Education Law | Legislation
As U.S. public schools increasingly incorporate digital learning tools at home, primary and secondary classrooms have come to transcend their traditionally brick-and-mortar walls. While these hybrid learning environments provide powerful spaces to build digital literacy skills, low-income children with disabilities—among the most vulnerable students in the U.S. education system—are increasingly left behind. Recent data suggest that children with disabilities, particularly low-income children with disabilities, are less likely than their peers to have the fundamental technology necessary to access classrooms’ increasingly digital spaces. This discrepancy exacerbates disparate outcomes between children with and without disabilities, as those with disabilities receive lower test scores, experience less academic progress, and develop fewer digital literacy skills necessary for future education, employment, and long-term independence.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides powerful safeguards to ensure that children with disabilities have access to the traditional physical classroom. But by failing to ensure that low-income children with disabilities have access to reliable broadband internet and personal computers—functionally the doors to the digital classroom—the IDEA fails to guarantee that all children with disabilities have access to the rapidly changing classrooms from which they were historically excluded. This Article examines the disconnect between the IDEA’s assistive technology amendments and the role of digital learning in U.S. public schools. In examining this disconnect, this Article explores the Act’s existing assistive technology provisions and recommends clarifying language and additional guidance to provide parents, local educational agencies, and courts with a much-needed framework to efficiently implement fundamental supports. This framework is critical to identifying and providing the digital tools necessary, both to ensure that low-income children with disabilities have access to today’s increasingly online learning environments and, ultimately, to fulfill the purpose of the IDEA in the digital age.
Nyce, Ashley R., "Children, Disability, and the Digital Classroom: Rethinking Access and Assistive Technology for Low-Income Children with Disabilities in the Digital Age" (2022). Connecticut Law Review. 557.