A new phrase has appeared in JISC World. Print impairment. It describes difficulty with accessing text-based resources. Alistair McNaught writes ‘Between 10-13% of people in the UK … have difficulty accessing text-based resources, varying from dyslexia through to visual impairments and motor difficulties.’
The source of this figure is uncertain. 2020 Vision is cited but they have no reference. The RNIB estimate over 2 million people experience sight loss while Dyslexia Action say approximately 10% of the population is thought to be dyslexic with a total of two million people severely affected. There will be cross overs between these estimates and also all those who’ve not been counted. Print impairment is likely to be more prevalent than we realise.
The JISC post is about digital exams. Rather than extra time, extra readers, extra rooms or DIY digital versions of exam papers, the Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) now requires ‘awarding bodies to offer digital copies of exam papers for print-disabled learners’. Here the language reverts to the D word which is a shame. More on this at later.
Digging through the literature the initiative appears directed at schools but the JISC paper Making the most of accessible exam papers highlights potential problems which are applicable anywhere technology is used for education. The files provided by awarding bodies will be available as PDF so the onus is on the institution to ensure compatibility with assistive reading tools and support for the accessibility features of Adobe Reader. As with all things digital, this is not without complications. Laptops used during exams must meet the security requirements of awarding bodies and staff who teach and support learning will need confidence with operating in assistive technology environments. While JISC suggest ‘Extra time taken in updating staff skills and giving learners good technology training should be outweighed by the reduced support needs of learners.’ anything which involves additional work load plus digital engagement is likely to be unpopular. The paper recommends disability support teams ‘train learners to make the most of examination papers in PDF format.’ The term ‘train learners’ is terrible. What happened to educate? But aside from the pedantics, this suggestion replicates and reinforces what has always been wrong with disability education – the responsibility for accessible practice is seen as belonging elsewhere. It’s something which is done by a few for a few rather than inclusion being a mainstream philosophy and practice. The term print-impairment offers hope but print-disability takes us right back where we started from.
At least the post re-acknowledged the value of digital environments. It isn’t possible to over emphasise these. Digital text provides the ability to change colours, magnify text and images and navigate swiftly through a document – things that significantly reduce the barriers for people with print impairments. What isn’t mentioned is content has to be designed inclusively for this to happen!
These are key messages which are still largely unheard and unacknowledged. As always the message from JISC World looks good on the surface but dig deeper and the potential for inclusive practice risks erosion from a lack of understanding about the inclusive value of digital resources and the wider – even greater – challenge of resistance to change.
The IDER (Inclusive Digital Educational Resources) Working Group meets again this week. It’s time to think about making recommendations. The process will be helped by recent agreement on the Blackboard Required Standards which include Accessibility but what will this look like in practice?
Accessibility is not a popular subject. Already there are comments about this representing more work. I’m trying to say it’s not additional – it’s more like a different way to do what’s already being done. The loss of TechDis has further diminished the status of accessible online content. The Excellence Gateway Toolkit for Accessible Learning Materials has been archived, as has the BBC My Web My Way site while the RNIB’s Web Accessibility Centre seems to have got lost, along with the University of Salford’s Skills for Access which promoted accessible multimedia. The second set of guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative are less intuitive than the first and British Dyslexia Association and AbilityNet appear to be the only organisations still offering specific guidance on font, colour and contrast etc. The move is towards personalisation; the idea being individual users will customise their browsers to suit their own requirements. It makes sense but content creators need to ensure this can happen for examples one of the problem areas is PDF. People like PDFs because they are uneditable and the format looks the same on all applications but locking it down makes it less flexible. You need Adobe Acrobat to make visual changes, which is not free, and using it is neither easy nor intuitive
There is also the problem of web resources which are not downloadable. I have a problem with grey text on a white background. It seems increasingly popular and I’m not sure why. The British Dyslexia Association’s advises us to use dark on light e.g. ‘Use dark coloured text on a light (not white) background’ and ‘Most users prefer dark print on a pale background.’ AbilityNet say ‘If using a light-coloured type, make sure the background colour is dark enough to provide sufficient contrast.’ BDA also say ‘Avoid white backgrounds …White can appear too dazzling.’ Yet B/W is ok for me. I can tone it down using the screen brightness. It’s grey on white which is the problem.
This reinforces how there’s no one size fits all solution. One answer may be to raise awareness of the diversity of ways users might want to access digital resources and support that diversity with inclusive practice guidelines while also promoting how to change browser settings. I’m not a huge fan of the DIY approach. The image below shows some of the steps needed to change text colour . There are multiple windows requiring local knowledge, for example how do you know if you need the Colours, Font or Accessibility button on the Internet Options menu and once you’ve made the change for one website, it can create inappropriate changes for others.?
