Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed new legislation intended to ensure equitable access to learning for students with disabilities.

“This legislation truly meets the moment when it comes to giving our students the most fulfilling education possible in an increasingly online world,” Gov. Pritzker said in a release. “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 a statement, Pritzker said the legislation makes Illinois “a national leader in requiring Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance for digital education tools in K-12 schools.” The guidelines, developed by the nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), provide a single, shared standard for web content accessibility, and explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, through features like text-to-speech, captions for videos, text alternatives for non-text content, and color-blind alternatives.

The new bill requires content available on any third-party online curriculum service used in all public and private K-12 schools to be WCAG 2.1 compliant and readily accessible to individuals with disabilities starting August 1, 2022.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for accessible online learning, especially for the nearly 18 percent of students who use an Individualized Education Plan or report having a disability or developmental delay,” State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas said. “Accommodating students with diverse needs is a top priority, and these accessibility guidelines will ensure all students get the necessary access to educational materials online when needed.”

While many Illinois students are returning to the classroom, Gov. Pritzker’s office noted that schools will continue to use many of the digital education tools they implemented during remote learning earlier in the pandemic. Gov. Pritzker’s office said that “many of those tools in use currently pose challenges to students and parents who are disabled, often forcing families to take on out-of-pocket costs to ensure their children get the same education as fellow students.”

“This new law is an important step in dismantling barriers to learning for students with visual and other impairments and it will ensure that students, as well as their parents and guardians, can effectively access digital education tools at home and in the classroom,” Debbie Grossman, executive director of the Blind Service Association, said.  “We must do all we can to make sure no student is forced to learn from a disadvantage particularly when so many students are already facing hardships associated with remote learning.”

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