>> Jessica Looney: Welcome, everyone. I'm Jessica Looney, Knowbility's director of education. I'm very excited to welcome you to the relaunch of Toolkit Tuesdays.
This was a series we created for parents students at home during the pandemic who were needing the tools to work remotely and now we're bringing them back every month beginning now.
And I'm so super excited to welcome our first presenter for this year, Claire Benedikt. Claire does not need any introductions because she will introduce herself. And in the interest of time I'll turn it over to you, Claire. Take it away.
>> Claire Benedikt: Thank you very much. I'll share my screen here. Oh, I see. Here we go. This is always the awkward part. Okay. Can you hear me and see my screen okay?
Very good. I want to open with this imagery. It's a visual analogy but right now it might be something of a mystery. As you listen to the presentation today, see if you can guess what this child is thinking.
Let me describe this image to you. It's raining. A child in a rain coat and goslashes holds an umbrella, she looks down at the reflection in a dark puddle and sees an astronaut in a field of stars.
What does this image mean? What is this child thinking? I think you'll hear the answer along the way. My name is Claire Benedikt. Hello. I work for a K-12ed tech company.
Some of you may have heard Curious George. That's some of our intellectual property. I'm not here today in my capacity as director of accessibility innovation and compliance at HMH. What I say here today I say as myself, but HMH has heard me say it, too, and they have listened.
How I came to be here today is at least in part a ghost story. It's a good ghost. It's the best ghost. My degree as long ago as it may be was under the tutelage or mentorship of professors Margaret Syverson and John Slatin the thought leaders of the then new area of technology's intersection with pedagogy which was my passionate thesis even back then, the time frame was 1992, 1997.
Professor Slatin was at roughly that time creating the university's institute for technology and learning. And when I met Professor Slatin he was in the process of losing his vision. Although accessibility was not our main focus, I still learned everything I could from him about the surreal to me story of his loss of sight, his losing his sight. I'm pretty sure I was clumsy and desperately naïve with all of my questions, but he taught me so much.
And literally decades later, over the course of an ordinary workday, my vision started to look a little like this slide. It was blurry. I had some blindspots. I had some color changes. And you know, by midday I really couldn't see my work at all.
And I was so panicked at my loss of vision I got in my car and I drove to an emergency appointment with an ophthalmologist. And I don't really know how I did that.
I always include that part of the story because it shows how foreign visual impairment can sometimes be to people who haven't experienced it. It literally did not compute. I thought I could drive, and I kind of did. And then I spent seven nights in the hospital.
And I started remembering those long ago lessons from Professor Slatin. And a chill ran down my spine. What are the chances that I would work with someone who would teach me so much about visual impairment and now years after he passed away, what I learned from him just by accident of his situation and sort of my own curiosity, it would suddenly be so relevant to me. And I mean, this was optic neuritis, this was optimal sclerosis.
My mind was blown. It was 2014 and I was abruptly identifying with this term disabled. And over the next few years I developed a philosophy that I later found was shared by many others. You may have heard parts of it before. And I want you to understand it before we go on because I find it's a position that I think it unlocks doors to equity in education, which is our main focus here.
And that's what this illustration is about. In this illustration, a tiny figure walks into bright light that spills through an enormous keyhole-shaped doorway and an infinite black wall. I think that figure is us, and we're sort of the key, you know.
So let's look at this guy. I love this guy. This guy is my go-to visual analogy for disability. I think he must be visiting a museum exhibit, maybe surrealism, right? He's feigning nervous laughter while standing amid chairs and a table that are so enormous they look to be designed for storybook giants. He looks tiny.
You know, we often hear the phrase he's disabled, she's disabled, I am disabled, and in my first few months as someone with visual impairment, I had this sort of private epiphany. I realized what people are really saying, I mean, what I'm saying now, myself, about myself when I use this phrase and maybe what parents and teachers and schools are saying when they use the phrase "does abled students," all of these uses of the phrase I am disabled, as it turns out, are actually sort of the abbreviated form of the full sentence "I am disabled by the world around me." I am disabled by the world around me.
This guy finds himself disabled by his environment. The dining room set was designed with someone else in mind. He's gazing up at the underside of this dining room table that was built to a different scale than one he can use. His abilities, okay, his abilities are what they are what they are, it's the environment that has rendered him disabled. And that was like a critically important conceptual inversion for me to finally understand.