I don’t know what the answer is and with the gradual dilution of sector wide support for inclusion and accessibility, I wonder if anyone does. I’ve over 20 years of experience with ICT and can still get lost online. It seems too easy an option to say appearance can be configured in your browser, or expect people to understand the need for providing alternative formats. Unless you’ve experienced the frustration of digital exclusion for yourself, persuading colleague to change behaviour is going to be a challenge. However, the proposed changes to the DSA, and the need for institutions to revisit the duty to make reasonable adjustments to the provision of information and resources, means someone has to do it and for me the IDER Working Group is in an ideal position to explore these issues and reach some workable conclusions. In the meantime, if anyone has any useful suggestions around promoting and achieving inclusive digital practice please do feel free to get in touch. All suggestions are welcome 🙂
Accessibility is no longer backstage but now waiting in the wings. It can’t be long before inclusive practice steps centre stage under the spotlight. The DSA is changing and the government says it expects higher education institutions to cover additional costs through their duty to make reasonable adjustments.
These are interesting times. The soapbox is out from the corner, getting dusted down, ready for action.
Some vision-impaired users could not access ticketing information, event schedules or postings of event results and SOCOG was found to have acted in a discriminatory and unlawful manner. http://itd.athenpro.org/volume9/number2/arch.html
No cases have reached court in the UK. When the RNIB served BMIBaby with legal papers in 2010 for failing to ensure its website could be used by blind and partially sighted users they settled out of court. It’s hard to find any mention on the internet of the time Tesco took down its accessible website overnight, excluding those were homebound and dependent on shopping online. The general view is a successful court case is required to set the precedent. Until then it’s business as inaccessibly usual. But the situation might be turning.
A week ago, ‘Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T. saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.’ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/education/harvard-and-mit-sued-over-failing-to-caption-online-courses.html?_r=0
At the same time, in the UK, the Irwin Mitchell law firm is seeking permission for a Judicial Review of the proposals by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to limit the support offered by the DSA on behalf of two students, one is hearing impaired and hoping to begin university in September 2015 and a current student with autism, who receives DSA and claims be able to provide ‘invaluable information to the Secretary of State about the impact of changing DSA on disabled students’. Both claim students themselves should have been consulted about the changes while Secretary of State Vince Cable has said he has “no such duty to consult individuals” even though they will be directly affected. http://www.bataonline.org/news-events/Legal-challenge-to-DSA-cut-backs
There is renewed interest in the provision of digital information. The proposed changes to the DSA offers opportunities to revisit the arguments for inclusive practice. It may be enforced compliance with the law rather than being adopted voluntarily but sometimes the means is worth the ends and digital inclusion is worth it – isn’t it?
Changes to the DSA puts pressure on institutions to make reasonable adjustments to how they deliver information to students. In particular…through different ways of delivering courses and information. The principle of reasonable adjustment is a duty under the Equality Act. The duty is anticipatory.
The text above is taken from two government statements on the DSA. David Willets in April 2014 announced the expectation HEIs will ‘…introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs and help mainstream support.’ In September Greg Clark announced HEIs now have until September 2016 ‘… to develop appropriate mechanisms to fully deliver their statutory duty to provide reasonable adjustments, in particular non-medical help.’
Institutions should adopt a proactive approach by reviewing their practices – but where to begin?
The language of the statements is revealing. In the first document of 760 words there were 4 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapine. In the second document, 695 words contain 19 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapline and 1 of disabled people. Neither statement uses the words accessibility or inclusion. Yet these exist perfectly well in isolation from the word disabled. We all appreciate access. No one likes to be excluded.
I’ve long wanted to see Lincoln be a fully accessible digital university – but where to begin.
Last month I blogged on the flipped classroom and suggested flipping might be the new e-learning for 21st century. Flipping is about developing lecture by video or podcast, either DIY or from existing OER. Educause say ‘… the ease with which video can be accessed and viewed today has made it so ubiquitous that the flipped model has come to be identified with it.’ This is the reincarnation of early promises of e-learning to enhance – if not transform – the student experience.
Digital educational resources are the virtual equivalent of ramps into public buildings, created for wheelchair users but appreciated by pushers of prams, buggies, shopping trolleys and all. Having content recorded for replay and revision rather than a once-only experience clearly has value for everyone. The principle of universal design is inclusiveness. The problem is social and cultural acceptance of the need to change practice; in particular where it’s associated with disability because of a mindset which sees inclusive digital design as the responsibility of someone else.
To be human is to be habitual. We like routines. We’re busy. We don’t have time to create captions, subtitles, transcripts. It’s bad enough moving from text to multimedia in the first place without having to mess about with alternative formats as well.
Where to begin? This is the question the Inclusive Digital Educational Resources working party will need to answer. It’s going to be tough but someone has to do it. Cue the Educational Development Team in EDEU. Cue me. Watch this space…