classroom a more inclusive place. Though it is generally not practical for the entire school day to be full group sessions, make sure that there are opportunities for group discussions a few times a week. Utilize conference calling software such as Skype or Zoom that is accessible on all types of internet-connected devices. Perhaps most importantly, make efforts to ensure that each member of the class has an opening to contribute ideas and engage with their peers.   

Create tasks that require collaboration with others. These can be in small groups, either composed of their friends or switched around frequently to ensure truly diverse and valuable connections. Make regular online meetings between the groups part of the requirement for the project, and ensure there is an element of fun to these. Being able to enjoy their learning together will help students to maintain bonds with one another throughout their remote experience.

As we live in an increasingly remote world due to the pandemic, it is vital to ensure the processes and tools used in distant teaching are accessible to all students. This must include a commitment to understanding the challenges and keeping lessons agile. However, it's important to recognize that some of the most valuable tools at your disposal surround working together as a community and maintaining an inclusive process.

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