Because now I knew that the term "disabled" can sometime be descriptive of a person's situation or circumstances rather than the person. If I saw Professor Slatin in his office, you know, familiar to him, with any tech he needed right at hand, he was -- he was just as fluent in his world as I was in mine.
At Knowbility's AccessEDU conference in June there was a student panel where kids spoke to us directly about their struggles in the classroom. And we heard from a parent and I think maybe her 9-year-old daughter. I'll call her Ella. I believe she had some learning disabilities stemming maybe from autism. And Ella's mother was told, your daughter might be held back a grade due to low test scores.
So her mother felt like what felt like medieval bureaucracy in process to get Ella accommodations that were a bit more innovative than anyone was at first prepared to offer. And when Ella had those accommodations the testing resulted in such high scores, that, get this, the school system questioned whether Ella was disabled in the first place.
And I say she absolutely was disabled by the former circumstances of the test. And she was less disabled by the latter circumstances of the test.
Ella was the constant, not the variable. Right? I guess I want to point out, also that disability kind of exists as an identity and a culture. And this idea that you can be rendered disabled by your environment, it doesn't replace that. I just want to say here that this insight that any of us can be rendered disabled by the world around us, it was, for me, an idea that unlocked doors.
It was sort of how to get from here to equity in education. Because human beings are not natively able. We never have been. Homo sapiens arrived at the use of tools to overcome disabling circumstances. It's kind of the signature of our species.
Think about as sue back diver, a beekeeper, a fireman, a construction worker, an astronaut. They're using equipment to do things they otherwise could not do. That equipment is their assistive technology. It is designed to allow them to be able in acutely disabling circumstances. All these are examples of people that are enabled by design. We are all enabled by design. This is the mantra of my own accessibility work, you know. The astronaut becomes this all-purpose visual analogy for the kinds that are rendered disabled by the world around them.
On the screen here we see the child in the rain coat again. And she's looking down at her reflection in the puddle. And she sees an astronaut standing against a field of stars. This time the image is used on a poster with the title "Enabled by Design."
I guess my question is, have you figured out what she's thinking? It's estimated that at a minimum, 15% of students in the general public school classroom are disabled by the world around them. Like anyone living on a sometimes antagonistic planet, they're unlikely to flourish without support designed to enable them.
These kids are our astronauts. We are not responsible for the state of the planet, if you will, but you and your partners in K-12Ed Tech are in a position to enable these students to flourish while they are within the ecosystem of education where we have influence. And we know every student is an astronaut of sorts. And none would flourish without support designed to enable them.
Speaking of supports, here's an example of just the desk of a K-12 student. Okay. We see a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard, some tablet device, headset, webcam with microphone, mobile phones.
This is the assistive technology of the able. This is what I call the assistive technology of the able. And here's a question for you. Would it be possible that this spread is considered maybe, you know, maybe a little high end, but kind of essentially mainstream. Like this is pretty much what kids have. Maybe some of you thought, you know what, no, this is way too high end for most students.
Because you know what some of our students are up against out there. And some of you probably know a word for it. That word has been buzzing recently. And that word is intersectionality.
When I see this desk I see some privilege. So that's where my mind goes, is this term intersectionality. It makes me want to crumple up the concept of this privilege as mainstream and throw it away.
Intersectionality is a term coined in 1989 by Civil Rights Act vieses and legal scholar Kimberly Crenshaw. It's a super helpful concept. Here's a pretty decent definition from Merriam-Webster. The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
If you get into intersectionality, sort of the concept, if you Google it or whatever, you start seeing diagrams like this. I think the diagram looks a little like an eye. The pupil in the center has power, privilege and identity. Might as well also say equity, right? There are rings around the pupil, like the iris of an eye.
And I'm going to Zoom us in for a closer look. You can just sort of skim as I spin this around. One ring lists intersectional characteristics, like gender, socioeconomic status, skin color, and disability. One lists emergent social complications of intersectionality. Sexism, classism, racism, ableism. The outermost ring lists whole systems where intersectionality kind of plays out, like think the legal system, think the education system. Many of this -- many of us in that education system are looking intersectionality straight in the eye.
