5th European eAccessibility Forum
Benefits and costs of e-accessibility

28/03/2011, 9:00 - 18:00
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie - 30 Avenue Corentin Cariou 75019 - Paris, France

  Version française
Printable version

Appendix 1: Use of ICTs for Inclusive Education

Donal Rice (Ireland)
National Disability Authority
DJRice (at) nda.ie

Speaker's information

Dónal Rice is the Senior Design Advisor, ICT for the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design at the National Disability Authority of Ireland.

He chairs the CEN Workshop Agreement on Curriculum for Training Professionals in Universal Design and is the Editorial Coordinator of the e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy Makers (a joint ITU, G3ict, UN-GAID project). 

Dónal is currently undertaking a PhD thesis in eAccessibility and legislation with the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland, Galway through which he collaborates on the "Study on Monitoring eAccessibility" consortium. This communication is based on his Ph.D.



Use of ICTs for Inclusive Education: costs and benefits


“Ensuring that children with disabilities enjoy opportunities for learning in an inclusive environment requires changes in attitude, backed by investment in teacher training and learning equipment”. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010[i]


Abstract: Inclusive Education proposes all students are provided with equitable access to education within the context of a mainstream educational system and not in a segregated setting.  There is now significant international and national legislation and policy in support of this model but for many countries achieving this ideal is proving to be a difficult reality. Accessible ICTs have a major role to play in enabling educational authorities, educators, students and parents to move towards a more inclusive educational system.  However its role as a communication aid, pedagogical tool and means of access to previously inaccessible learning materials is still, in many countries, only just beginning to be explored.


One of the main obstacles is the perception that accessible ICTs for inclusive education are prohibitively expensive.  Based on recent research carried out for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Special Initiative Division and UNESCO's Institute for Information Technology in Education (IITE), this paper will examine the available evidence on the cost/benefit of accessible ICTs in Inclusive Education, the funding strategies being employed worldwide and examine how 'cost as barrier' compares with the other known barriers to, and benefits of, the use of ICTs in inclusive educational settings.  It will conclude with policy recommendations summarised from the ITU “Connect A School Connect a Community” project[ii] and the UNESCO IITE Policy Brief “ICT for Inclusion: Reaching More Students More Effectively”[iii].


Inclusive Education  - from concept to implementation

The global Education for All movement, led by UNESCO, aims to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.[iv] UNESCO promotes the ultimate goal of inclusive education which it views as a means to ensuring a quality education for all and to achieving wider social inclusion goals.


Many national educational systems struggle to provide a quality education in mainstream schools and favour the development of special needs schools. Inherent in inclusive education is the notion that reform and improvements should not only focus on children with disabilities but on “whole school improvement in order to remove barriers that prevent learning for all students”[v]. Inclusive schools can “accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, linguistic or other conditions." [vi] However inclusive education is not a synonym for special needs education or integration techniques  but an “an on-going process in an ever-evolving education system, focusing on those currently excluded from accessing education, as well as those who are in school but not learning.”[vii]

UNESCO advocates that where possible, children with disabilities are accommodated in inclusive schools, which it promotes as being more cost-effective and which lead to a more inclusive society.  Accessible ICTs are one of many supports that can enable the realization and implementation of inclusive education.


Accessible ICTs in support of inclusive education

Accessible ICTs hold the potential to enable persons with disabilities to receive an education and become productive members of the social and economic life of their communities. Applied to education systems, the effective and well planned use of ICTs by students with disabilities can provide equitable learning opportunities through enabling communication with teachers and fellow students, providing access to learning materials and by enabling course work, assignments and examinations to be completed.  The wide variety of accessible ICTs currently available that can help overcome reduced functional capacity and enable communication, cognition and access to computers.



Accessible ICTs are the wide range of assistive and mainstream technologies and formats that can enable students with a disability to enjoy an inclusive education.  Accessible ICTs include assistive technology (AT) which can be defined as a “piece of equipment, product system, hardware, software or service that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”[viii] Accessible ICTs therefore include:


In its training guide “ICTs in Education for People with Special Needs”, UNESCOs Institute for IT in Education outlines 3 mains roles for the use of accessible ICTs in education:


Curriculum can be defined as “what is learned and what is taught (context): how it is delivered (teaching – learning methods); how it is assessed (exams, for example); and the resources used (e.g. books used to deliver and support teaching and learning).”[xi] Curriculum development and teaching practices have received much attention in the movement towards inclusive education.  In general, curriculum in inclusive schools must be “flexible and adaptable, designed to reduce environmental barriers of students who may disadvantage [sic] from regular education”[xii]. Accessible ICTs can help transform static curriculum resources into flexible digital media which can be access by students with a variety of abilities once they have access to the appropriate AT.  For example, class notes developed in electronic text can be converted into a variety of formats such as audio, Braille, accessible HTML, DAISY audio book etc.   Assessment methods need to be flexible and adaptable to students’ needs. 


