As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind (CHE)

As High-Tech Teaching Catches On, Students With Disabilities Can Be Left Behind (CHE)

February 25, 2015

By Casey Fabris

Educational innovations like the flipped classroom, clickers, and online discussions can present difficulties for students with disabilities.

The issue was highlighted this month, when Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were sued for allegedly failing to provide such students with closed captioning for online lectures and course materials.

Peter Blanck, chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and author of eQuality: The Struggle for Web Accessibility by Persons With Cognitive Disabilities (Cambridge University Press, 2014), said blind and deaf students need to be considered when shifting core parts of teaching to the Internet.

“So far, it’s been kind of an incremental struggle by persons with disabilities to have full and equal access to the web,” he said.

Though many colleges have set up procedures for converting traditional teaching materials, like printed textbooks, into accessible formats for students with disabilities, colleges are still figuring out how to adapt online materials. Mr. Blanck recalled the struggles of blind students he wrote about in his book. Courtney, for example, couldn’t take classes that required significant library research, and Blair couldn’t read certain texts for his physics classes.

“Presumably, universities should be at the forefront of these changes,” Mr. Blanck said.

Here are some of the teaching methods and technologies that present new challenges to students with disabilities.