simulations: a personal perspective

Treatment for a recurrent sight condition renders me temporarily visually impaired; a situation that can last for weeks, even months. Details get blurred and out of focus, there are no sharp lines or clear distinctions. Because it affects one eye more than the other I can manage but the lived experience of being denied access to text and images and video – albeit instructional, informative or for fun – is both challenging and informative. I realise at first hand how short term simulations may give a temporary insight but can’t replicate the unified whole – it’s the gestalt principle in action. Computer simulations show the part but they can’t show the sum of the parts. They can’t represent the levels of tiredness and the exhaustion of trying, the frustration of not achieving and the isolation of missing out on what everyone else is sharing. You think you know what something is like but to adapt the adage – it’s no good wearing someone else’s shoes – you have to walk in them too.

I suspect that with visual information; in particular digital data, we design following a ME Model (MEM). If we can access it then we assume others can too. We also resist change in practice. Habits get engrained. I’ve listened to a screen reader repeat file names for a pictures that tell the user nothing about their content yet if I know that if I’m in a hurry then I’m equally guilty of not adding meaningful alternative text to digital images.

There is a paradox in educational technology where the potential to widen access is undermined by a dependency on inclusive design. As the use of virtual environments increases, so the gap between public policy and private practice grows wider. Digital data reflects social and cultural norms and lived experience. Those who create and upload content are often influenced by their own needs and requirements rather than anticipating those of their audience. Access to this information is then limited by the forms in which it is made available. This approach disadvantages users who are unable to access electronic data available only in single or fixed formats. Legislation alone is not enough to outlaw discriminatory attitudes. Promoting inclusive design involves challenging perceptions in order to make explicit the rationale behind the need to alter existing practice. As Jane Seale says in eLearning and Disability in Higher Education (2006) if the responsibility to be proactive is not more widely adopted then the same educational technology that is used to widen participation will in itself become a restriction.

Disability Research Conference 2009, Leeds Met

Blogging after the event is difficult on the one hand because other ‘things’ take over but on the other hand ‘things’ that stay are those with the deepest impact so maybe waiting before blogging is one way of identifying the most ‘bloggable’ bits rather than posting stream of consciousness ramblings. The Disability Research Conference at Leeds Met on 22 April raised my awareness of a debate around the use of simulations to demonstrate disability. I’m developing a workshop on promoting best practice in the design of electronic documents and was intending using simulations to produce disorientation for raising awareness of potential barriers to access. Hearing several people speak against this, I turned to the JISC Dis-forum list for advice and from the received responses I’ve compiled this summary and list of resources.

Summary: The prime reason for not using simulations is concern that they may cause misconceptions thereby creating additional barriers rather than reducing them. Simulations detract attention from the individuality of the user; everyone has different mechanisms for dealing with impairment and a generic simulation – while demonstrating the barrier – doesn’t (can’t) address lived experience.

The balance to this is that while simulations can be considered offensive (How can you possibly ‘know’ what it’s like) they do offer experiential insight which raises awareness of potential barriers thus encouraging change in practice. The most acceptable alternative appear to be the use of existing literature and video as demonstration rather than a temporary replication of impairment which can only ever fall short of the reality.

Apologies for the print size – it will increase using browser text size settings under View on the menu bar.

Online simulations


·          SimDis by Techdis 

·          Vischeck colour blindness simulation   

·          WebAim Screen Reader Simulation

·          WebAim Low Vision Simulation 

·          WebAim Dyslexia Simulation

·          WebAim Distractability Simulation

·          Active Learning in Computing (ALiC) Computing Science CETL, Leets Met


·          Loughborough DsylexSim (not free)




·          Burgstahler, S., and Doe, T. (2004). Disability-related simulations: If, when, and how to use them. Review of Disability Studies, 1(2), 4-17.

·          Flower, A., Burns, M. K. and Bottsford-Miller, N.A. (2007) Meta-Analysis of Disability Simulation Research. Remedial and Special Education, 28, 2: 72-79.

·          French, S. (1992) Simulation Exercises in Disability Awareness Training: A Critique. Disability and Society, 7,  3: 257 – 266.

