Making Your Learning Management System (LMS) More Accessible for Students with IEPs

by Katie McKay Phillips

Left Image is a teacher smiling at a computer, right image is a young male student with headphones smiling at a computer

eLearning weighs most heavily on students with learning disabilities who face a challenging learning environment without the staff and support they were previously receiving in the classroom.

 

Even looking beyond eLearning, Learning Management Systems such as Google Classroom, Schoology, Seesaw, and Canvas are playing a larger role in the classroom. Educators use these platforms to manage assignments, facilitate conversations, and manage video-based instruction.

 

Many students use reading and writing accommodations to help them accomplish goals on their IEPs—especially “access to the general education curriculum.” Since content is delivered through LMSs, it’s essential to have accessibility tools (including read aloud, word prediction, speech recognition/voice typing, and translation supports) that work within these platforms.

Why Accessibility Matters

Now more than any time in our history, universal design—and universal design for learning—is pushing accessibility to greater heights than we’ve ever known. Voices that once merely whispered now contribute unique perspectives, and the world benefits as a result. A society that emphasizes accessibility brings everyone up, and the proof is all around us.

 

Whether a physical disability or a learning disability is preventing someone from reaching creative and intellectual fulfillment, shouldn’t we lift barriers so they can tap into their potential?

 

What happens when we make learning more accessible to everyone? Accessibility for learning is the great equalizer because learning allows us to do the things we love. Learning lets us develop skills to contribute to society.

 

We can aid Universal Design for Learning by considering how we build our school and work environments, and by ensuring each person is given the conditions to participate fully.

 

So how can we do this with our Learning Management Systems?

Accommodations and Learning Management Systems

Students are able to receive their assignments via video, email, and any of the myriad learning management systems. But these learning formats pose challenges for students with a variety of learning needs from disabilities to executive functioning to language learning. One way districts are bridging that gap is by providing access to assistive technology supports to help with reading, writing, and learning.

 

The thing about assistive technology is that it works seamlessly within LMS platforms to help students with IEPs, 504 plans, and English Language Learners (ELLs) so they can continue to thrive while learning remotely.

Reading Support

Snap&Read, our toolset of reading accommodations, assists the most diverse student reading needs. This accommodation, available as an extension on your browser window, reads both accessible and inaccessible text aloud, levels vocabulary, and translates. It also allows students to highlight and add text directly onto a PDF, and then save it to their device or the cloud.

 

The extension can be installed on any device—even at home—and students can log in getting access to all of their personalized settings and resources. They can see and use Snap&Read within whatever assignment their teacher sends out. Students automatically see the extensions they have access to in their Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge toolbar.

Screenshot of Snap&Read working within an LMS system

Text To Speech:
Read aloud accommodations are widely used. Students who benefit from read-aloud assistance comprehend through listening better than they do through independent reading. Snap&Read covers the most diverse reading needs and reads both accessible and inaccessible text aloud. With the click of a button, students can listen to text read aloud—helping them become independent readers.

Screenshot of Snap&Read's translation tool working in an LMS

Translation:
Bridging a language gap can help many ELLs better access the curriculum. Students can choose from over 100 languages in our translation settings and can toggle between the translation and the original word.

Screenshot of Snap&Read text leveling feature in an LMS

Dynamic Text Leveling:
When reading text above a student’s grade level, difficult vocabulary can pose a huge barrier to understanding. Dynamic Text Leveling is a useful tool to help provide access to grade-level (and above) text. With this feature turned on, the student can see simplified versions of words and phrases in line, and toggle back to the original to help with comprehension.

All of these tools can be used together within your LMS. If you are using Canvas, you are already most likely differentiating the coursework for your students and working in a blended learning environment. The combination package of Canvas’ scalable internal tools and Snap&Read’s powerful reading accommodations can help you stay on top of your struggling, IEP, or 504 students— without them having to leave their virtual classroom.

Organizational Supports

Organizing and integrating information gathered from various sources can be challenging for students, especially those with executive functioning issues. Snap&Read helps structure the process and make it more cohesive. By highlighting content, students can pull from any website, PDF, Google Doc, or eBook and the highlighted content is automatically added to an outline. Outline templates can further structure the process by integrating common research-based frameworks including KWL, Compare and Contrast, SQ3R, and 6-Traits®. Students can choose from dozens of standards-based outline templates and help them organize their thoughts and ideas, to get ready for writing.

Writing Supports

As most related services evaluations are triggered because of a writing issue, having access to effective writing tools to help assist the writing process has become an essential part of the technology infrastructure in school districts. Co:Writer is our grammar-and vocabulary- smart word prediction, translation support, and speech recognition to help unstick ideas and get them to flow in writing.

 

Similar to Snap&Read, Co:Writer is an extension, which is installed on any device, and students log in with their username and password to get access to all of their personalized settings and resources. They use Co:Writer right within the LMS, such as Google Classroom.

With Co:Writer, your students can open any assignment and use the tool to help them complete their work. Using word prediction, speech-to-text, and FlexSpell features will help them say what they are trying to say independently, across a wide range of writing disabilities. These tools help foster a level of independence that can help students succeed in the classroom and in new eLearning environments.

 

Co:Writer supports students from end to end in their school work—from initial assignments through quizzes and assessments. This support can even be used on many state assessments through our locked Test Mode. (see Test Mode Article) Here you can see how a student can use their accommodation for support while working in a quiz in Google Classroom.

Co:Writer in google forms screenshot

Hit the Ground Running

Students need to feel empowered to take control of their learning, especially in times when they might not feel like they have much control over anything. That’s what providing accommodations to students is all about. We believe that anyone can become an expert when it comes to their own assistive technology needs, and we provide the tools both students and teachers need to train themselves to become proficient. Our Don Johnston Learning Academy is a free self-guided learning platform for students and teachers. Student-led video modules walk through Co:Writer, Snap&Read, and now for teachers, uPAR.

Two students at a computer with the Learning Academy logo

Three sections break the learning down for the most beginner to advanced user. The learning modules make great homework assignments or extra credit. At the end of each module, students receive a certificate as proof they completed a course. Each module is only 10-minutes long—a nice length to get on-boarded using AT tools independently.

 

When thinking about supporting your students with learning differences, IEPs, or English Language Learners, it’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed. But breaking the process down to understanding student needs, environmental factors, supplying the tools, getting students up to speed on how to use them quickly, and being able to work within the Learning Management System is crucial. With Snap&Read and Co:Writer, you can keep your students moving forward while providing a universally designed learning environment.