New research shows that school websites across the country have severe issues regarding mobile friendliness and accessibility. Equity issues have arisen as school districts put more information and resources online, impacting many lower-income citizens who have limited internet access, disabilities or are smartphone dependent.
The research was conducted by Amanda Sturgill, an associate professor of communications at Elon and Molly Bauer, a sophomore strategic communications major at Elon.
Sturgill and Bauer identified the 100 largest school districts in the United States and tested their accessibility for users by determining their mobile-friendliness and disability accessibility. The 10 school districts serve nearly 11 million students.
Through the use of online tools created by AChecker and Google, they found that 27 percent of the district sites were not mobile-friendly and 74 percent of the district sites had issues with accessibility.
“The biggest takeaway is that, even though there are a lot of school districts that can be doing better because they have enough resources to do a good job and reach everybody with their media, they’re just not,” Sturgill said.
Bauer worries that if mobile-dependent families or disabled parents are unable to access the same information as other families, the digital and educational divides will deepen.
“Students with parents that are smartphone dependent for internet access are the students that are already facing setbacks due to their socioeconomic or demographic factors so their inability to access that same kind of information that other parents and students can will just set them back even further than they already are,” Bauer said. “I think it’s a big problem that many of the people in the category of being smartphone dependent who have trouble accessing this information are the same students that are already at a disadvantage.”
Danielle Toback, a sophomore cinema and television arts major who attended the research presentation, thinks that the schools should act and update their websites.
“I think eventually it can get fixed, but we just have to realize that this is an issue,” Toback said. “As long as we keep on pushing it aside and saying that other issues are more important it will never get fixed.”
However, updating websites to be mobile-friendly and accessible is not an easy task.
“It’s not really an update, It’s more like a redo,” Sturgill said. “What you see in a lot of cases is that they’ve bought a product off the shelf that lets them make websites and maybe they bought it 10 years ago and standards have changed since then.”
“I think that it would present a really huge challenge for the websites that have a really big problem with accessibility,” said Bauer.
However, neither Sturgill or Bauer, both of whom are passionate about the subject, is ready to quit researching this issue.
“I think that in the future with this research I would really like to look at varying sizes of schools,” Bauer said. “I would love to see what level of accessibility smaller schools have as well.”