Without the concept of intersectionality, in your equation, it's easy to imagine the classroom as a kind of a normalized bell curve diagram, right? Sort of like this one. Where assistive technology of the able and other mainstream situations occupy the center. And then there's fringe situations kind of everywhere else. Okay.
So assistive technology of the able and mainstream situations are in the center and there's fringe situations everywhere else. And there are probably some businesses out there thinking, well, what do my customers need most? You know, even if you added these fringe areas together they still don't add up to the area of the center. So the center is where I can serve my customer best.
So they're designing for a bell curve of normal distribution. It's believed to be economical. But as it turns out, okay, here's the twist, these assumptions are not supported by the real data. Whether you are disabled by the world around you does not fall on a bell curve of normal distribution.
In the real world ability or rather degrees of being disabled by the world around you creates a more flattened or a platykurtic distribution. You're going to have to forgive over-simplification here. The data we have today does not map neatly to a normalized bell curve. We can better see now that situations traditionally identified as fringe actually out-number the so-called mainstream.
And it may have always been this way but there's sort of an ill-considered principle called economy of scale that have prevented businesses from acknowledging it. Today's economy of scale scarcely resembles that of any prior decade. But we still find businesses that will say, you know, doing it this way is more economical than doing it that way. There's such a small number of users impacted.
But the data does not map to a normalized bell curve. Notice the left and right when added together has a much greater volume than the center.
Here's a story. Once upon a time I was on a call with a company that we'll just call Bob because I don't want to call them out. I was pushing for accessibility-related features. And the account representative listened and he kind of started laughing uncomfortably. You have to understand, he told me, you have to understand we're a business, we can't always design for unicorns.
Wow. What does that even mean? What it meant was we cater strictly to the center of a normalized bell curve. It's a fallacy. Like so many of you, I've looked at K-12 online learning programs and products and practices and I've seen that they disable more students than just our astronauts. Due to the fallacy of the normalized bell curve that drives some K-12Ed Tech any classroom might disable a student and a classroom might disable any student. So that's a little bit of where I'm coming from, okay. And that's what informs what I share with you today.
I think -- I think we need a hero for equity in education and I think that might be us. We need to talk pragmatically about how to guide suppliers, providers, publishers and other partners toward equity in education for K-12 in public education students.
For our story, the one I'm about to tell the role that ensures accessibility for whatever is bought, licensed or adopted, we're going to call them the accessibility evaluator. This is that accessibility evaluator. I thought about doodling the accessibility evaluator like the foot on the providers, a-ha. But in the end I thought this was best.
This doodle wears a super hero cape. And not all heroes wear capes but our accessibility evaluator will. Our hero, the accessibility evaluator, is probably keeping one eye on measurements that reflect student growth.
This doodle is an abstract diagram of some sort of generic vectors, trajectories, trends. We don't need the details to make the general point. There's three lines here in different shades of blue. I want to show that students are typically grouped in various ways, hence three different lines. And each line starts in a different place on the left because I want to show that not all students start at the same point in their journey. And each line follows in a regular slope upward from left to right over time. And that's because I want to show our hope that wherever they start and however they struggle, students ultimately grow.
Here's the same doodle, new line. There's a new line. Unlike the other, this line slopes downward from left to right over time. And the question is, what's going on with this line. It's not easy to know but we have to start somewhere.
How about our section 508 and W-C-A-G, web content accessibility guidelines. WCAG. How well does WCAG out of the box provide for K-12 students? Well, remember this, the WCAG guidelines are designed predominantly to help disabled adult users perceive, operate, and understand general websites. General websites, news, information, social media, marketing, shopping, et cetera, right?
But we know the graduation rate for students with disabilities is roughly 18% lower than for their non-disabled peers. Those intersectional factors are in play here for sure. And I would also argue the use of out of the box WCAG in K-12 education is also floating around in the mix.
How well does WCAG codify the needs of disabled K-12 students? I would say roughly speaking the more like general adult users they are, the more WCAG will meet their needs. Otherwise we can watch the need for teacher, parent, and caregiver intersection to go up. I feel compelled to add, by the way, Don’t mistake this as a criticism for WCAG. If they tried to do everything for everyone, they couldn't be as strong as they are in the areas where they are the strongest thing we have. Not a criticism.
