Accessibility of eLearning

Program/Curricular Accessibility

Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Jane Jarrow -
Number of replies: 14
I am fascinated with the discussion of the technical side of eLearning access, and encouraged to find that there are so many folks, from such varied backgrounds and perspectives, who recognize an urgent need and are actively seeking to share ideas and solutions. But Catherine's comment this morning, relating to faculty perspectives, served as a reminder that access to technology doesn't fully equate to access to curriculum. Catherine is struggling, as a faculty member, to determine how best to incorporate the promise of this new delivery mechanism (in accessible fashion!) into her stated role as a teacher. How can faculty make the most of the new technology to present their information in new, exciting, and appropriate ways. I applaud the first step that is inherent in such a search -- the realization that developing a quality online class requires much more than just taking the same lectures, the same tests, the same procedures and policies that guide your seated class, and finding a way to code them for the class website. This is an issue of good teaching, not of disability, but it makes perfect sense to develop new skills/practices/ideas for teaching online with full awareness of the concept of Universal Design -- for a change, let's do it right from the start!

My problem is that I don't think Universal Design, as we seem to be discussing it here, can/will resolve all the problems for students with disabilities enrolled in online classes, even when it is done right and done from the start. No matter how accessible the learning management system is, or how careful you have been in developing and posting class materials, there are still problems to be considered. Online classes will, logically, push students to make the most of this new medium as well. That means that online students won't only be using YOUR website -- they will need to visit many other resources on the internet. What happens when that blind student in Philosophy 101 finds he can easily access the parameters of his first assignment by using his screen-reader on your award-winning, top-of-the-line accessible class website. That first assignment is to compare and contrast at least a half dozen different views on the existence of God, as offered by various religious groups. That means an extensive internet search. How will you support that blind student when he has to leave your fully accessible website and go out searching for information on the world wide web that is nowhere near as friendly?

I am interested in hearing from others about the problems (and solutions) they have encountered for supporting online learners with disabilities when the issue is programmatic access, rather than technological access.

Janie Jarrow
In reply to Jane Jarrow

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Janet Bowen -

Janie,

Speaking as the parent of a disabled student, you present a very valid argument. Not only is he dependent on screen reader accessibility but he must also depend on others to write his response. One of the biggest frustrations he faces is the inability many times to access the text that goes with the online course. If they have not been properly translated to the right format. He has learned to get around many of the obstacles, but his frustration is very evident.

Janet Bowen

In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Susan Alcorn MacKay -

Janet you are so right. We're facing a situation at our college where the course has been created in WebCT. We were confident that students have been fairly competent in copy & paste to extract the text from WebCT and paste it into Kurzweil or other screen readers - and then use Dragon (version 9 is about 98% accurate) to speak their answers.

Until we encountered OPUS (and perhaps someone has a thought here). It is courseware development that captures the screen and displays kinda like a jpg - hence no text to copy and paste - totally inaccessible for our students who need screenreaders.

So we've gone to hiring a person to type in txt everything captured in OPUS and embedding in the course material so the screen readers will work.

And I'm happy to say our college has discontinued OPUS and mandated the software selection committee to make 'accessibility' part of their checklist.

one step forward, and 3 behind it seems some days...

In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Jane Jarrow -
Janet said (in part):
"One of the biggest frustrations he faces is the inability many times to access the text that goes with the online course. If they have not been properly translated to the right format..."

Susan understood that to mean that the student was having trouble with accessing the text materials presented onscreen to learners through the class website. That is certainly a problem, and points up, once again, the difficulties of making technology work WITH the students, not against them.

But I took Janet's answer very differently. In my experience, most online classes have an assigned text book that students are supposed to be using, just as students have an assigned text that accompanies their learning in traditional classes/classrooms. If the student is on campus, the disability services office makes sure the the student has that textbook in Braille, or digital format, or whatever form of alternate media is appropriate. But who does that for the student who is taking an online class and may never set foot on campus? How does the student connect with the disability services office? How does the disability service office know there is a student with a disability out there in cyberspace who NEEDS their assistance?