International laws and policies in support of accessible ICTs for inclusive education

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the primary piece of international law informing national policy on disability affairs around the world. The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and became an enforceable legal instrument in 2008.   As of March 2011, 147 countries have signed the Convention, of which 99 have subsequently ratified it.[xiii] 


The Convention moves towards a view of disability resulting from barriers within society (such as steps at the entrance of a school building for a wheelchair user) and away from the view that disability results exclusively from a person’s medical condition. [xiv]   Article 24 contains specific obligations for the provision of inclusive education.  These include the provision of “reasonable accommodations”, for students with disabilities that may include, as appropriate, access to, training in and the use of accessible ICTs, including assistive technology (AT) and educational materials in an accessible format.[xv]


Article 24 also contains an important requirement on the provision to professionals and staff who work in all areas of education of “disability awareness training and [training in] the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities”. 


Articles 4 on ‘General Obligations’ also contains a specific recommendation that all new technology developments be “universally designed” and hence reduce the cost of including accessibility features by incorporating them at the earliest possible stage during the product development cycle.  This also holds true for ICTs used in education[xvi].


Other relevant international texts

Other relevant international texts containing policy recommendations and goals include:


UNESCO leads the global Education for All movement, aiming to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.[xviii] UNESCO promotes the ultimate goal of inclusive education which it views as a means to ensuring a quality education for all and to achieving wider social inclusion goals. Key policy documents and agreements that UNESCO has developed and facilitated include:


International policy and legislation on the rights of persons with disabilities is strongly in support of children with disabilities receiving their education in an inclusive, rather than segregated, school setting.    National governments face significant human rights and educational specific goals in relation to the provision of education for children with disabilities.   The major tendency in new policy approaches is towards inclusive education.[xxiv]  Whatever the policy environment, accessible ICTs can significantly empower children with disabilities to participate in lessons, to communicate and to learn more effectively.[xxv]


The benefits of accessible ICTs

A meta-study on research carried out by the (former) British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) in 2003 into the use of accessible ICTs showed the following benefits to all stakeholders involved in education, including students, teachers, parents and carers[xxvi]:

In general accessible ICTs:


Specific benefits for students:


Benefits for teachers and non-teaching staff:

Benefits for parents and carers:

Cost of ICTs in inclusive education

To date there have no been attempts to systematically assess the cost/benefit of using ICTs in schools towards achieving inclusive education.  Indeed there is little available data on the exact costs of educating children with disabilities, though some figures show that it can be between two to four times higher than other children[xxvii].  The experience in Europe is that the higher rate associated with educating children with special needs is associated with funding models where children are educated in separate settings such as special needs schools.   The lower funding costs were shown to generally apply within funding models where the funding follows the child who is educated in inclusive settings.[xxviii]  Research also suggests that students with disabilities achieve better school results in inclusive settings[xxix].


There is some evidence to suggest that an inclusive and quality educational system supports lower numbers of students repeating classes and entire academic years.  In the case of Latin America recidivism is linked with a cost of USD 5.6 billion in primary school and USD 5.5 billion in secondary school.[xxx]  Investment to overcome these costs could include the provision of ICTs for students with disabilities.


As with many other areas of ICT accessibility, the cost modelling should not solely be based around the cost of providing individual supports but look at the wider societal benefits.  To this end some analysis on the cost benefit to providing ICTs to enable persons with disabilities to access education and thereby become a productive member of the workforce should factor in the wider societal and economic benefits. UNESCO, for example, recommends that any cost modeling of inclusive education should take into account the high social and economic costs that will be incurred by a country if these children are not educated.[xxxi] Figure 1.1 shows the loss of gross domestic product (GDP) by not including persons with disabilities.  In regions where a person’s earning potential is higher, the GDP lost as a result of disability is therefore higher, with the estimates as high as 35.8% in Europe and Central Asia, followed by North America at 29.1% and East Asia and the Pacific at 15.6%. The remaining four regions each account for less than 10% of the global total.


