Building on the momentum from Illinois’ landmark passage of accessibility legislation last year, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan recently signed legislation that creates more inclusive and accessible learning environments for students with disabilities. The new laws in New Jersey and Maryland require digital platforms and web services used in schools to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The law requires that digital platforms and materials must be accessible for students with cognitive and learning disabilities, low vision, and students with disabilities on mobile devices. The states will establish a system of evaluation and monitoring digital materials for compliance. New Jersey’s law goes into effect for the 22-23 school year and Maryland’s law for the 23-24 school year.
Support from accessibility advocates such as the DeafBlind Community Access Network of New Jersey, The Arc of New Jersey, the New Jersey School Counselor Association, and the Garden State Coalition of Schools brought the bill across the finish line in New Jersey. In Maryland, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) and the National Federation for the Blind of Maryland championed the new standards for accessibility.
At Newsela, we’re committed to meeting these accessibility and equity standards: our student experience is 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.
The ubiquity of education technology in learning means that if students with disabilities can’t access the materials used in class, they’re missing out on a significant portion of their instruction. With laws now passed in New Jersey, Illinois, and Maryland, there is a growing trend of states and districts not only seeking, but requiring digital tools to be accessible for all students.
Last week, a NPR/Ipsos poll found that most parents believe their childrens’ academic performances are improving, despite the many challenges in K-12 education stemming from the pandemic. Unfortunately, when it comes to parents of students with disabilities, the same rosy outlook is not shared. The poll found that parents of students who receive special education services or have an IEP are “more likely to indicate their child is behind where they should be in math and science, reading and writing, social skills, and mental health.” While many possible factors contribute to parents’ attitudes, accessibility of learning materials is a critical component of ensuring students with disabilities are able to fully participate in the classroom.
WCAG laws give every student the opportunity to engage more deeply in their education. We applaud New Jersey, Maryland, and Illinois for ensuring that the 14% of US students who receive disability services won’t be excluded from fully engaging with digital tools simply because they are not WCAG compliant.
Three states down, forty-seven to go.