Most, if not all, K-12 school districts now use web-based apps and tools in addition to paper materials, from daily assignments to signing permission slips. One might think the apps would provide blind parents more access and bridge the accessibility gap, but not all apps are accessible for people with vision loss.
Web-based learning platforms aren’t new to educational entities. However, the pandemic changed the way school districts manage and maintain successful and enriching curricula. Accessibility for people with visual impairments is often overlooked, not only by the app developers but also by the school districts. For the purposes of this article, the term assistive technology for visually impaired also referred to as AT, is a product, equipment, or system that enhances learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.
Classroom apps are great for teachers. Teachers use these apps to send out homework, test results, grades and calendar events like class trips. Teachers still rely on paper materials for students but many are moving away from it to help the environment. However, when a parent with a visual impairment can’t access a printed notice or an app to access the information on an upcoming class trip, these methods become a serious barrier.
Educating those who are educating children sounds redundant, but it is all about communicating with one another. The one common thread stressed by both parents and educators is establishing a relationship and staying connected. Don’t be afraid to be the one to reach out. Waiting until the teacher is the one asking for a conference might be too late. Explain your needs right away when you meet with your child’s teacher.
Remember, you have a right to ask for a reasonable accommodation. A clear and uncomplicated conversation is a good place to begin, followed by a statement in writing sent via email helps both parents and teachers work as a team on behalf of a student. Parents like Rebecca Bridges, a blind mother of two sighted boys, ages seven and two, said daily communication via email or text messaging with her son’s kindergarten teacher kept everyone in the loop. She and the teacher were able to work out the best time to exchange information and kept to a routine. “Don’t be reluctant to remind your child’s teacher of your needs,” adds Rebecca, “more often than not, a teacher will appreciate it.”
What if this does not work?
If a teacher isn’t acknowledging or collaborating with you to find strategies to help, it’s time for you to do some homework. The first step is research. Know your rights.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and guarantee your right to communication in formats that you can use.
Consult the experts like the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind or the Blind Parent Alliance Facebook group.
Next, follow the chain of command and document everything from phone calls to email.
The steps mentioned here are basic and could be applied to most circumstances related to asking for equal access for yourself or a family member.
First, identify the barrier. For example, is the teacher not emailing assignments in a format your text-to-speech program can read? Is there a permission slip or contact card requiring handwriting? What about a virtual learning platform that isn’t configured for assistive technology for visually impaired?
Next, find the right person to approach. Begin with the teacher. If this does not result in anything useful, contact the school principal. If this doesn’t result in an action, go to your school district’s office and ask to speak to the commissioner. Finally, if you are blocked or ignored over a period of time and your documentation reflects a lack of attention to your attempts to connect, you may wish to consult with an attorney or organization affiliated with experience in working with a civil rights attorney.
Remember, you are in charge of your child’s success in the classroom. When it becomes a challenge, advocating for your rights to help your child is the key. Whenever it is better to work around the barriers or and when it makes sense to push through them, find the support and don’t give up.
“Be kind, be courteous but be persistent,” says Rebecca.
Outlook Enrichment is a local organization with experience in helping people with vision loss request needed accommodations. If you need help asking your child’s school for accommodations to properly support their education or need more information about assistive technology for visually impaired, contact us today to get your questions answered.