Re-imagine The User
How the edtech industry can improve student accessibility and equity by broadening its perspective of the learner.
Lindsay Jones is about one month in as CEO at CAST, the nonprofit education research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework and UDL Guidelines. She was kind enough to give me a few moments last week to talk about her new role, which led to a conversation about how we all need to expand our minds when it comes to designing student instruction—not only the minds of faculty and administration but the curriculum providers and software designers as well. Click above to give a listen and scroll down for a few edited highlights.
THR: I'll assume one of the first things you had to do with your job is come up with a cocktail party definition of UDL, one of those great education acronyms, where I nod knowingly and am thinking, “What exactly is that?”
LJ: I'm based in DC and between the government acronyms and the education acronyms, I almost feel like we should do a contest around the best cocktail definition of that. To me, it means three things. It's about helping learners and designing your lessons with variability in mind, whether it's for a K-12 learner or an adult learner. It means thinking through multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression. It's intentionally designing your lesson plan for variability. And we have seen the need for that in the pandemic, more than ever, although I would argue it's always been there.
THR: I know you've had a number of positions in your career where these ideas have been important to you. Talk a little bit about that and how it led you to this new position.
LJ: Yes, I have worked in disability advocacy education advocacy for over 20 years in a lot of different ways including as an attorney representing school districts and parents and then really as a policy leader, trying to think through ways to make the law work for everybody better. And I've seen so many barriers and so many of the same barriers that I was drawn to CAST, especially after the pandemic, because of its work, trying to break those barriers down.
THR: Talk a little bit about the UDL framework and its application. Over the years, I've seen it directed towards educators and more broadly towards districts. But when you look at the industry side, it's almost as important for them to consider the framework as they're putting it into their products and services, right? How should the industry change the way they approach their products and services for schools?
LJ: Focus on user experience. That's the challenge and the great possibility as we look forward. It’s rethinking who the user is and how they are using these products and services. How are they interpreting what you’re putting forward? User experience has to be redefined, to be more inclusive and create a bigger sense of belonging for everybody. And I think that will grow the market. It will certainly help our education system reach more learners and use technology as a part of that.
Some more resources about UDL and the importance of re-creating the user experience:
WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) has provided comprehensive web accessibility solutions since 1999. These years of experience have made WebAIM one of the leading providers of web accessibility expertise internationally. WebAIM is a non-profit organization based at the Institute for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice at Utah State University.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day Thursday, May 19, 2022. The 11th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion, and the more than One Billion people with disabilities/impairments.