For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person
with a disability it makes things possible.
-Judy Heumann, American Disability Rights Activist, Former Asst. Secretary U.S. Dept. of Education
I’ve started doing some reflecting on how accessible my digital presence is from an assistive technology (AT) point of view. While I’m fairly versed in the use of assistive technology and the importance of its incorporation through the IEP process and in classroom instruction, it has been a while since I’ve reflected on my personal practice of creating accessible materials. It does not seem to be widely known that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that website content be equally accessible to all, including those with disabilities. I’ve have been involved in the field of special education in one form or another for over years and just came across this knowledge this past week, thus the reflection.
My practice of making materials accessible the past few years has come from the perspective of providing adult professional development. I have relied heavily on the use of Google presentations and the use of visuals as a part of this process as well as having an interpreter present for staff who are deaf or hard of hearing. Videos incorporated into the presentations have been closed caption. I’ve also sent presentations out before getting together with staff to allow for additional reading and processing time for those who need it. The feedback from staff has been positive. This approach has allowed all of us to get hands on with our collaboration when we’re together. As evidenced by classrooms that incorporate assistive technology as part of universal design in their classrooms, the practice, tools and strategies can be beneficial to other learners as well. Yet, as I consider the tools we put into place for our students in the classroom, I am struck that my own practice of creating accessible materials is wanting.
In working with my staff to provide accessible learning environments for our students, we incorporate touch screens, screen readers, fm systems, switches, visuals, closed captioning, alternative keyboards, alternative mice, word prediction software, text to voice software, audio books, etc. As I consider this list, which is far from exhaustive, it makes me realize that there are several software and hardware considerations to be conscientious of when designing online courses and/or creating a blended learning environment.
One nice tool to add accessibility is SpeakPipe which allows students to leave a voice message via the instructor’s website. Scott McCloud’s blog has integrated these feature into his blog.
I was disappointed to find that my chosen blogging platform, WordPress, doesn’t support this plug-in. As a result of reflecting on the accessibility of the content I produce, I have posted a request on the WordPress forum to add this plug-in as an option. This request can be supported by visiting the fourm post http://goo.gl/Iya7Rx and commenting.
The document on creating an accessible syllabus written by Xtine Burrough, FDC ATI Coordinator, has become a part of my library. As I look to develop and support accessible materials for online learners that may have a disability or could benefit from assistive technology, this will be an ongoing reference.
AT is an important niche in the world of technology and an important component of all instruction. As leaders in the field of education, special education, education technology, it is time for us to gain a greater understanding of the impact this legislation has on online/blended learning courses as well as teacher and school websites. It is also important that this doesn’t become what could feel like another overwhelming requirement for teachers. The practice of creating accessible materials falls nicely within the universal design approach to setting up a class, classroom and instructional materials. The key is, as is often the case, providing educators with the “why” behind the importance of this practice as well as the time and training needed to make it happen.
As part of the comments, I invite you to share your practices, thoughts, concerns and suggestions for providing equally accessible learning to all students.