How AI in education can help your school improve accessibility

How AI in education can help your school improve accessibility

Accessibility in schools is about making sure that every student gets quality education, no matter what their needs. In the United States alone 7.3 million people in schools have a disability. On top of that, distance learning has created barriers to education for some students,...

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Accessibility in schools is about making sure that every student gets quality education, no matter what their needs.

In the United States alone 7.3 million people in schools have a disability. On top of that, distance learning has created barriers to education for some students, as more students struggle with depression and anxiety and rates of digital fatigue rise.

The good news is that AI tools can be a way to easily reach and engage your classes. They can be customised according to individuals’ different needs, and shape classes and activities that resonate with more students, more often.

How AI can support inclusive practices in education

Here’s how AI in education is making schools more accessible.

1. Personalised learning

Personalised learning has repeatedly been shown to positively affect students’ academic performance.

With AI tools like ChatGPT, you can tailor instructions and tasks to students based on their strengths and weaknesses in a topic. Students then have their own unique pathways to follow in classes (and at home) and have a higher chance of success in their work.

For example, you could enter task instructions into ChatGPT and ask for the instructions to be adjusted for a student with ADD. ChatGPT can generate alternate instructions, simplified and broken down into short, manageable steps to make them easier to follow.

You can also use ChatGPT to provide personalised feedback for your students. You can copy and paste responses from students into the tool and input a prompt like the following:

‘Give detailed feedback about this text for a student who is in Year 9 and has additional support needs. The feedback should be constructive, concise, and pay attention to repeat grammar and spelling errors.’

This type of personalised feedback gives students a clearer idea of what they need to do to progress, and you’ll have more time to support them in person.

2. Language translation and support

There are often multiple languages in international school classrooms. New students might need additional support while they get used to working in English. With AI, you can use real-time text and speech translation that lets students process content in their preferred/native language. Doing so means they can understand materials and participate in activities more.

For example, with ChatGPT you could submit a request like:

‘Translate the below text into Spanish. Ensure that the tone is friendly but informative.’

Students can then access information in their native languages and feel a greater sense of confidence in completing their task.

If your school already has an AI chat bot system set up for students to contact you outside of school hours, you can probably change the language settings for students. That way, students can send and receive messages that are translated into their language, whilst you send and receive messages in English.

3. Assistive technology

There’s a whole world of AI to assist students who have disabilities or impairments.

For one, Speechify is an AI text-to-speech tool that reads written words aloud – great for students with visual conditions or difficulty reading. Simply type or copy and paste text into the tool, select the voice style and speed you want to hear in, and hit play. The tool also has a ‘listen and read’ feature, where you and students can follow along like karaoke. Whether students have an impairment or simply prefer to see or listen to content, this tool can help.

Elsewhere, Grammarly has a free AI Speech Generator, where your students can talk out loud and their words are converted into written text. This tool is helpful for students who have dyslexia or physical conditions that prevent them from writing.

Grammarly also detects spelling, grammar, and style inconsistencies in students’ work. It highlights parts that students can improve and provides suggestions and explanations for any changes. It’s an important accessibility tool for students with learning disorders and for students who get frustrated with text-heavy tasks.

For students who have hearing restrictions – or for students who are visual learners – closed captioning on video content is valuable. YouTube uses machine learning AI to create subtitles for its videos, so you can turn these on when showing your class video content. In fact, one survey shows that young people prefer having captions on because it helps them understand what’s happening (whether they have a disability or not).

4. Inclusive content creation

Creating class content can be time-consuming and isn’t the easiest thing to make inclusive by yourself. With AI though, you can ensure that all your students can access and understand what you show them.

Some AI resources have accessibility checking built into them, so can evaluate just how accessible a document, presentation or file is. For example, Blackboard Ally is part of the Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS) and can automatically check how accessible your course content is. It can recommend alternative formats for your content (such as audio or electronic Braille), and guide you about how to improve your content’s accessibility.

Tools like this allow you to create content, check it, reiterate it, and start to find a cycle where you bake accessibility into your content from the get go. Over time then, you’ll need fewer accessibility edits, and you’ll be able to make accessible content faster and more easily.

Further reading

AI is one of many inclusive practices in education. AI by itself can’t solve every accessibility issue but it is a powerful way of boosting inclusion and making sure that all students receive the same high quality education.

Open the doors to accessibility in your school. Read How to recognise and support ADHD students in the classroom, Teaching learners with dyslexia, and How to use ChatGPT to support your lesson planning.

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