WCAG is not nor do we necessarily want it to be in the sort of in the business of K-12. While it attempts and succeeds in codifying the needs of adult users for general websites, it does not try to codify the needs of disabled children who are on a web-based journey to be led to moments of curiosity, engagement, epiphany and then pass the same test as everyone else in their class.
So out of the box, WCAG by itself will not satisfy your checklist for what is age appropriate, grade appropriate, engaging, or instructionally sound. Soar rowically our accessibility evaluator steps up to push for equity in outcome. Okay. So what is meant by equity in outcome. You can guess from what I just said what we mean by equity in outcome.
Try asking your provider something like, what is your success criteria for accessibility? And they might say reasonably, well, our product supports assistive technology. We've tested it thoroughly and here's our VPAT. And I think we can conclude their product is therefore perceivable to the senses, right, and maybe operable by whatever assistive tech might be in play. And we hope robust, robust is as extensively and flexibly supportive as possible for as long as possible.
And the provider might reasonably add, you know what, our products are easy and intuitive to pick up and use, whether you live with disability or not. Everyone gets a top-notch usable experience. Nice. Okay.
So this is closer to what WCAG means or seems to mean when they talk about understandability as a principle, understandability for adult users of general websites. WCAG seems to treat understandability as roughly synonymous with the concept of usability or inclusive design.
But still I would argue that there is a blindspot in this answer. And you know I've tried to figure out why it's there. You know, I don't know. The root cause might be that some of the education and support and training on the topic of accessibility allowing for some exceptions, it seems to have this blind set spot in it, too, right?
So all of us learning about accessibility might be sort of inheriting this blindspot because the training in education has it also. Because if we look more closely, I think the most accurate evaluation of accessibility is far more human.
I mentioned general websites for adult users earlier. That's news sites and marketing sites, shop sites. News and shopping, those are website purposes, so when we're asking ourselves whether an online product has done a good job with accessibility, what we're really asking is, you know, do all your users receive an equitable outcome from the website given its purpose?
You might have heard this cry from a disabled community, nothing for us without us. Some of us in the accessibility community are familiar with this, nothing for us without us. This is at least in part the disabled community demanding that it's high time the full spectrum of their experience online is made more equitable. And it's good news that people are noticing the blind spots and addressing it.
But how does that play out in K-12? We, you and I, must start to expect equity in outcome in K-12 as well. We must include looking at the product's equitable realization of its purpose, teaching, and equitable realization of its intended outcome, I.E. learning.
Okay. So that was equity in outcome. Kind of a big -- big thought. Quick review. What else can we ask for? Here's our hero asking for equity in process. What's an example of equity in process? Okay. So publishers have a process to make sure their m prays are instructionally sound. They can show evidence, you know, of how students perform with their stuff. So do they follow these processes equally or all of the learning experiences that they've built, they've built one for the mainstream kids. There's also been accessible user experience. Do they follow these processes equally?
What if the accessible learning experience was subject to the same academic efficacy testing by real, actual disabled K-12 students. You know, not by adults, not by able students, not testing compliance, not looking at usability, not looking at understandability, but looking at academic efficacy outcomes. The last time I made this point someone actually said, well, how is it done today?
If not that. Well, Ed Tech products may very well be tested for compliance and usability and understandably, but understandability, excuse me. But who is testing them, adult engineers who are familiar with assistive technology, you know, because they know it or they need it themselves.
But as you know from our earlier discussion about equitable outcomes we can see that gap. We still don't know if it's instructionally sound. We don't know if it's age appropriate. Does it engage students? Does it provoke excitement and curiosity? Does it give them satisfying productive struggles and allow them to make inferences.
It turns out you reasonably can and should expect equity to exist in the provider's instructional design processes and academic efficacy processes. Publishers and providers should have an equitable blueprint for creating instruction and ensuring academic efficacy for all the students they serve. No one, not you, nor they, should have to a pit late to the fallacy of the normalized bell curve. Assuming it's a priority for you as a customer you can make it a priority for them.
So ask your publishers and providers and suppliers, what is your plan for equitable academic efficacy testing by disabled K-12 students. Ask them how their accessible learning experience is subject to equally rigorous and complete quality and academic efficacy testing by age appropriate native users of assistive technology, AANUATS. That can be pronounced astronauts. You see what I did there, right? Astronauts. Okay.
