The digitalization of education has become incredibly prominent in recent years. Educators and students alike have adapted to new formats of teaching and learning — requiring a redesign of traditional methods that existed as the cornerstone of the educational system for decades.
The sudden shift increased the reliance on modes of technology to teach, learn, work, and interact in new and unfamiliar ways. Maintaining continuity of instruction amid a pandemic was an accessibility awakening — one that shed light on the complexities of an equitable education.
“Maintaining continuity of instruction amid a pandemic was an accessibility awakening, one that shed light on the complexities of an equitable education.”
With the spotlight on these challenges, deepening disparities in educational opportunity and achievement became more apparent. Educators and school leaders were forced to reassess the needs of all students and ensure that education—in-person or remote—was equally attainable regardless of ability or disability.
Whether students need special accommodations or not, educators have an obligation to dissolve barriers and provide the necessary services for an optimal learning experience. Learning tools that enhance communication and encourage classroom engagement are key in creating an accessible environment.
IDEA & CART Services
For over 7 million students in the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 21, the learning experience is riddled with unique challenges. These are the students served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which broadly covers some 13 general categories of conditions that adversely affect learning.
While education has historically challenged some students more than others, it tends to leave students with disabilities at a disadvantage — including those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. When schools do not take initiative to provide the necessary accommodations for special needs, these students get left behind. Services like CART assist with learning when singular methods of teaching such as verbal lectures are inaccessible.
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CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation), a word-for-word speech-to-text interpreting service, allows for effective communication access. The assistive technology is designed for individuals who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, experience cognitive, motor or communication challenges, or want to improve reading or language skills. Whatever the circumstance, the solution helps enable students to fully participate in learning environments.
The service requires a CART captioner to supply instant translation on a computer monitor or other display screen. CART captioners are typically sensitive to the varying needs of students, and are trained to convey a speaker’s message, complete with environmental cues and all. They can customize their services to accommodate each user’s needs and preferences, including adjusting font size and color.
The flexibility of CART services enables students to engage in classroom environments in which participation might otherwise be challenging. CART services help students follow dialogue more precisely and efficiently and understand their classmates better. It also enables learners to process complex subject matters or technical vocabulary.
Regardless of how clear a lecture is, it’s not uncommon for students to miss critical information or write incomplete notes. With CART, Deaf and hard-of-hearing students gain access to accurate material giving them the opportunity to engage more actively in classrooms instead of worrying about misinformation.
Video Source: YouTube
CART services are also suitable for all cognitive learning styles. Retention and focus levels have shown to improve, as has test scores. It is an especially useful resource for students who want a written log of the transcription for studying purposes after text has been recorded.
All students process and respond to information differently, but the assumption that those with a disability are somehow less capable academically is a fallacy that needs revision. And it begins with ensuring students have the tools and accessible accommodations needed to obtain the same education as peers without a disability.
Other Similar Transcription Services
In addition to CART, other transcription services available that also promote autonomy and equal communication access, include:
- C-Print, a speech-to-text service that can summarize large amounts of information quickly
- TypeWell, a tool that provides meaning-for-meaning translation
- Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) a technology that translates speech into text via an electronic device
While using any of these three services can be advantageous, they all share the similar shortcoming of inaccuracy. External variables such as noise, pitch, pronunciation, accents and volume can disrupt the automatic translation process. In result, transcriptions riddled with errors are obviously difficult to read.
Enter Ava Scribe
For educators and students looking for a more accurate, flexible and functional solution than CART, Ava Scribe proves paramount. Unlike traditional CART captions or common speech-to-text apps, Ava combines AI with professional captioners (Scribes) to deliver premium quality captions with accuracy greater than 99%. It makes key conversations between instructors and students easier, and sets up educational institutions to meet ADA requirements. Ava Scribe is suitable for in-person classes, remote or online classes, as well as group work.
Image Source: Ava
The Effects of Inaccessibility in Education
The obvious casualty of failing to provide students with necessary accommodations is that of opportunity. Students who miss out on an equitable education are less likely to complete postsecondary education — and also less likely to attain employment.
