Yvie Yao, MJLST Staffer
Imagine that students no longer need to go to a lab to have a lab experience or go to France to visit the Eiffel Tower. Though sounding impossible, edtech companies that integrate virtual reality (“VR”) technology into the classroom learning experience have enabled these activities.
Copenhagen-based company, Labster, plans to use VR to create virtual labs that will allow students to perform experiments and hone their skills in a risk-free environment. U.S.-based companies, like Nearpod and Alchemy Learning, can take students on virtual field trips to learn about everything from the Amazon rainforest to ancient Roman ruins.
While kids love VR technologies, edtech companies ought to be careful about creating content or products within legal boundaries. After edX’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), edtech companies may face increased scrutiny under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). DOJ claimed that edX’s website, as well as the open online courses offered on its platform, were not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, thus violating the ADA.
“Massive open online courses have the potential to increase access to high-quality education for people facing income, distance, and other barriers, but only if they are truly open to everyone” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta.
The same can be said for VR applications in education. Courses with the aid of VR technology provide access to high-quality education for students facing different barriers. Yet, the technology itself is less accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision, who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accomodations, which include places of education and requires these places to take necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not treated differently. In the edX settlement, DOJ appeared to interpret edX itself as a place of education within the ADA’s definition of public accommodation. This has two implications. First, purely online educational entities without any physical location qualify as places of education. Second, other web-based education-related service providers might fit the definition of a place of education.
With the law in mind, edtech companies providing online learning content using VR that integrate the content into school curriculums, should be aware of the implications of the ADA and take necessary steps to provide auxiliary aids and services sufficient to enable disabled students to fully participate in the technology.