Aberdeen City Council: Accessibility as a priority, not an add-on
Hazel Lynch, Education Support Officer for Aberdeen City Council, wants to change the discussion around accessibility in the Local Authority schools: “Pupils shouldn't have to raise their hand to say, ‘I have a disability, can I have extra support?’ The tools should be available to everyone.” If every pupil has accessibility tools on devices, Lynch says, then everyone can benefit—a better option than singling out students for what they can’t do.
To meet this goal of digital inclusivity, Lynch and her colleagues added Read&Write from Texthelp to Chrome for the 20,000 students across the district in 2017. The Read&Write toolbar reads documents aloud, offers picture dictionaries, checks spelling and grammar, and can be accessed on Chrome devices at home. Teachers and students are also encouraged to explore the use of accessibility features built in to the district’s 5,000 Chromebooks, such as dictation and touchscreen with on-screen keyboard to maximise learner engagement.
“We want to get away from talking about ‘struggling readers’ or ‘pupils falling behind’— language that makes students think the tools aren’t for them,” Hazel Lynch, Education Support Officer, Aberdeen City Council . adding that even accomplished students can benefit from the tools.
To encourage use of Read&Write, the district developed an extensive training programme. Each of the district’s schools trained two pupils and two teachers as mentors, who in turn supported fellow teachers and classmates to use the toolbar. Parents also learned how to use the Read&Write toolbar during group meetings and evening workshops.
“It's important for the parents to have an awareness of the tools used across the district," says Lynch. “This means they can support their child and also further develop their own digital skills and confidence.”
Since adding the toolbar to Chrome devices, teachers and parents are sharing stories of pupils’ newfound confidence in their growing reading and writing skills. Pupils attended an ASL and Technology conference to tell educators how they coached their classmates in the use of the tools, such as the text-to-speech accessibility feature to follow classroom reading assignments and the screen masking tool to access learning materials more easily.
Aberdeen City Council is aiming to greatly exceed Scotland’s minimum accessibility requirements for learners. In fact, in June 2018, the council won an “Accessibility for All” award from Holyrood Connect ICT. “We want to make it clear that accessibility is a priority, not an add-on,” Lynch affirms.