How can the private sector help provide accessibility to students with disabilities and create more equitable classrooms?
Making education accessible means making classrooms more equitable for all and improving the learning environment for all students and teachers — including those with disabilities.
According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), more than 1 billion people worldwide have disabilities, with a global spending power of more than $6 trillion. In the US, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated 7.2 million students (15% of all public school students) received services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the 2020-2021 school year. Why do these statistics matter? Because individuals with disabilities, whether adults or children, whether their disabilities are visible or not, have a right to high-quality educational experiences, and too often this right is denied due to a lack of accessibility.
We are driven to this work by a moral imperative rather than a bottom line, but there is also a strong business case to ensure learning is accessible. When you build educational products with accessibility in mind, you expand reach and impact, improving access for students with and without disabilities and for those in their support network with access needs. For example, closed captions benefit children who are deaf or hard of hearing and can also provide support for multilingual learners or students without headphones.
This work requires commitment — of time, resources, and leadership. Starting your company on the accessibility journey may feel overwhelming, but if you center your work by listening to students with disabilities, their parents, and teachers, you get invaluable feedback about the most critical opportunities for creating more equitable outcomes. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework can help guide the implementation of accessible educational experiences, but these must always be balanced with a focus on usability that centers feedback from individuals with disabilities. Business leaders need to do everything, from continuing to hire and support team members with disabilities to forming partnerships for the evaluations of products with assistive technology users.
At Curriculum Associates, we have embraced a commitment to accessibility as an extension of our commitment to equity and impact. We’ve found that accessibility solutions are more impactful (and less costly) when they are built into the product development process from the beginning. While we continue to retrofit older content, we know that future development must include accessibility requirements from the design phase forward. To support this, we’ve reimagined how we approach accessibility. We have created a centralized Access & Equity team and have made major progress in developing accessibility knowledge throughout the company.
A more accessible, inclusive world for all learners begins with each of us finding a meaningful role to play in pushing this work forward, and this can’t happen in a vacuum. In addition to the work itself, companies like ours have a role to play as advocates and connectors. We must work with legislators, non-profits, advocacy groups, other curriculum providers, and of course educators, students, and parents to improve our products. As accessibility is a goal with no endpoint, this work is ongoing and evolving, fueled by meaningful learning gains realized.
I am inspired to see more and more companies embracing new and innovative ways to be more inclusive in support of improving classroom experiences for all. What role will your organization play in furthering this critical work?
Rob Waldron joined Curriculum Associates in 2008, bringing leadership experience from both the for-profit and nonprofit education worlds. He runs the company with a long-term focus, upholding the founding mission to improve classrooms everywhere. Under his leadership, revenues have increased more than eleven-fold, making Curriculum Associates one of the nation’s fastest-growing K–12 education publishing companies. Curriculum Associates now employs more than 2,000 staff and has earned “Top Place to Work” status from The Boston Globe nine years in a row.
Prior to joining Curriculum Associates, Rob served as CEO of Jumpstart, a national nonprofit preparing preschoolers from low-income backgrounds for success, and as CEO of the K12 tutoring division of Kaplan Education. Rob also served as an operating executive at private equity firm Berkshire Partners.
Rob’s mission-driven passion has earned him recognition as a Fast Company Top 25 Social Entrepreneur, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and EY Entrepreneur of the Year. He has also won the Northeastern US Regional YPO Social Impact Award and EdTech Digest’s CEO of the Year. A member of the Association of Test Publishers CEO Council, Rob previously served as an Aspen Institute/Pahara Fellow and as a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Rob received his BA from Northwestern and his MBA from Harvard.