New Illinois legislation supplies entry to on-line academic sources for college students with disabilities
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The students had to get used to virtual learning in the last year, but it wasn’t easy for everyone. Some with disabilities and individualized education plans have had difficulty with online courses. Illinois now has a law to change that.
This law requires school authorities to adhere to web accessibility guidelines when contracting with third party virtual learning providers.
Approximately 18% of Illinois college students have a disability, developmental delay, or an IEP. Governor JB Pritzker and sponsors say the law can help more schools become ADA compliant and serve all students. They believe schools should never leave students behind because of a disability.
The new law is special for Tom Loftus, an assistant prosecutor who helps people with disabilities in Cook County. Loftus also struggles with low vision and is constantly helping others with similar challenges.
“There’s a group of people out there who don’t even get the information to move on,” Loftus said. “How do you get someone who can’t see interested in learning when it’s all a struggle?”
According to Loftus, 70% of the visually impaired remain unemployed or underemployed as a result of this educational problem.
Help every student succeed
The guidelines for web content accessibility include adjustments for hearing, cognitive, physical, and speech impairments. Some of the features include text-to-speech, video captioning, and alternatives for the color blind.
“If we focus our work on those who were marginalized in the past or who had limited access and they are now able to get that access by designing our curriculum by sharing the access points with them design first, everyone wins. ” said Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago).
Pritzker says he is proud that Illinois continues to pave the way for an education system that can meet the challenges of the 21st century.
“This new law makes Illinois a national leader in protecting students with disabilities from being left behind by digital learning platforms,” said Pritzker. “By next August every K-12 public and private school in Illinois must ensure that their online curriculum conforms to the leading standard for web content accessibility so that all students can take advantage of the tools that bring the world into their classrooms. “
MP Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) said it was encouraging to know that companies like Newsela are already meeting the standard for accessible curriculum. But in this case, she found it useful to make sure that all schools in Illinois met this standard.
A problem that was exacerbated during the pandemic
“For me, this is the core of our work to enact political changes that improve people’s lives,” said Mah. “I am particularly proud to have been involved in this legislation because it brings together a number of issues that are very close to my heart – access to education and equal opportunities for people with disabilities.”
Tyler Overstreet is a former high school teacher who works at Newsela. He stated that the education provider focuses on accessible and equitable resources for students and teachers. Overstreet said about 13% of students across the country are receiving disability services.
“That’s hundreds of thousands of students every day who may go to school and access digital resources that they can’t really access,” said Overstreet. “As for this issue, it has been under scrutiny over the past two years with the pandemic and push for distance learning. We know that districts are actively trying to resolve issues related to WiFi and only make devices available to students. But we know that the challenges with devices don’t stop there. “
Overstreet also said that his company is making sure content is accessible to the over 1 million students who use the platform.
The proposal was passed unanimously by both chambers this spring. The law comes into effect on August 1, shortly before the start of the next school year.