Figure 1 Effects on GDP of not including persons with disabilities


Source: UNESCO “Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education”[xxxii]


Overall all, the long term social and financial costs of not providing the accessible ICTs necessary for an inclusive education that leads to participation in the economic, social and cultural life of a country are “indisputably high”.  UNESCO concludes that not to invest in inclusive education is “profoundly irrational” in economic terms.



Current data and cost/benefit analysis of the value proposition for the use of accessible ICTs for inclusive education is inadequate. The following summation of current policy advice available for governments and educational policy makers points to how the use of accessible ICTs should be systemically planned for, implemented, monitored and revised in order to provide true value to schools, students and teachers.


Policy development in support of accessible ICTs in inclusive education.


In general policy development for the use of ICTs in schools is recognized as a “complex proposition based on the principle that technology is not only a tool [but requires] a shift the focus from technology provision to the design of learning environments” [xxxiii]. The UNESCO Policy Brief “ICT for Inclusion: Reaching More Students More Effectively” proposes a number of main areas for policy interventions as summarised below.

Infrastructure includes both the technical infrastructure required to support the use of ICTs and the wider AT infrastructure.  A key challenge in a country’s AT infrastructure is getting “the right product, via the right person, and with the right instructions and training to the disabled end-user”. [xxxiv] A  patchwork of different national polices among EU Member states that deal with the assessment, procurement, training and provision of ATs has hindered the AT industry from realising benefit of scale from the provision of AT services that work across different countries.[xxxv]  Therefore government investment policy in ATs for inclusive education should look beyond just the provision of technology and aim to develop and support a sustainable AT infrastructure and AT service delivery model that provides for needs assessment, supply, maintenance, training and support in the use of ATs for both students and their teachers and which is inline with those of other countries.


A key policy consideration for government and school investment in accessible technology is the choice between open source and proprietary models of software licensing. Policy makers should consider the implications of the choice of investment in terms of the likely short, medium and long term impacts on the availability and affordability of ATs. [xxxvi]

Policies for the support of good practice range from supporting national agencies for accessible ICT in education, to supporting services that work directly with children and teachers, to in-school supports and access to specialist resource centers and online resources of information.[xxxvii] A key area for policy development should be the instruction of teachers during initial and in-service training on the use of ICTs in teaching children with disabilities.  According to the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, “if the real potential of ICT for pupils’ learning is to be reached, teachers will first have to be convinced of the value of using ICT.” [xxxviii] The development of a national online database on ATs will help provide teachers, students and their families with accurate information on ATs and their availably in-country.

The policy development framework for the provision of accessible ICTs in inclusive schools should include a mechanism for evaluation and monitoring of outcomes.  This should include metrics on levels of access by persons with disabilities to  education, issues and experiences of teachers and students in using accessible ICTs in the classroom, levels of AT abandonment, if any,  and reasons for abandonment, and costs of AT and learning resources in accessible formats.

Funding options for investment in an AT infrastructure for inclusive education include government funding and subsidies, public-private partnerships, partnerships with international aid organizations and Corporate Social Responsibility programmes from technology companies. A study by the Technology and Social Change (TASCHA) group, University of Washington found that while the cost of AT is a significant barrier to access for persons with disabilities in many countries, is it critical that funding strategies go beyond “parachuting-in technology” and look to support projects that will enable persons with disabilities through the provision of AT on a long term basis. [xxxix]  This presents a significant challenge from the Corporate Social Responsibility perspective whereby funding and/or technology are often provided on a once off basis.[xl]


Governments should also consider the support of research and development into AT which is essential to enable further development and localization of AT.   Ensuring that AT software such as screen readers are available in local languages is of critical importance. Research and development can be supported by a mix of stakeholders including universities with suitable technical competencies and resources, industry and technical centers within Disabled Persons Organizations

Finally, in support of this evidence-based policy, a small number of research studies are likely to significantly impact on the efficacy of any policy interventions. In particular the research should establish:

availability of services such as community based rehabilitation services that could potentially support students and teachers in the use of high and low tech ATs for use in learning environment.




