Experiences Supporting Children in K–12 Education
I wish my concerns were only about how will I structure my children's education and not whether or not it will be accessible. To me, anytime a new app, website, or technology becomes the norm for work, personal life, or for my children's education, I have an anxiety over accessibility issues. Technology has helped to level the playing field, but it's still a little bumpy.
— Congenitally VI White female, aged 25 to 34 years, with no additional disabilities
Of 283 participants supporting a K-12 student's education, 113 (47%) had concerns about their child's education due to COVID-19 and answered questions about this topic, 21 (9%) had concerns about this topic but did not choose to answer questions, and 107 (44%) did not have concerns about their child's education.
Two participants were already homeschooling their child prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were asked the ways their child accessed instruction once school buildings were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ninety-six parents/guardians reported that their child was participating in online learning, and 47 shared their child was given packets of material, either by someone picking them up, receiving them via email, or downloading them from a website. Twelve participants decided to homeschool their child with a self-selected curriculum because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants provided their level of agreement to two concern statements.19
- I am concerned that my child is not accessing online learning as successfully as classmates due to my visual impairment and the COVID-19 pandemic. (n=82, M=3.32, SD =1.51)
- The training I received to assist my child to use new tools introduced by my child's school was accessible to me (n=7, M=3.00, SD=1.00)
Familiarity and Accessibility of Technology Tools
Seventy-seven (86%) of 89 participants reported their child's school introduced new technology tools to facilitate students accessing curricula from home (e.g., web-conferencing products, productivity tools, collaboration tools). Thirteen (14%) of the parents/guardians reported that there were no new technology tools introduced. More participants (n=53, 60%) reported the new technology tools were not accessible to them compared with 36 (40%) who reported the new tools were accessible. Ninety percent (n=80) of 89 participants received no training in how to use the new technology tools, whereas 9 (10%) participants did receive training.
For those participants who reported a lack of access to tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts (used for web conferencing), Google productivity tools (such as Docs and Sheets), and learning management systems, the reasons given varied. Many participants indicated that the tools were not accessible with screen reader software.
I am lucky that I have kids with vision, because Google Classroom has lots of access problems.
—Child-onset VI Hispanic female, aged 35 to 44 years with no additional disabilities
Some participants spoke to the challenges of the communication tools used by many teachers. Issues included apps that were not fully accessible, documents that were images and could not be read by screen reader software, and material that was difficult to see for those with low vision.
Whenever I use ClassDojo via my phone, it is completely inaccessible. I am unable to access messages, comments, or anything else my child's teacher left for the parents to read. When accessing ClassDojo via my laptop, it is somewhat accessible. However, there are many buttons that are unlabeled, and it is hard to decipher how to maneuver from one posting to the next.
—Child-onset VI Asian female, aged 35 to 44 years, with no additional disabilities
Issues with hardware were problematic for a few participants. In addition, restrictions placed on devices by schools limited participants' access to accessibility features.
My daughter came home with a Chromebook that was not accessible to me. She also has a school-issued iPad as per her IEP [Individualized Education Program], however, because of the restrictions that the district imparted, she was not able to access assignments, turn them in, etc., she has a textbook that is not large print, emails and packets to print and we do not have print capabilities, and they blocked the accessibility features on her Chrome extensions.
—Adult-onset VI White female, aged 55 to 64 years, with additional disabilities
Assisting Children with Schoolwork
Not all children are independent in their ability to access and complete their online schoolwork. This means that parents/guardians/grandparents are taking on the role of teacher as they support their child's access and engagement in education.
The presence of a visual impairment, coupled with the format of material teachers provided, interfered with some participants' ability to support their child.
Teachers are uploading the majority of the work as pictures of worksheets, screenshots, or even handwritten material. My child has dyslexia and uses assistive technology to read. So, neither of us can access about 80% of the information.
—Congenitally VI White female, aged 35 to 44 years, with additional disabilities
A few participants shared how they were approaching technology tools that were not accessible to them.
For other Google software, I've been finding YouTube videos to help me understand how to do something. Then I have my sighted daughter tell me what is on screen, so we can figure it out together. ... [W]e are learning together.
—Congenitally VI White female, aged 45 to 54 years, with no additional disabilities
As a result of access issues, there were a few participants who found themselves in a position where they were unable to provide their child with support in the same way as adults who are sighted.
[Because of my visual disability, I am] not sure if my child is getting the same feedback as to the assignments from me as the other kids are from their parents. In addition, some of the assignments are more difficult for me to assist with because I cannot see.
—Congenitally VI Multiracial female, aged 35 to 44 years, with additional disabilities
Emotional Effect on Adults and Children
Some participants expressed their concerns that because they were visually impaired, they were potentially impeding their child's education.
I am slowing down their daily learning and they are frustrated when I don't see what they see or what they are talking about. It is causing friction between us. [I] looked into tutoring, but it is too expensive.
—Adult-onset VI female, aged 45 to 54 years, with no additional disabilities
Other participants recognized that it was important to keep a balance in their child's life.
My priority at this point is keeping my daughter healthy and feeling safe. I am concerned about her education, but it is important to me that she remains emotionally stable and comes out of this without a feeling of being traumatized. Education has always been a struggle for her, so we are focusing on gratitude and kindness. The rest will fall into place when we meet again as a team.
—Adult-onset VI White female, aged 45 to 54 years, with additional disabilities
Many participants expressed frustration with the digital accessibility of their child's remote learning environment. Inaccessibility in the digital classroom is likely to negatively impact both students with visual impairments and children whose parents are visually impaired.
Additional educational recommendations will be included with the complementary Access and Engagement Survey report. That study examined how COVID-19 has affected the education of students with visual impairments in the United States and Canada.20
- School districts must procure, develop, and offer accessible apps, websites, and technology that provide equal access to visually impaired and sighted users. Access to accessibility features should be allowed under the school district's security and permissions settings on school-provided devices. Accessibility benefits not only students with disabilities, but also parents and other family members with disabilities who are responsible for assisting their child with their educational needs.
- In designing materials for student use, consideration must be given by school staff to providing an accessible version of pictorial materials including scanned documents. Administrators should ensure that all teachers have access to the tools needed to provide accessible formats, especially if teachers are also working remotely.
- School staff cannot assume that all families have access to online communication and learning management tools. Therefore, they must provide information delivered through these tools in alternative formats including sending home print materials, making electronic copies accessible with screen reader software, and making audio recordings that can be accessed by calling a designated telephone number. States, districts, and schools should provide technology and broadband access where necessary to facilitate distance learning.
- When circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitate that family members take on teaching responsibilities, there must be communication between school staff and families. Any challenges with access to information must be addressed and a system developed that ensures the child has access to the same instruction, learning materials, and teacher feedback as sighted classmates.
- Any accommodations that a child receives in the classroom through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan should follow the child home, or alternative accommodations to equivalent classroom access should be provided.
19. The mean (M) is derived by averaging the participants' ratings, strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). The larger the standard deviation (SD) the greater the spread from the mean of the participants' ratings.