I'm trying to figure out how to get "back to basics" when it comes to online classes and students with disabilities. How do students identify themselves? To whom? What documentation is needed of their disability, and how is it submitted? How do we figure out what accommodations they need? And the list goes on...
Janie
In reply to Jane Jarrow

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Janet Bowen -

Janie,

You took it the way I meant it. However, the other definition is also correct. You ask about identification of a student with disabilities. In the online environment we have found that my son must take a very pro-active approach to the situation. Immediately upon enrolling in a class, he will contact the instructor and introduce himself. He also has a file that he asked the doctor to summarize in two pages to provide to the instructor that include his diagnosis, limitations and suggested modifications. His doctor went a step further and stated that regardless of the test scores (IQ), my son was extremely intellegent and would be a boon to the class. However, not all students are like my son. He's learned through trial and error that this works best for him. He immediately figures out the disability services contact and hounds them until he gets the majority of his modifications. Every time he goes in with his list of must have for success, would work well toward success, want for success and okay here's you give me list of things I know you will never accomodate me with but will make you feel like you have achieved things even by saying no to this list. It seems to be an uphill struggle for him. I don't know how others do it, especially if they aren't as pro-active as he is.

Janet Bowen

In reply to Jane Jarrow

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Janie asked;
What happens when that blind student in Philosophy 101 finds he can easily access the parameters of his first assignment by using his screen-reader on your award-winning, top-of-the-line accessible class website.

Jane then added
In my experience, most online classes have an assigned text book that students are supposed to be using, just as students have an assigned text that accompanies their learning in traditional classes/classrooms. If the student is on campus, the disability services office makes sure the the student has that textbook in Braille, or digital format, or whatever form of alternate media is appropriate

It would be interesting to know, of those on-campus students who are blind - and who have the set text available in an appropriate format. If they have then found some other supporting texts, how easy / quick it is for them to have them converted to the appropriate format. What if it's the day before the essay is due? Does the online student actually have greater access to resources - of which some are accessible albeit not as easily as one might like.

In reply to Emma Duke-Williams

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Jane Jarrow -
Emma said:
"It would be interesting to know, of those on-campus students who are blind - and who have the set text available in an appropriate format. If they have then found some other supporting texts, how easy / quick it is for them to have them converted to the appropriate format."

I think this is where we will begin to see varying experience because of our (geographically) widely scattered representation. I know the answer to Emma's question for students in the US. Here, the disability services office would be responsible for making sure that the supporting materials are available in alternate media, as well, and students would not be asked to take on the kind of hunt for access that Janet described in her post or the time and energy of doing their own scanning that Lou described. Then, again, we all seem to be facing very different challenges when it comes to our copyright laws, and how cooperative (or not!) we are finding publishers to be in sharing electronic files of text materials.

Perhaps we can, as a group, create some kind of a list of the challenges faced in this area of curricular access. I would think the challenges are universal (pun intended!) even if the solutions are not. But once we figure out the kinds of issues to be addressed by everyone, then the experiences SOME have had (good and bad) may be instructive for the rest of us.

Janie
In reply to Jane Jarrow

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Jane said:
in the US. Here, the disability services office would be responsible for making sure that the supporting materials are available in alternate media,

I'm not quite sure if  I didn't quite explain what I meant, or if the US requirements are really good. I was thinking of the student who had their text book in the appropriate format, and, the day before the due date, read an article/ found a reference that seemed relevant - not one deemed a "standard" supported text. Just one that seemed relevant at the time. Presumably there would be some delay in getting it made accessible - whereas his/ her friend could just nip to the library & get the book/ journal out & read it that evening.

I'm not really sure of the situation in the UK, as I'm not working in a disability support department, and the only visually impaired student I've come across in computer labs was able to access the computer with magnification software.

In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Lou Fraise -
Thank you for your remarks, Janet.  I, too, have noticed a high level of frustration in my clients in just obtaining electronic copies of the textbooks required for their in-class courses.  One client and I spoke with Tom Sheridan at University of Alberta this past June about this frustration.  Tom mentioned that there are facilities at U of A that assist students by both scanning/ocr-ing and also editing, all for a cost to the clients.

I am hoping that we all won't have to re-invent the wheel with this one.  Perhaps all that pain and cost of creating an electronic copy for a student in one University could be somehow spread to overcome this problem globally, so to speak.  I would think the actual publishing companies would get on this bandwagon more than they seem to.  Afterall, there must already be some electronic version that created the printed copies.  It should be just a matter of getting them into the mind-set of seeing the need and the value of selling the electronic version as an alternative.

Currently, students at U of S purchase physical copies of many textbooks and then take them to printing services to have them scanned into pdf's.  After that, there is still the task of ocr-ing the PDF's into text, just so they can be read by packages like Kurzweil.  As many of you will have experienced, the ocr-ing process is flawed, and more than a little additional editing needs to be done in order to correct mistakes of the ocr processes.

This responsibility should not be on the shoulders of a student. In addition to the regular challenges of taking a University course, the responsibility of purchasing all the hardware and software to accommodate their needs, learning the use of these tools, are heaped on the Disabled Student already.  The responsibility of ocr-ing and then verifying the correctness as well as editing where the ocr has failed should not be on their shoulders.

In my thoughts, an electronic version of every published textbook ought to be readily available as an alternative, and priced accordingly.  You would think the publishers would have an interest in having their publications interpreted properly, for purposes of ensuring that the text is not somehow mis-quoted in reports and publications.

My clients regularly express that they feel as though they are authoring a revolution, and fighting every step of the way. And truly, they exhibit much more fortitude and determination than most of us so-called "abled".

Thus ends my rant ... for now.
In reply to Lou Fraise

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Claude Almansi -
Then I'll take up the rant, Lou. Switzerland has been working at the revision of its copyright law since - 2004? Anyway, early in 2005, over 160 stakeholders handed in their positions about the draft to the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, who scanned them and published them as PDFs linked in the Stellungnahmen betr. Vernehmlassung zur Revision des Urheberrechtsgesetzes page.

As picture PDFs, that is. Back then I was in charge of info at an association furthering awareness of legal issues connected with IT use, so I wrote to the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property pointing out that this violated art. 10 ("Internet servoces") of the Ordinance against discrimination of people with disabilities (1), which had come into force in 2004. And that this was particularly bad considering that people with disabilities were directly concerned by the new provisions concerning Digital Rights Management provisions - and that the photographic format also was a hurdle to research and analysis for everybody.

Ist answer, very apologetic, putting the blame on the scanner that couldn't do text versions,  promised to offer accessible versions, adding "we are extremely sensitive to the predicament of disabled people: we have an alternative site for them, IP4all.ch. I pointed out that IP4all was a far poorer site, months behind the main site for updates, and that accessibility guidelines said you should only make alternative pages if there was no way to make the original accessible. Long silence on their part.

Then in June, I met their law counselor, Emanuel Meyer, at a conference in Zurich. He told me they had given up making the accessible versions as this would be too time-consuming. Not saying here what I wished upon him.

I started gathering accessible versions from the sites of the stakeholders instead. The Ticino government didn't have its position online. So I wrote to the chancelry asking them to either put their original fileit  online or send it to the association which would put it online. A lady answered she had forwarded my request to the Institutions department. When I saw the chancelor at a seminar on e-government a few days later, I explained that it was an already public document, I was just asking that it be put online in accessible form. He said of course, he'd tell the lady to do so. Next day the lady wrote again, asking for my physial address so that she could send me a photocopy, because they didn't have the file anymore. I answered that I would copy the Ticino govt's position myself.

Yesterday, at a meeting on Web accessibility (2), I mentioned this story as an example of how big is the need to create a culture of Web accessibility. A blind man said wrily: "Well, I could have OCRed those PDFs".