We've covered equity in outcome. Everyone should pass the same test at the end. Equity in process, that should be ensured by equitable processes. And nothing is higher priority than inquiring about the equivalence of academic outcomes and equity in process is another way to push for the same.
What else can our hero do? You can inquire about equity in access. Okay. So what's equity in access? Let me explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up.
Here's what the law requires of buildings. I love my "Pin Mess Bride" reference. If you have a door that doesn't work for everyone you provide an alternative door for the folks your original door fails to serve. We all know this.
I feel a little silly explaining it, but there you go. Here's a blueprint of a hotel. Ground floor. Lobby. The blue marks where our imaginary inaccessible resolving doors are located. Imagine, if you will, that this marks the location of the doors that work for everyone else.
So a hotel would be breaking so many laws if they made a separate and unequal entrance for the disabled, for disabled travelers, right? So hotels must do this. And so should we. This is what we mean by equity in access.
And yet, and yet some resources offered by a publisher or supplier, they won't be compliant. And we actually wouldn't find its compliance desirable. Imagine trying to teach a low vision student about anatomy using an interactive digital coloring book. Okay. Some materials cannot reasonably create equity in outcome for their purpose. But that's okay. Because the law is on our side.
Your publisher or provider must provide an accessible alternative to the user at the same point of use. The user must be able to see and choose the accessible alternative without separate or additional effort. Just like this door, right?
Accessible here, again, means equity outcome for the purpose. So what then is an accessible alternative. I'm throwing out the term accessible alternative. Let me refer to the analogy to explain what this means. Our revolving door might be a math game that requires excellent vision and hand/eye coordination if one is to learn from it.
We could say this format enables some students. It disables others. So we can ask, can we retain equitable outcome if this learning opportunity is presented in other ways? We know some students would benefit from a better suited alternative. We know the purpose of the resource is to teach or review fractions in a fun way. So another way of teaching or reviewing fractions in a fun way that is less disabling or not at all disabling might not be an exact match as an experiential equivalent but it could be a pedagogical equivalent, instructional equivalent. Offer equitable outcomes.
The kids who use the math game and the kids who use our accessible alternative could pass the same test at the end of the day. And that's something we can prove. So our accessible alternative might be this. A compliant PDF, a pedagogically equivalent alternative to the math game. Maybe instead of being fun because it's hand/eye coordination, you know, it can be fun because it's a lesson with a comedic tone and the use of dad jokes to style its examples.
There's lots of ways to create fun. The bottom line is its purpose is equitable. It teaches fractions in a fun way. That's the purpose. The outcomes are equitable. Fractions are learned in a fun way and everyone laughs and everyone reviews fractions and everyone passes the same test. Bottom line, right?
Surprising number of students without IEPs might still find the PDF is more effective for them. That's UDL, that's universal design for learning. You can Google UDL I don't have time to talk much about it here. There are reasons for the preference between the two that we can't even properly anticipate. That's the accessible alternative.
Inquiring about equity in access is a reasonable way to be a good steward of equity in education. Whenever a user can discover and launch a non-compliant item the user, the child, must also be able to select and choose its accessible alternative. Got it. Okay.
Equity in outcome, equity in process, equity in access. What else can we ask for? We have time maybe for one more. I'm going to do one more. Equity in reporting.
Remember this fictional diagram from earlier? We see three student groups with upward trends and one student group with a downward trend. So I implied that you could easily identify the group with the downward trend as your astronauts, your disabled students.
But there's a very good chance that this report isn't available so cleanly and directly. There are good reasons for this. I'll talk informally at least about one of the obstacles. Whatever your obstacles are, our shared goal is to overcome them.
Here's a rough look at data, traditionally added to student profiles on some Ed Tech platforms, versus on the other wide, demographic data the districts should strive to provide if they ever want to see that clean Green line, the downward trend.
In column one traditionally provided we have age, gender, and race. And in column two, to enable the green line report, age, gender, race, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder. If I read every bullet we would be here all day. Why the discrepancy? I wondered, why do we find that districts will track race but will not track whether or not the student has an IEP in our learning systems.
