Students across the country are reentering school under difficult circumstances -- their third year of pandemic-disrupted learning. Studies reveal that by the end of this past school year, K-12 students were on average five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. And over the past year and a half, students' relationships to learning technologies have been evolving, especially as educators turn to new strategies to address learning loss.
A recent survey from the EdWeek Research Center found use of technology among teachers and students was increasing and online instruction was taking hold in some form in most places during the pandemic. This turn toward technology has the potential to benefit student learning - using tech in the classroom keeps students engaged, makes it easier to collaborate, and imparts 21st century skills that make students college and career ready. And while many of the digital education tools and platforms teachers and students have relied on during the pandemic are likely here to stay, it’s become increasingly clear that not all these technologies are accessible to everyone. Many students with disabilities – nearly 14% of K-12 learners – have learned this the hard way.
That’s why we’re excited to see groundbreaking legislation out of Illinois: a bill requiring all online education tools used in Illinois classrooms to comply with World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is a critical step toward increasing equity and accessibility in learning for all students, especially those who are often left behind.
Following WCAG guidelines ensures significant support for students with disabilities such as blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, and limited movement. At Newsela, we’re committed to meeting these accessibility and equity standards: our student experience is fully WCAG compliant, including such features as being fully navigable by keyboard, having alternate text on all images, using updated colors that meet color contrast standards, and containing screen reader-friendly labels.
While the realities of remote learning and increased reliance on technology are challenging in many ways, the increased awareness around accessibility in digital education tools is long overdue. Illinois’ new WCAG bill is blazing the trail for student inclusion and accessibility.
There’s still more to do to even the playing field for students with disabilities, but WCAG laws are tangible, achievable, and easily implemented changes that can have a real impact on students. We’re hopeful that other states will follow suit in order to serve all learners.