Summary of NCDAE Meeting - Orlando Florida - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Contents

On January 19, 2005, the National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE) convened a follow-up meeting to its May 2004 Summit on Accessible Education Technology. The 21 individuals that participated in this day long discussion represented the information technology industry, online assessment industry, university researchers, various government contractors, and others interested in ensuring that individuals with disabilities have full access to electronically-mediated education. It was sponsored, in part, by the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), in collaboration with its 2005 annual conference.

Purpose

The main purpose was to review the national summit workgroup notes from the May meeting to improve their clarity of purpose, and to review progress on the items “in process”. Another was to engage in dialogue among AT industry and education providers regarding accessibility and compatibility of electronically mediated education products and services with various assistive technologies.

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Meeting Summary

This meeting included three invited guests: Carol Price of CTB-McGraw Hill; Patricia Hendricks, Mid-Atlantic Regional Technology in Education Consortium (MAR*TEC); and Ken Salaets, Information Technology Industry Council. Each responded to the notes resulting from the May Summit and commented on the priorities identified at that meeting in an effort to extend the conversation from that perspective. Following the panelist discussion, participants broke into four self-identified Communities of Interest: (a) voice of accessibility, (b) standards harmonization, (c) procurement policy, and (d) accessible evaluation and assessment. Each Community addressed the following questions:

  1. What future tasks need to be completed?
  2. What partnerships should be developed in order to gain the most influence, or systems change?
  3. How can our activities be funded?
  4. How can we best report on our progress to key stakeholders?

Each Community provided a summary of their responses to the questions. It was noted that the NCDAE is not attempting to be all things to all people; rather, it is attempting to foster national dialogue and to bring together collaborators who might best address the issues identified in the joint national discussion. Therefore, when NCDAE uses the term, “We,” it refers to a broad array of individuals and organizations throughout the United States and abroad who are attempting to improve and enhance access to electronically mediated education. Below is a brief summary of the discussions from each Community of Interest.

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Community of Interest Summaries

Voice of Accessibility

One of the issues addressed throughout the meeting was the need for the concept of accessibility to be universally understood in industry, government, and education circles, as it pertains to the need for all students to have full access to educational technology. The discussion focused on the need to better market the concept of accessibility to software and hardware developers and vendors.

There must be a way for the disability community to define a rational business case for developing technologies in an accessible manner. Realistically speaking, the only way industry will change its research and development practices is if there is a strong business case for so doing. It is important that the economic impact, both positive and negative, of developing accessible technology be clearly proven so that the disability community can make a case for its proposed reforms and initiatives. Doing good for its own sake is not sufficient to affect change in our capitalistic system.

There was a lengthy discussion regarding the January 2005 release of the 2004 National Education Technology Plan by the U.S. Department of Education. Since it did not specifically include individuals with disabilities, it was identified as an excellent opportunity for the disability community to more fully describe accessibility needs of students with disabilities. Participants drafted concepts to be included in a follow-up letter to the U.S. Department of Education, describing how the needs of individuals with disabilities should be included in the National Education Technology Plan. It was agreed that members of this community will work with one another to develop and revise the response letter prior to its submission to the U.S. Department of Education in late February 2005.

This Community discussed various ways to influence the U.S. Department of Education in its education technology policy discussions. It appears that disability groups are inadequately represented in discussions where education technology policy is developed. It was suggested that the NCDAE assist the U.S. Department of Education to develop an Accessibility Council to help the Department become and stay aware of issues related to technology development and its impact on the unique needs of students with disabilities. The Council would ensure disability representation in all discussions regarding education technology policy. Representatives could include: special education, regular education, information technology developers, and consumers. However, it would be important for each representative to have a complex understanding of technology and how it serves as an interface between students and curriculum content, assessments etc.

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Standards Harmonization

The standards harmonization Community discussed various development standards currently available. These include Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the W3C, and various international standards. It was suggested that accessibility advocates review the various standards available to determine what works in realistic terms. Questions such as, “what are the implications of these various standards on the development and dissemination of technology?” must be addressed. The economic and financial case for developing these standards and their effect on the ability of private business to develop and market their tools must be considered a primary implication. Based on this review, it was suggested that modifications to existing standards be recommended to improve the standards so that they could better meet the needs of students with disabilities of all ages.

This Community indicated that standards should be applied and used as tools, and that they should be used to enforce the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. Standards should be used to ensure equality of opportunity and full participation in public education activities.