·          Papadopoulos, G and Pearson, E (2007) Accessibility awareness raising and continuing professional development: The use of simulations as a motivational tool. ALT online newsletter 2007: 7




·          The Wrong Message by Valerie Brew-Parrish (1997) and The Wrong Message update (2004)

·          Smith, J.W. (1997) Disability Simulation That Works. The Braille Monitor 40, 4

blogging at breakfast

I’m alerted by a colleague to a blogpost – it’s blog etiquette to link so thanks to Joss for the EdTech link– and for reminding me that I’m currently feeling guilty for blog neglect – its been two weeks! In that time I’ve been involved in several blog-worthy events including the Disability Research Conference through ALT at Leeds Met which prompted an interesting debate via the JISC Dis-forum on the use of simulations in staff training for inclusive practice. Thanks to everyone for contributions; they’ll be compiled and made available online – but not today – its Bank Holiday Monday and I’m going out for a walk – in the real world.

Before I do – because I can – I want to pin down two issues from the blog link. Firstly I agree with EdTechie that blogging is about identity although the advantages and disadvantages of online identity controls would make a blog in themselves. Blogs are valuable ways of ‘getting out there’ but saying this virtual mirror should be a multimedia one because ‘Creating a multi-media posting is now so simple’  increases the pressure to make an online presence not only as ubiquitous as an email address but more ‘exciting’ too. It’s a sad day when text is no longer considered to be enough.

My second issue is the multiplicity of resistance; I don’t agree that ‘developing and online identity is a crucial part of being an academic (or maybe just being a citizen)’. Comments like these assume both confidence and competence with the technology and easy access – which in itself could be divisive.

Can we do it? No, not everyone can (or even wants too)!
The abbreviated Ed stands for education – maybe we should rename  it  Pedagogical Technology instead – and remind ourselves that teaching and leaning is not only about many analogue qualities but is also embedded in the policies and practices of equality, diversity and widening participation and – of course – an ever increasing staff workload.

Now, in the interests of work/life balance – where are my walking boots…………I’m late!

blogging conclusions

Digital debate has a short life span. Thank you again to everyone who contributed and caused a ‘spike’ on my rating levels! Clearly the reasons for engaging (or not) are as varied as the individuals who participate (or not); as would be expected with analysis of any human activity. I was interested to see in the responses the concept of ‘justification’ of what we do and the perceived value of having an additional ‘voice’ whether it for clarification of our own thinking or to share practice in a community-of-practice type way. Wenger identifies activities indicative of a CoP including discussing development, asking for help, documenting projects, seeking experience, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps – all of which are common features of the blogosphere.

So the conclusion that blogs are primarily about learning; either through individual reflection or collaboratively through shared activity situated within lived experience comes as no surprise. We all have a range of tools for expression and use what we feel most comfortable with. Those that have made the shift from analogue to digital sometimes take it for granted that everyone has virtual connections and if not then why not? Maybe an alternative way to scratch below the surface of blogging and identify its strengths and weaknesses would be to take a blogger’s laptop or mobile away for a month and ask them to use pen and paper to record their thoughts instead – any volunteers?

Bloggage and Blogolage

Thanks to those who have made contact re the previous blog 


Still I ponder on the process of blogging and the divide between the avid and the reluctant blogger.  I wonder if there are clues. Are bloggers natural reflectors? Do they see blogging as a pleasure or a chore? Does it appeal more to the technical extrovert or the digitally competent introvert? Do bloggers blog strategically? I’m still curious about how people manage their blogging lives? Do they catch up on their blogroll rss feeds over lunch? Is it considered a work or an après-work activity? Or is blogging simply another indicator of a digital divide; one that isn’t about access to computers but the way in which they are used.  Are bloggers also Twitters and Yammers with a Facebook profile?   


Am I typical or not? The written word appeals to me; texting, email, even assignments and papers; I complain about deadlines but favour the written over the verbal every time. Words suit me; either once removed so I can cut, paste, smooth and polish – or as in stream of consciousness verbiage on demand. Words always have been my preferred method of communication.


I’m also a fan of the Internet; the idea of a network of like minded souls looking for digital connections has always appealed. Me and my laptop are best friends. I miss it when I’m not connected. If this is an addiction then it could be worse – as they say ‘if it harms none do as you will….’


It’s not that I have nothing to say – its almost the opposite – there’s too much – the top layer of my consciousness at this moment includes three paper deadlines (so why am I blogging?!) the practice based research unit on my OU course, if I can use optical illusions to demonstrate critical thinking, identifying other LD tools for prospective students and who or what has eaten the asparagus tops on my allotment. The only reason I’m sat here with my laptop on a Saturday morning is recurring iritis and several looming deadlines; shortly I’m going to plant a jostaberry and cover the asparagus bed with netting!


So it’s not lack of computer confidence or content. I’m an early adopter rather than later or laggard but I’m not consistent; I still find it difficult to get into a blog routine and I’m curious about how others manage. Back to the Cadbury crème again – how do you do yours?

visual impairment

Supporting visually impaired people using the internet highlights how little attention is paid to ensuring websites are accessible. It’s frustration overload; as if finding your way around the keyboard isn’t difficult enough you are then reliant on ‘listening’ to a disembodied electronic voice reading out the html sitting behind the website. It can’t make assumptions or use previous knowledge; it can only read what the designer has put there.

Online information is still designed primarily to be a visual experience. There are standards and guidelines galore but wouldn’t it be easier to ask a visually impaired person what works and what doesn’t work?

A leading supermarket has done some work on making its online shopping site accessible to the visually impaired. BUT there are still problems. It’s 2009. What happened to compliance with disability legislation that started over a decade ago? Why is it that the most vulnerable members of our society – to whom internet access can offer opportunities to re-engage through digital data – are still being discriminated against?

It’s not a technical issue; it’s a human one – it’s a social, cultural and political one. The Internet could be fully accessible and it isn’t; and that reflects badly on everyone of us working with virtual environments.

The ‘A’ Word

In a 10 minute slot in a Raising Disability Awareness workshop I identified some key issues relating to barriers to online access.

Key issue 1: digital data can enable and disable. Online environments have the potential to be electronic equalisers; a digitally level playing field. With the appropriate assistive technology anyone could – and should – be able to access online information and participate in online communities.

Key issue 2: barriers to particpation are numerous leaving people struggling for digital equality. The biggest barrier is the ME Model. People design using their eyes, ears and mouse. They assume their users have eyes, ears and mouse. It goes downhill from there. We all do it. We look for the quickest way to get the job done. But scanning a text article as a pdf is really not a good idea – niether is providing multimedia files in a single format – or forgetting to structure Word documents using built in headings and styles.

Key issue 3: no matter how much we talk about the benefits of inclusive design; where changes for some are benefits for all, we are no closer to creating accessible and usable online learning areas.  Together, we could make a difference but individually it’s a struggle. Changes in practice don’t come easily and old habits die hard. I don’t have the answer; I don’t think anyone does but I shall keep on trying to find one.

Technology enhanced learned; a new digital divide

Technology enhanced learning: a new digital divide is Chapter 7 in the Future of Higher Education: Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience; just published by Continuum – see future_of_higher_education_flyer 

It’s been over a year since I wrote this chapter; and what a long time a year is in terms of educational technology.  If I was writing today, how different some of it  would be – and yet other aspects haven’t changed. The technology may move on but the concept of the digital divide remains with us – if anything the more the technology develops and becomes integrated into mainstream higher education, the greater the divide between those who are digitally confident and competent and those trying to attach a file or feeling perplexed at the mystery of zipping and unzipping folders.

In the next book, Teaching in Public,  I was calling my chapter Doing the Duty; accessible learning – even though the word accessible is being superceded by inclusive – that’s another blog – even another chapter.  I may challenge the unpopularity  of the ‘A’ Word  and simply title it Barriers to Access – because no matter what language you use – educational technology is both enabler and disabler. In the enthusiasm for what it can do, it’s all too easy to dimiss the inherent problems it bestows.

the words disability and equality seem further apart than ever

On the BBC blog The Editors Peter Horrocks (19 Feb) tells how he asked TV news presenters if they would please spell out URLs, e-mail addresses and phone numbers ….[as] a significant number of blind people use television news’. Commentators, and one reported “BBC insider”, have said: “This is political correctness gone mad.” Peter responds with ‘It is not. This issue is not about avoiding causing offence. It’s about information and how to access it.’

Here’s a selection of ensuing comments:

• How would a blind person be able to turn on a computer, open up a web browser find the navigation bar and type in or some other web address?
• How can blind people surf the internet anyway? If they can’t read the URL on the page, how are they supposed to read the page once it had loaded?
• Someone please tell me, how a blind person can navigate a mouse around a webpage when they can’t see where the mouse is and can’t see where they want to place the mouse cursor. If they could achieve that, then they surely could drive a car from one town to another! Not sure the Police would be too happy about it.
• while accessibility is indeed a noble cause, making things less convenient for the overwhelming majority of people to make things slightly easy for a very small few is not sensible.
• How useful is a website going to be to a blind person if they can’t even see the website in the first place!! So what value is there in reading out aloud the web URL to blind people if they can’t even access the website!
• Disabled people need to be given OPTIONS like subtitles, which they have already; we don’t need the concessions made to them to be imposed on the rest of us.

Some days the words disability and equality seem further apart than ever.