Adam Nemeroff, an instructional designer in Dartmouth College's department of academic and campus technology services, admits he has “super-complicated and conflicted” thoughts about the role of technology in ensuring that digital courses and curricular materials are fully accessible to all students. He’s seen his institution and others in recent years talk more about accessibility and invest in digital tools to address concerns head-on. But he thinks there’s a downside to being too tool focused.
“If you’re starting with the technology, you’re doing it wrong,” Nemeroff said. “In my experiences, it’s mostly an issue of perspective to show where these problems could arise for specific individuals and people really understanding that.”
Institutions have begun taking accessibility more seriously as the threat of litigation has grown, enforcement has grown more stringent and challenges for students have garnered more mainstream discussion. Learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas are among the companies offering products and services billed as early-warning systems and even antidotes to accessibility shortcomings. Institutions are striving in greater numbers toward universal design for learning, which emphasizes multifaceted tech-driven approaches to improving students’ access to learning.
Technology has limitations, of course. Institutions rely on it so heavily so that some have considered joining forces for a more unified quality-review process. Most observers agree human intervention will always need to remain part of the accessibility conversation, given the diverse array of definitions of the term. Thus far, however, digital tools have proved more successful at identifying superficial failures in courses than at digging into the nuances that make courses more deeply accessible to a wider range of students.