[i] http://www.unesco.org/en/efareport page 12

[ii] http://www.connectaschool.org/

[iii] http://iite.unesco.org/policy_briefs/

[iv] http://www.unesco.org/en/efa/

[v] Global eSchools and Community Initiative (GeSCI). 2007. Concept note: Developing a model for inclusive education and assistive technology appropriate for teaching and learning contexts in developing countries. Available at http://www.gesci.org/old/files/docman/model_ie_at.pdf

[vi] (Article 3, Salamanca Framework for Action)

[vii] UNESCO 2008 “UNESCO 48th International Conference on Education – Reference document” available at http://www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Policy_Dialogue/48th_ICE/CONFINTED_48-3_English.pdf  For further discussion on the differences between integration, special needs and inclusive education see page 8

[viii] ISO (2000). Guide 71. Guidelines for standardization to address the needs of older persons and people with disabilities.  Available at http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=33987

Note: AT is a generic term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assistive_technology

[ix] ISO, 2000. Guide 71. Guidelines for standardization to address the needs of older persons and people with disabilities.  Available at http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=33987


[x] UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, 2006. ICTs in Education for People with Special Needs, available at http://www.iite.ru/pics/publications/files/3214644.pdf

[xi] UNESCO 2004. Changing teaching practices using Curriculum Differentiation to Respond to Students Diversity.

[xii] UNESCO IITE page 110

[xiii] Updates on the number of signatories to the Convention, its Optional Protocol and the number of ratifications can be found here: http://www.un.org/disabilities/

[xiv] Full text of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is available here: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?navid=13&pid=150

[xv] Reasonable accommodation, as defined in Article 2, is a key enabler for the enjoyment of equal rights by persons with disabilities.  Denial of reasonable accommodation” is a form of “discrimination on the basis of disability”. 

[xvi] Universal Design means the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, including persons with disabilities.  Universal design is based on a 7 principles developed by architect Ron Mace in 1990. 

[xvii] Developed at summits in Geneva (2003) and Tunisia (2005)  World Summit on the Information Society  http://www.itu.int/wsis/index.html

[xviii] http://www.unesco.org/en/efa/

[xix] http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001402/140224e.pdf

[xx] UNESCO, 2009. Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education. Available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0017/001778/177849e.pdf

[xxi]Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Needs Education and a Framework for Action http://www.unesco.de/fileadmin/medien/Dokumente/Bildung/Salamanca_Declaration.pdf

[xxii] http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0009/000984/098427eo.pdf

[xxiii] UN Millennium Development Goals, “Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education” Target “Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”.  http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/education.shtml

[xxiv] IITE page 17

[xxv] BECTA ICT Research (2003) What the research says about ICT supporting special educational needs (SEN) and inclusion. Available at http://research.becta.org.uk/upload-dir/downloads/page_documents/research/wtrs_motivation.pdf

[xxvi] BECTA ICT Research (2003) What the research says about ICT supporting special educational needs (SEN) and inclusion. Available at http://research.becta.org.uk/upload-dir/downloads/page_documents/research/wtrs_motivation.pdf

[xxvii] http://www.inclusion.com/resoecd.html


[xxix] UNESCO. Ten questions on inclusive education  http://www.unesco.org/en/inclusive-education/10-questions-on-inclusive-quality-education/

[xxx] UNESCO. Guidelines for Inclusive Education, page 12

[xxxi] UNESCO 2003 “Overcoming Exclusion through Inclusive Approaches in Education Conceptual Paper” page 13-14

[xxxii] http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0017/001778/177849e.pdf Primary sources: R. Hals and R. C. Ficke. 1991. Digest of Data on Persons with Disabilities, Washington, DC, US Department of Education, National Institute on Disability.

C. Ficke. 1992. Digest of Data on Persons with Disabilities, Washington: US Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

[xxxiii] UNESCO IITE ICTs in Education for People with Special Needs. http://www.iite.ru/pics/publications/files/3214644.pdf page 95

[xxxiv] Pastor, C. et al, 2009. Analysing and federating the European assistive technology ICT industry. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=4897

[xxxv] Pastor, C. et al, 2009. Analysing and federating the European assistive technology ICT industry. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/itemdetail.cfm?item_id=4897

[xxxvi] ITU/G3ict e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities http://www.e-accessibilitytoolkit.org/toolkit/promoting_assistive_technologies/open-source

[xxxvii] ABLEDATA: AbleData - Your source for assistive technology information from http://www.abledata.com/

[xxxviii] European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2001. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in special Needs education (SNE). Available at http://www.european-agency.org/publications/ereports/

[xxxix] Technology and Social Change (TASCHA) group, University of Washington.  Technology for employability in Latin America: Research with at-risk youth & people with disabilities page 86 http://cis.washington.edu/files/2009/11/tascha_ict-employability-latin-america_200910.pdf

[xl] TSCAH study page 84


Retour à la liste des articles
Help - Site map - Contact