Google Apps for Education (GAFE) are a series of free, on-line applications that provide a host of office suite applications along with an e-mail system and web development tools to academic users. The use of the service is free for any educational institution (K-12 through higher education) except for a $10 annual domain licensing fee.
Many schools and institutions of higher education around the country have signed up for GAFE as it can provide a tremendous savings to the organization. With the GAFE services, the institution may no longer have to maintain their own servers for web and mail services and may also no longer have to purchase and support desktop office suite applications like Microsoft Office. GAFE is operating system-agnostic meaning it can run on any computer linked to the internet.
Recent research conducted by the Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN) Google Apps Accessibility Interest Group has revealed GAFE to have significant accessibility issues for people with disabilities using assistive technology (AT). Specific issues and concerns raised thus far are reviewed in an article by accessibility consultant John Brandt.
Schools and other public institutions considering the use of GAFE will need to fully understand the ramifications these accessibility problems will create for their students and staff with disabilities as they may not able to access or use these applications or the instructional materials developed by them. Until such time that GAFE fully meets the accessibility standards outlined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, schools and institutions of higher education in the United States are cautioned about relying on these applications for academic or administrative purposes.
The following are links to “Dear Colleague Letters” from the United States Department of Education related to information technology and the education of students with disabilities:
- May 26, 2011 DCL - Legal obligation to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits of technology (overview article).
- June 29, 2010 DCL - Concerning colleges and universities that are using electronic book readers that are not accessible to students who are blind or have low vision.