In the English language school boards in Québec, we have made large strides in the integration of two frameworks with regards to students with special needs: inclusion and differentiation. Each school board in the English community can cite successful examples of these two frameworks being adopted in their schools. Adaptations and modifications required to support the two frameworks are a challenge for teachers to manage in the multi-ability and diverse classrooms, which are now the norm and not the exception. It makes sense to build on our base of knowledge of differentiation and inclusion, in order to focus on accessibility. In the context of the Universal Design for Learning framework (which many of our schools are in the process of developing) accessibility is key.
For more information on the Universal Design for Learning framework, please see below:
Accessibility means that all education settings should be accessible to every student, and that all materials should be useable by every student from the start. The focus on accessibility is not designated only for students with special needs; rather it is designated for all students. Accessibility is a “preventative” way of thinking about curriculum design, as well as selecting and designing materials. Accessibility means shifting our focus away from after-the-fact “retrofitting” of the curriculum in order to prioritize the design of teaching and learning experiences that can benefit ALL.
Accessibility has become a high priority for schools; in addition to Québec a number of Canadian Ministries of Education have provincial services that provide alternate format materials to students with print disability in their schools. In the US, provision of accessible educational materials to students with print disabilities is required by law.
Print accessibility is especially important. Here are examples of print that our students are exposed to throughout their school careers:
- Newspapers and journals
- Online documentation
- Picture books
- Teacher-prepared materials (documents, worksheets, etc.)
Many of these materials can be inaccessible to students with learning disabilities due to weak or uneven reading abilities. Research tells us that weak readers do not use typical reading strategies (making connections, predicting, questioning, and painting mental pictures) and must be taught these strategies overtly. To compensate for weak reading abilities, students are often offered alternate content at a different level. Our students can benefit from the same content offered in an accessible format. As an example, simultaneously listening to text while reading (text-to-speech) increases accessibility to the text and has been shown to increase comprehension.
Please see our slides below for more information on why accessibility matters: