August 30, 2014

Making online courses accessible to blind students

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Parry, M. (2010) Colleges lock out blind students online Chronicle of Higher Education, December 17

‘Colleges that wouldn’t dare put up a new building without wheelchair access now routinely roll out digital services that, for blind people, are the Internet equivalent of impassable stairs.’

This about says it all. The US Department of Education estimates that there are 75,000 visually impaired students in the USA. Most of the article is about one, admittedly activist, blind person, but it also provides access to a table that ‘scores’ a large number of US universities in their web accessibility for the blind (although I’m not so sure how accessible the Chronicle’s table is to the blind, who are the one’s who really need to know this – we all have to be careful not to throw stones on this issue because of our own glass houses.).

One point I strongly agree with in the article is that technology should make it better, not worse, for blind people. There are solutions out there (such as Readspeaker) that while not perfect for blind people, do make a big difference, at very little extra cost. It is more a question of sensitivity to the issue, and will to do something about it. Above all, accessibility tools should come as standard components of any learning management system.

See also:

Aggregated resources on online learning and the visually impaired

Online learning and students with disabilities

Keller, J. (2010) Cal State’s Strong Push for Accessible Technology gets results Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12


Comments

  1. Robin Popow says:

    I couldn’t agree more Tony. I work at an institution that teaches blind and visually impaired students and I find that they are an incredibly resilient bunch, accustomed to finding work-arounds in their lives. All the more reason for institutions to be proactive to the needs of visually impaired students – they often struggle in silence.

    A concern I have is with the breakout of, and continued institutional modifications to learning management systems. I think we all do it and for the right reasons but my own experience tells me that some of these mods (for example: embedded players, cloud apps, etc.) while providing enhanced learning opportunities for sighted students, may required some mods of their own before screen reading apps can provide similar experiences for visually impaired students. Usually these changes are relatively easy to make if caught early in the instructional design process and therefore as institutions we need to continuously consider the needs of these students.

  2. My husband became blind 2 years ago. He does not work any longer and has been searching for something to do with his time. Is there an online site geared towards education for the blind??

    • Hi, Melinda

      I’m not going to be very helpful here. I don’t know of any college or program that specifically focuses on delivering online courses for blind students (although that doesn’t mean that there are none). Some universities and colleges with learning technology support services, follow general accessibility principles in designing all their courses, but this is pretty much hit and miss.

      The only practical advice I can offer your husband is to check with the institution’s office offering online or distance courses to see whether (a) they already embed accessibility design into their online courses in a way that would enable him to take the course/program (b) if not, to ask if special arrangements could be made, such as transcription into audio of textual materials.

      If you are in the USA, and you haven’t already checked out this site, see: http://chronicle.com/article/BestWorst-College-Web/125642/

      I hope your husband does find a suitable program,

Trackbacks

  1. [...] See also: Making online courses accessible to blind students [...]

  2. [...] are many different online courses to choose from, just like in a regular college or university. Accounting, Economics, and Business [...]

  3. [...] Distance education is an important answer for many students who cannot and would not enroll in a traditional program due to some limitations. It has made everything possible for all kinds of people, even those who have physical disabilities like the visually impaired. There are available online courses for visually impaired, which allows the blind to receive their education and work on earning a degree without going through the bother of traveling to and from a traditional campus. [...]

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