Technology has become an integral part of most educational institutions, yet many people still find the terminology on the subject confusing. The following definitions will attempt to clarify some of the confusion by explaining the most common terms in a simple manner and without the use of technical language. We hope that this document will be easy to understand for anyone working with technology in the educational field, including teachers, information technology staff, policy leaders, directors of computer programs in schools, distance learning staff, and web designers. This document does not provide complete legal definitions, but includes at the end the sources where you can get more information.
What is information technology?
Information technology (IT) includes products that store, process, transmit, convert, copy, or receive electronic information. In federal law, the term electronic and computer technology (E&IT) is commonly used. Examples of IT may include: application-specific programs, operating systems, computer systems and web-based applications, telephones and other telecommunication media, video devices, multi-media products, and office equipment. Electronic texts, instructional programs, e-mail, online chat programs, and distance learning programs are also considered examples of computer technology.
What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology refers to products used by people with disabilities to gain access to the environment and activities that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to use. It allows people to carry out the daily tasks of regular life, such as dressing or eating, facilitates communication and gives them greater access to education, employment and recreation. Examples of assistive technology include wheelchairs, manual controls for driving vehicles, and assistive devices for speech or hearing limitations.
Assistive products specifically related to accessible IT (known as adaptive technology) are those that allow people with disabilities to operate computers, software, the Internet, telephones, and other computer technology. If a person has limited hand use and wants to operate a computer, they can use a keyboard with larger keys, or a special mouse; people who are blind or have difficulty reading can use programs that announce text aloud on the screen; people with limited vision can use screen magnification programs. Hearing impaired or deaf people may use TTY/telephone systems or text telephones to communicate by telephone; speech impaired people may use a device that announces aloud the text the person is typing using a keyboard.
What is universal design?
To apply a universal design means to develop products that everyone can use as much as possible without having to be adapted or have a special design. These products help a wide variety of people with different preferences and individual abilities; communicate information appropriately (regardless of the environmental conditions or sensory abilities of users) and these products can be found, obtained, manipulated and used regardless of the person’s physical size, physical condition, or ability to move. By applying universal design principles, the need for assistive technology is reduced, resulting in an assistive technology-compatible product creating a product that works better for everyone, not just disabled people.
What can make computer technology inaccessible to people with disabilities?
IT can be considered inaccessible to people with disabilities if it only offers the user a single form of access to manipulate information, especially if the ability to use this technology depends primarily on the use of sight or hearing. For example, people with visual impairments cannot read instructions presented only in a visual format; deaf people cannot understand content presented only in oral form; people who cannot see colors cannot differentiate between options displayed in different colors; people with limited hand use cannot use the mouse on the computer; and people who move through the wheelchair cannot use a fax machine that has the controls in an unreachable location while the person sits. Electronic pages with mismatched designs, which use hard-to-recognize graphics and use inaccessible language, are difficult for everyone to use, especially people with cognitive limitations and those who have difficulty reading. Many of these barriers can be reduced or eliminated when technology is developed using a universal design.
What is accessible computer technology?
Accessible IT is compatible with assistive technology, and includes certain flexible features that allow people with disabilities to use assistive technology. Accessibility-related features can be included from the outset, such as an auditory response at newsstands or a high-contrast option in operational computer programs. A special order can also be made, such as using subtitles or oral descriptions in the video. In principle, the term accessibility implies that people can interact with technology in the best possible way on a case-by-case basis. In practice, determining what may or may not be truly accessible is considered a complex technical issue.
Examples of accessible Information Technology (IT) in education
Applications accessible to programs may include certain features designed specifically for people with disabilities. However, these allow the person to have more than one option on how to apply a certain function. For example, accessible programs may allow people to use the mouse only to use the keyboard, or a combination of the two.
Think of a young student using an educational program in the classroom. The narrator’s voice tells the young person to quickly click on an animal to learn more about it. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot hear the instructions. Blind children cannot click the mouse on the animal because they cannot see what is presented on the computer screen. Children with limited hand use cannot handle the mouse. Offering subtitles in addition to verbal instructions allows hearing impaired children who can read to understand the instructions. Offering keyboard commands to activate any function of the programs allows visually impaired children and those with limited hand use to use them.
Think of a student taking a test using a computer. Instructions and questions appear as text on the screen. By including an optional feature that allows text presented on the screen to be read aloud, students with cognitive limitations and reading problems are allowed to participate fully and independently. Headphones may be provided to prevent this from distracting other students.
Accessible videos offer synchronized subtitles for all verbal information, as well as all content presented in audio format. Synchronized verbal descriptions are also offered to explain visual content.
Accessible electronic pages
Accessible websites are designed to ensure that everyone who visits them is able to mobilize within them, have access to their content, and participate in interactive network activities. Accessible web pages offer equivalent text (usually a description) for all non-text elements, such as audio, video, graphics, animation, graphic buttons, and image maps. They also provide a clear and unambiguous navigation system and closely follow the most important accessibility standards in terms of their content, such as the guidelines published under the World Wide Web Consortium (WAI) or Section 508 Web Accessibility Initiative. Web pages designed in this way allow people who cannot read the screen to access information, using assistive technology such as a screen reader. Remember that although an electronic screen reader can read the description of a photo, the most sophisticated screen reader cannot offer a description unless it has been previously programmed.