As standards are developed, they need to be "future proofed." They must be general enough to allow the technology industry to make the rapid gains it desires, without unduly limiting the creativity of software and hardware developers. Additionally, standards must be outcome based. In order to do so, standards must have credibility, both in government (e.g., National Institute on Standards and Technology) and the private sector. Credibility may also be gained by partnering with stakeholders, both public and private, to disseminate, implement and evaluate these standards.

Incentives must be developed in order for standards to have any chance of being adopted. This would require funding, not only for their development, but for the evaluation of accessibility standards. This could happen through congressionally-directed budget appropriations or grants, and possibly through industry leaders attempting to make the case for fully accessible education. However, if there is not a strong business case for industry, it is unlikely that industry will adopt standards that could be perceived as stifling their creativity and ability to adapt to changing markets and technology.

It was suggested that government organizations could take a leadership role in developing, disseminating, and implementing standards. This could occur through the White House, United Nations, or the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Anyone one or a combination of these entities might lend enough credibility to this discussion that it will have some influence on what is occurring in the education technology industry.

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Procurement Policy

One of the biggest concerns in the procurement of accessible technology is accurate, reliable assessment and evaluation of existing technology to ensure that it is fully accessible to the needs of all individuals. Oftentimes, technology is developed and procured by entities who take no responsibility for the full accessibility of the content. This scenario leads to a desire for uniformity and standards in the development of technologies.

Each school district, as part of "No Child Left Behind," is required to develop a local education technology plan. The process of development presents the opportunity for accessibility advocates to help districts include accessible technology procurement language in their procurement policies. This could possibly force developers and vendors to develop technologies that are more accessible to the needs of individuals with disabilities. However, there are various decision factors to consider based on the environments in which these technologies are used (i.e., large districts versus small districts). Economies of scale must be considered, both at the district level and at the vendor level. If the economy of scale for these technologies is so small that it does not warrant a change in research and development protocol, then industry will be hard-pressed to develop technology that meets the needs of several disparate education tech plans.

This Community suggested that a model program for procurement be developed to overcome these barriers. This could be done through a virtual library of accessible technologies. Buyer clubs could be developed that would encourage the pooling of demand for accessible technology. These would enable vendors and procurement officers to concentrate on new and common needs, while at the same time enabling purchasers to realize substantial cost savings from bulk buying. The buyer club model program is innovative, yet could have tremendous impact with long term dissemination potential. A buyer club would need to start with a narrow focus and could provide a good model for districts and educational service consortia throughout the United States .

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Evaluations and Assessment

This Community discussed a variety of issues related to on-line assessment and evaluation. Chief among them was digital rights management. This discussion revolves around issues of content ownership; who owns assessment content once it is purchased by a district? Systems that allow flexibility may also affect assessment in terms of construct validity. The idea of universal design may run counter at times to the development of accessible assessment and evaluation tools. This led to a brief discussion on how assistive technology and information technology connect. There may be times when these conflict, particularly when adaptive assessments are conducted through an information technology system that is interfaced through some type of assistive technology. Again, there may be validity concerns with the test results, as on-line testing may measure not only an individual's ability to understand and respond to content but also their ability to use a computer..

This Community stated that existing resources and research regarding on-line assessment needs to be conducted. Asking the preliminary question, “Who's done what in the field?” Once this is answered, accessibility advocates need to debate the standards present in these studies to gauge whether or not there is consensus on these standards. Once that has occurred, there could be a marketing strategy and model to disseminate information regarding accessible assessment and evaluation activities. In development of these tools, there should be some type of checklist to ensure that universal design is considered in the development of each. Finally, development of an on-line knowledge base of on-line assessment and features for accessibility could be developed and disseminated widely through the NCDAE and its partners. This would be of tremendous help, since NCLB is calling for even more attention to accountability that includes all students, including those who use assistive technologies.

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Conclusion

The discussion among participants was wide ranging and complex. It is unfortunate that time was so short. We were unable to come to a consensus on specific activities and tasks with manageable timelines. However, the participant discussion resulted in a variety of ideas that, if considered collectively, could provide a focused approach to enhancing the accessibility of electronically mediated education in our nation's schools. Participants in this meeting agreed to continue dialogue on these topics and to develop the ideas generated in the Communities of Interest into manageable tasks and activities that each can work on individually and collectively in the coming months and years.

Additional Resources

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Marty Blair
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