So you know what I did, I went on Reddit and I don't know if you know what that is but I went on Reddit to a teacher community and I asked why there's resistance to sharing data with EdTech. This is Reddit so your mileage may vary but almost all the answers were concerns here about student privacy. Like about the risk of the potential for abuse a misuse of this information. There are laws about student privacy of course. So I was about to get into that but then it got a little bit political. I know, Reddit, right? Surprise. There are people who actually, like, really deeply distrustful of big tech and of EdTech and of the US Census Bureau and so on so I followed up. Okay.
Guys, hold on. There are ways to protect and anonymize the data so your district can get the valuable reporting without these risks. And I was told then that they already had tools, like separate utilities, that gave them this sort of green line report if they wanted it. And, in fact, the reports very rarely came from the tools that actually gave the lessons or even -- or even tested the kids.
They had to export available data from teaching and assessment systems and into reporting systems and it was not a favorite part of anyone's day. It was a huge chunk of time and complication.
So it's all about equity of outcome according to purpose. If you get reports about groups of students based on a demographic grouping, it's reasonable to expect that one of your groupings can be our astronauts. Okay? It's reasonable to inquire about data privacy practices and to push elimination of any risk that someone has raised their hand about. Okay.
Know how to use the power of requirementization. Your EdTech providers won't know to prioritize these reports unless you, a parent, a teacher, an admin, you know, unless you pride advertise it for yourselves. So it becomes part of what you expect. And then of course it's a report they won't be able to produce unless you give them the right data. Again, this is the type of data that will enable you to demand equity in reporting. I know some of you are thinking, well, you know, hey, if we could, don't you think we would? And to that, I say keep trying. I'm going to keep trying with you.
So I'm grateful, you know, to our accessibility evaluators, our heros of equity in education. This is the summary of the heroic action plan. We're going to inquire about equity in academic outcome, inquire about equity in process, inquire about equity in access, prioritize equity in reporting. And, wow, does anyone else feel like we just compressed ten conversations over coffee and into like less than an hour. Wow!
Let me summarize what we've covered, or let me -- let me kind of pull out what our super powers are. Our super powers. Whatever your role, I want you to know that you have the power of prioritization, the pressure of your expectations for equity are the very key to unlocking it. You also have the power to see the gaps. You know WCAG is best for adult users of general websites and not for K-12 students on a journey through online learning experiences.
How are you going to use that knowledge? And you have the power of insight. Sometimes making a case for equity starts with realizing how many students are disabled by the world around them. And for how many dispirit reasons, which we call intersectionality. I hope you can wield this phrase in a new way, a disabled student.
You can wield this phrase to lead your K-12 EdTech industry partners in the right direction. You also have I call the power of super inten dense. Through you we might push equity out of the world of assurances and into the world of measurable and accountable commitments. There are inquiries and conversations to have that might help lead our EdTech partners toward equity as a shared priority. Okay.
And let's not forget the mystery we opened with. On the screen we see the now familiar child in a rain coat with an umbrella. She looks down at her reflection in a dark puddle and sees an astronaut standing against a field of stars.
Did you ever guess what she's thinking? She's thinking, I see myself. And when we first saw this picture she was alone and now our accessibility evaluator embraces her and her starlit reflection. And a second voice says, we see you, too.
There are those of us out here in EdTech who want, like you, to make meaningful changes. We want to be the instruments of equity for school districts, teachers, parents, everyone in the constellation of caretakers around our astronauts. Many obstacles to equity are luxuries of a past era. In the past, at least in part because the pandemic catapulted us forward.
But there are some heroes of equity out there. That's you. There's you. And together we will find a way, or make one. Thank you.
an abrupt halt of music.
>> Jessica Looney: Claire, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you for being an equity hero. This was a wonderful presentation. All the ways you gathered information creatively as you gathered this information is really fantastic. I love the let's keep trying. I think we want to keep trying for sure, all of us.
So I don't... And I thank all of you for being here today. And would like to ask that you please join us for the next Toolkit Tuesday which will be held on September 7th. And our presenter will be our very own Jessica McKay. And she is going to speak on empowering instructional technology. She is talking about empowering instructional technology specialists. So this will be a good follow-up to Claire's presentation today.
So hope to see you there. And for now, we're signing off. Thanks.