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A Realistic Start to Prioritizing Accessibility in Your Edtech Ecosystem

This is the third blog on the new TrustEd Apps Rubrics (self-assessment tools) developed by the 1EdTech community.

When we talk about creating an open, trusted, and innovative digital ecosystem to power learner potential, we need that ecosystem to work for everyone. 

To help make that vision a reality, 1EdTech released a new accessibility rubric to give educational institutions a starting point when looking to procure accessible technologies and to make it easier for suppliers to create them. 

“Through the 1EdTech membership, we had a task force of representatives from higher ed, K-12, and vendors, who helped make sure everything we were doing met each group's needs,” said Kelly Hermann, vice president of accessibility, equity, and inclusion for the University of Phoenix, and chair of 1EdTech’s accessibility task force.  

A Place to Start

Prioritizing accessibility is an important step to take when it comes to inclusion and ensuring learners are successful. 

First, it creates a welcoming and inclusive environment. 

“If you are a student who needs to use assistive technology, and you can’t get it, what that tells them is ‘they don’t want me here.’ It’s an extra step if a learner has to ask for what they need to be successful,” said Hermann. 

Second, it provides a better picture of what a student actually knows because it creates an even playing field with the rest of the cohort.

“Accessibility ensures that a learner’s ability to demonstrate what they learned isn’t measured by their ability to interact with a tool,” explained Hermann. “Instead, students can simply sit down and do what they’ve been asked to do.”

Benefits to Educators

There is a lot of great work on standards and technical accessibility requirements. 1EdTech’s rubric is not designed as a replacement for those standards. Instead, the 1EdTech community sees this as an opportunity to consider factors beyond the technology. 

Suppliers provide written evidence and attestations to how they approach accessibility when developing their products in order to help educational institutions determine if it’s a good fit.

“The rubric allows us to know if a supplier prioritizes accessibility and what kind of partner they will be,” said Hermann. “We’re looking for things like having a public accessibility statement and if they’re prepared to work with us if and when unique student issues arise.” 

That partnership is vital because regardless of how accessible a product is, every learner is different, and unique situations inevitably arise. Knowing a supplier is ready and willing to step in and help in those situations can be invaluable. 

Benefits to Suppliers

The rubric also serves as a more manageable first step in meeting accessibility needs for suppliers, covers the more common questions institutions have about accessibility so suppliers only need to answer them once, and allows them to showcase any extra thought that may have gone into their various products. 

“While the standards for accessibility are well established (WCAG, Section 508, EN 301, and others), reporting about conformance to a standard doesn’t give suppliers an opportunity to speak to the spirit of their commitment,” said Rachel Comerford, senior director of Accessibility Outreach and Communication at MacMillan Learning. “With this rubric, customers will not have to worry about asking the right questions or enough questions or comparing responses coming in a variety of formats using different measurements.”

“Many times when I’m talking to suppliers, I tell them if they aren’t doing accessibility evaluations, they need to be because we aren’t going to be the only institution asking these questions,” said Hermann. “This is important to our students, and so more institutions are starting to ask these questions.”

How It Works

The rubric is designed as a self-assessment for suppliers so they can see what is important to institutions and have a place to point potential customers to get their questions answered. Institutions can then submit their own reviews and comments in 1EdTech’s management system and list any concerns that other institutions may need to consider.

“Accessibility is a journey rather than a destination, and the Accessibility Rubric provides a baseline for suppliers on that journey,” said Daisy Bennett, associate general counselor and data protection officer for Instructure. “The holistic nature of the rubric helps edtech suppliers understand the needs of their customers, learners, and educators.”

“This rubric isn’t punitive,” said Hermann. “We know we are all on different parts of the journey. That’s why this work is ongoing. We will continue to evolve, and this allows our partners to learn, evolve, and be recognized for that work.”

The TrustEd Apps Accessibility Rubric will join 1EdTech’s Data Privacy Rubric and the recently released Security Practices Rubric and Generative AI Data Rubric in 1EdTech’s TrustEd Apps Directory and TrustEd Apps Management Suite. Until then, suppliers are encouraged to review and consider their own policies before self-reporting.

About the Author

Andrea Deau

Andrea Deau is the senior director for higher education partnerships at 1EdTech, where she works closely with members to meet the challenges they face in the rapidly growing and evolving digital teaching and learning landscape. She has a robust professional history serving as an academic innovation leader focused on student-centered education and experiences.

Andrea began her career as a classroom teacher and recently served as the assistant vice provost for online lifelong learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, launching the first online undergraduate degrees for the university. She has led teams to build the infrastructure for the UW Flexible Option competency-based education programs while facilitating a new comprehensive learner record technology centered around digital credentialing, interoperability standards, achievements, and competencies. Additionally, she has directed enterprise academic technology in higher education and drove member activities and engagement across WiscNet, Wisconsin’s Research & Education Network member cooperative. She holds an MS in Educational Leadership and a BA in Education.


Published on 2024-01-18

PUBLISHED ON 2024-01-18

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Andrea Deau
Senior Director for Higher Education Programs
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