New Illinois law hopes to make online learning accessible

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during his daily coronavirus news conference at the Thompson Center in Chicago on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

On September 2nd, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a new bill to make online learning more accessible for Illinois students with disabilities. By August 2022, all public and private K-12 schools will be required to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for all digital education tools used in class.  

According to Web Accessibility Initiative’s website, w3.org, WCAG 2.1 focuses on four main criteria to evaluate accessibility: perceiviability, operability, understandability, and robustness. 

Perceivability requires that information and user interface components are presentable to all users in a way that they can understand. Requirements in this category include providing image descriptions and other text alternatives for multimedia content, providing captions for videos, and creating content that can be presented in different ways without losing its meaning.

Operability is defined as all user interface components being functional. Educators can satisfy this requirement by having all functionality be available from a keyboard, giving users enough time to read and use content, and avoiding the use of content that may cause seizures and other physical reactions.

All students must be able to understand the information and how to navigate the user interface. WCAG requires educators to make text readable, make content appear and operate in predictable ways, and help users avoid and correct mistakes. 

Lastly, robustness asks that content can be interpreted by a variety of user agents and assistive technologies. Educators can achieve this by maximizing compatibility with current and future user tools. 

Other features required by WCAG include text-to-speech and color-blind alternatives. 

In a press release, Governor Pritzker said that “as online educational tools become further integrated into school curriculums, we need to be sure that these tools are properly addressing the needs of all the students and families they’re designed to serve.”

In the same press release, State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas said “the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for accessible online learning, especially for the nearly 18% of students who use an Individualized Education Plan or report having a disability or developmental delay.”

The new bill will go into effect in August of 2022.