Equity in Civic Technology, Privacy & Data
Brief – Hidden Harms: Students With Disabilities, Mental Health, And Student Activity Monitoring
By Elizabeth Laird, with consulting support from Hugh Grant-Chapman, Independent Consultant
Schools rely on technology to provide instruction, coordinate services, and, increasingly, monitor students’ online activity. These technology applications raise privacy and equity concerns, which can fall disproportionately on certain groups of students. Students with disabilities are one such group. Prior CDT research found that technology used to enforce school disciplinary policy can exacerbate long-standing disparities in disciplinary action against students with disabilities.
Additional research also suggests that student activity monitoring has a chilling effect on the willingness of students with disabilities to express their thoughts and feelings online, which adversely affects mental health. At the same time, not all students have negative experiences with school technologies. Students with disabilities, and their surrounding communities, often serve as exemplars of positive community engagement practices that the broader student population would benefit from adopting.
This paper expands upon prior research on students with disabilities’ experiences with school technology, with an emphasis on student activity monitoring and mental health implications. Two main findings emerge from this research:
• Students with disabilities and their communities emphasize privacy protection.
• Student activity monitoring poses disproportionate risk to students with disabilities.