Maybe this story is not directly related to elearning. But the proposed copyright bill is, very directly, both to elearning and accessibility - and to learning and access to knowledge in general - because of all the new articles  added so that Switzerland can ratify  the 1996  WIPO  digital copyright treatises.  As  far as  laws  made  in  obeyance  to these  treaties  go, it's  not one of the worst - so far. The proposed bill has exceptions to kow-towing to digital protection for education, archives - and  people with disabilities. But these exceptions have sub-exceptions to prevent "misuse" of unprotected copies, which makes the understanding of the bill hard. And besides, content producers' representatives like IFPI and BSA are lobbying relentlessly to make the bill tougher,  now that it is in the hands of Parliament. So it is really of essence that all can access the whole information about it.

(1) No English text, sorry. But as many of you are from Canada: Art. 10 Prestations sur Internet.
(2) In case anyone here reads Italian, Accessibilità Web: non solo leggi e norme tecniche  by Luca Mascaro is the text on which the discussion at this meeting was based.

Best

Claude
In reply to Lou Fraise

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Janet Bowen -

Lou,

Just an FYI, if you contact the publisher and inform them you need a accessible copy of their texts, they have them. All they require is documentation that there is a disability that requires the electronic text. While this should not be the responsibility of the student, many times that is where it falls. I found this piece of information out because we weren't getting properly formated text from the school. You may want to investigate this option.

Janet Bowen

In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Susan Alcorn MacKay -

That sounds great and I'm glad that has been your experience. In Canada, it has ranged from an accessible PDF from McGrawHill in 3 days to 800 pages of text with no breaks, chapters, or pix from Pearson, to inaccessible formats in a few weeks that need to be transcribed into something else, to no reply at all from most of the small publishers...hit and miss at best.

Standards would be so nice!

In reply to Lou Fraise

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Susan Alcorn MacKay -

Lou, you touch on a topic of huge importance in Canada right now (and I'm sure everywhere). We really need an international strategy ( I know there is a clear one through WIPO- world intellectual property organization in their report of April of this year) - the whole issue of copyright and intellectual property is so bogus when applied to the 'one for' copy for a student with a diagnosed disability.

You may be interested to learn of the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post Secondary Education subcommittee website at http://www.cacuss.ca/en/11-cadsppe/information.lasso and their website to organize alternate format information at http://www.uottawa.ca/cacuss/index.html This site has publishers contact info and infor for using AMICUS so that there is a focus on getting the file in appropriate accessible format from the publishers (when that is possible - don't get me started on that!) and sharing the file with other users so that there is less duplication.

It works sort of well some of the time but if we don't bang on some doors, they will never open.

I understand various states have a centralized approach - would love to hear how its working - or not- from you all.

:) susan

In reply to Susan Alcorn MacKay

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Jenny Dugger -

Hello all! I have enjoyed reading everyone's responses in this discussion. I work with students who need alternative formats at the university level. While I have found most publishing companies to be compliant and easy to work with, I have also found others to be a little behind the times. Like Susan, I have also worked with McGraw Hill and Pearson who have produced similar quality work for my students. The most surprising situation I have come across thus far was when I spoke with a woman at another well-known publisher recently, who claimed that the company does not provide alternative formats to students with disabilities, nor does it give the rights to anyone wanting to convert materials into electronic texts for those students. She let me know that some of their texts could be found as audiobooks. However, securing textbooks for college classes in audiobook format is not realistic. More strict and well-enforced penalties are definitely necessary, in my opinion, to get individuals with disabilities the materials they need in order to succeed along side their nondisabled peers. Oh, and I agree that standards in the formats we do receive from these companies would be nice too!

 

In reply to Jenny Dugger

Re: Program/Curricular Accessibility

by Pam Berman -

Something like TetraLibro (four books in one) would be nice. Here is an English translation from the original Italian article http://iit.bloomu.edu/pam/blog/index.cfm/2006/6/22/The-First-TetraLibro-is-Bornsup8482sup

Accommodative Services on our campus uses Kurzweil to scan when possible but it takes someone time to do that. I believe students are now able to buy digital formats of certain texts from the University Bookstore but I'm not sure if they are screen reader friendly.