Image Source: National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Education
The impact of an inaccessible education system on the lives of disabled students transcends academic and economic inequity. It bleeds into the social aspects and overall quality of their lives, as well.
In particular, a compromised education impacts a student’s self-perception and their view of how others might perceive their condition. This feeling of uncertainty explains why many disabled people feel the need to hide their condition from their employer. Thankfully, assistive technology like captions has emerged as possible solutions to the complex problems of learner diversity.
The Golden Opportunity of Educational Technology
In this age of rapid digital evolution, more schools are implementing technology in order to deliver a better learning experience to their students. For learning materials to be accessible to all students, accommodations must be met where needed. To prevent students with disabilities from falling behind as digitization rises, teaching and learning methods clearly need design with all students in mind.
Image Source: Ava
Understanding the Law
Governments around the world are passing legislation that calls for accessibility online and offline. In the United States, for example, Section 508 requires educational institutions to provide accessible electronic content for people with disabilities.
The A11Y Project, a movement that calls for inclusive digital experiences, is working in the socio-cultural realm to build awareness and destigmatize disabilities. As perceptions of disabilities shift around the globe, the demand for accessibility in every sector continues to grow.
Image Source: A11y Project
Ways to Increase Accessibility in Education
The benefits of accessibility in education are not exclusive to only those with disabilities. Accessibility and making information easier to process serves everyone. While students with disabilities may reap the most evident benefits, their progress is a branch of the positive outcomes that stem from accessible classrooms.
In order to provide students the most effective academic environment possible, educators may consider the following strategies:
1. Leverage text-to-speech technology
Some of the most common obstacles to accessibility are hearing loss, visual impairments, language barriers, and literacy challenges. Around the world, there are:
- Over 1.5 billion people with hearing loss
- 1 billion people with moderate to severe vision impairments or blindness
- 773 million adults with no literacy skills
- 5 million U.S. students who are English language learners
For some of these students, technology like text-to-speech (TTS) makes book-learning a reality whereas before perhaps reading words on a page was not possible. Instead of struggling to sound out words, students can focus on word recognition and reading comprehension by using TTS to listen to their reading material.
2. Openly communicate student needs
When it comes to identifying disabilities and unique learning styles, teachers are often the frontline. Paying attention to student stress, difficulty following along, participating in the classroom, or other signs that indicate the need for change, allows educators to become effective advocates for their students. In turn, teachers can commit their learned insights to administrators and disability service coordinators who can help accommodate accessibility needs.
3. Evaluate accessibility tools for classrooms
Administrators and educators must be aware of assistive technologies and long-term accessibility solutions for needed accommodations. With the right tools, teachers can easily meet all the accommodations requirements outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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Choosing a Captioning Service
Captioning services vary in numerous ways. From speed and accuracy to features, function and flexibility, understanding the difference between all the options is essential.
In a case study with Santa Monica School District, Ava trumped other captioning providers because of its competitive pricing, premium accuracy, and service flexibility. And while most automated caption software misses the nuanced needs of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, Ava was built from the ground up by a CODA and a Deaf engineer with the DHH community in mind.
Additionally, Ava Scribe employs human captioning agents to transcribe speech in real-time to catch any missed caption from the software. With stronger language recognition and background knowledge of the subject matter, Ava Scribe transcribes speech with supreme accuracy.
Human ability to understand inflection and vocal cues better than a computer means Ava Scribe can format and punctuate caption text for easier reading and comprehension. Ava services colleges and universities across the country to provide greater accessibility to students and assure ADA compliance.
Closing Equity Gaps With Quality Education Support
Accessibility in education is a two-way street. In one direction, learning material must be completely and totally accessible to learners. In the other direction, students’ abilities must be accessible by teachers in order for educators to guide students to their full potential.
To close equity gaps in education with quality support, teachers must assess student ability and disability. Most Deaf children benefit from different styles of learning, including use of visual language like American Sign Language and also captions. When talent and special skill set is recognized and properly accommodated, students thrive. Assistive tools that enhance accessibility promote higher learning and create equitable educational outcomes for all.