With about 15 percent of its students identified as those with special needs, Upper Grand DSB takes its commitment to accessibility seriously. That means investing in resources to help students with disabilities reach their full academic potential.
In terms of assistive tools such as devices and software to manage motor skills and reading challenges, the problem was that there simply weren’t enough of them. Some laptops with specialized software can cost as much as $3,000 each, limiting how many could be distributed to students. The district could only afford 100 licenses for its previous text-to-speech software each year.
“We would hit our limit at about 400 laptops per year for the whole district,” says Bill MacKenzie, IT Program Liaison for Upper Grand DSB. “We had a terrible backlog—it could be weeks before students got their hands on the devices.”
Not only were devices and software expensive, some didn’t deliver much in the way of ease of use and flexibility. If certain laptops needed repair or service, IT technicians had to take them out of service, imposing even more gaps in student access to accessibility tools. Installing the few available accessibility software products also added to the IT team’s workload—and teachers, lacking budget and choice for tools, were limited in ways to inspire confidence and creativity among students with disabilities.
Students had issues with certain laptops, too. With some weighing eight pounds each, these heavy laptops were hard for younger students to carry from home to school and back, so students often left them at home.