When we hear about the digital divide, we often immediately think about mere access to technology and broadband. Undoubtedly, access remains an important concern. According to the 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” only 62 percent of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the internet, while 90 percent of those making $50,000–74,999 used it. There is, however, another less discussed digital divide—that of rigor. We know workers across many industries are facing increased pressure in the form of automation and outsourcing in sectors that their communities have long relied on. Knowing that, the most important tech-related question in education policy is not who has access to technology, but what quality of learning does the technology provide?
For the last year, the National Center for Learning Disabilities and a number of national partners have tackled this new divide—the quality divide. It often manifests in school, district, and state procurement decisions, but neither starts nor stops at those decisions. Instead, we found through research and numerous conversations that there are five different stages where we both see the divide and where state, local, and vendor stakeholders actions can help bridge it:
- VISION: The vision grounding the ed tech investment is grounded in high expectations for knowledge, skills, and dispositions for all learners.
- DESIGN: Disability experts and individuals with disabilities are fully included in the design of all products designed for general education populations.
- PROCUREMENT AND PURCHASE: The needs of all learners inform decision-making.
- USE: Practitioners are empowered to effectively use products to serve all learners.
- CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT: There is funding to expand and sustain the benefits of the tech investment for all learners.
It’s worth highlighting the word all in these actions and closely considering what it means to achieve that goal. Inclusion is not just a word on paper, but the product of proactive and collaborative mindsets and actions by a diverse group of stakeholders. In other words, no one can do this alone. That’s why NCLD is excited to release the report, “Inclusive Technology in a 21st-Century Learning System,” and multiple companion pieces created in collaboration with a number of great partners to serve local, state, and national stakeholders. Partners include research organizations such as AIR and the Friday Institute; local decision maker organizations like AASA and ASBO; state policy maker organizations like NASDSE, SETDA, and NASBE; and national policy and advocacy thought-leader organizations like Learning Accelerator, Digital Promise, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the Future Ready Schools initiative.
As we work with our partners, we want to ensure that we ourselves model what we advocate for. We believe it is the responsibility of many stakeholders to ensure that students with disabilities are provided access to ed tech that facilitates deeper engagement and learning. We believe that these deeper learning experiences can happen only when ed tech initiatives and products are designed with the needs of students with disabilities and other traditionally disadvantaged students considered at the outset of visioning and design, rather than retrofitted down the road. And we believe that this is not a one-time activity, but a continuous process. To that end, we are proud and grateful to our many partners who remain engaged in this conversation with us and who see the need for inclusion through a similarly proactive and comprehensive lens. Be on the lookout later this month for these publications. We invite you, the reader, to join us at that table.