Report on accessible ICTs for students with disabilities

UNESCO, jointly with Microsoft Corporation, launches the report on Accessible ICTs and Personalized Learning for Students with Disabilities at the International Conference on Assistive Technology and Persons with Disabilities in San Diego, USA.

G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, a flagship advocacy initiative of UN-GAID, the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, provided a generous financial contribution to the organization of the launch and contributed to the discussion.

Personalized learning requires attention to the unique needs of all students of all abilities, acknowledging that each have different learning styles including students with mild, moderate or severe disabilities. Technology plays a particularly vital role by enabling flexible curriculum development and assisting students with disabilities to participate as equals in the learning experience.

The new report summarizes the multi-stakeholder discussion organized at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 17 to 18 November 2011. The discussion focused on challenges of and practical solutions for promoting personalization through technology in the classrooms for students, particularly with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. The report includes a number of successful case studies and recommendations on how educators and students could use existing technological solutions in classrooms, and how UNESCO’s ICT Competences Framework for Teachers could be applied for teachers’ capacity building on issues related to the accessibility.

The key recommendations on practical solutions for the use of accessible ICTs contained in the report target teachers, policy makers and administrators. They focus on a number of core themes that include:

Maximizing use of accessibility features in currently available technologies
Most mainstream ICTs, such as computers, tablet PCS and other technological solutions, used in schools contain a wealth of features, which, through the setting of preferences, can help many students in accessing the curriculum and recording their work. 

Enabling students to ‘self-accommodate’ by learning the computer features that best suit their needs
The ability to personalize technology to suit ones preferences and needs is a life-skill that will benefit students as they progress through the educational system.

Monitoring the potential of new developments and near-future technologies as a means of addressing current barriers         
The following technology trends are worth monitoring: mobile learning, cloud-based solutions and research into the use of game consoles for learning.

Creating an inclusive and positive attitude towards the use of technology for learning    
Attitudinal barriers towards and fear of technology by teachers, parents and administrators will significantly reduce the chances of teachers exploiting the benefits of accessible ICTs even in well-resourced settings.

Training and supporting teachers            
If teachers are to be convinced of the value of accessible ICTs in the classroom they must first have the necessary skills, attitudes and knowledge.

Team effort in training and on-going support required for effective accessible ICT usage
A functional accessible ICT eco-system requires joined-up thinking at a policy level as communication between all actors as a local level including assistive technology specialists.

Considering students’ needs from the earliest stages of curriculum development
The development of curriculum that is designed from the outset to meet the greatest number of students will reduce the need for costly and time consuming retrofitting (universal design).

Accessible ICTs as a key consideration for national and regional policies 
The potential of accessible ICTs should be fully explored by national educational authorities and ministries with a view to updating national and regional policies to promote their use as a tool for achieving inclusive education.

Use of accessible ICTs as an integrated part of a school’s ICTs plan

The meeting concluded that national authorities and governments face significant human rights and educational specific goals and challenges in relation to the provision of education for children with disabilities. The major tendency in new policy approaches is towards inclusive education. Whatever the policy environment is, accessible ICTs can significantly empower children with disabilities to participate in lessons, to communicate and to learn more effectively.

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