Technology to Support Students With Disabilities

Let’s face it – the Internet is not very friendly for those surfers out there with disabilities. Web designers can design their sites with accessibility issues in mind – but very few do. It takes extra time, and not mention the fact that they may not get to use all of those really cool, flashy spinning gif headers that are so hip now-a-days.

But with 6.3 million students with disabilities in our schools – we don’t want to keep acting like this is an issue that will resolve itself. Which is kind of the thing that some of us in the Instructional Design field hopes will happen. We just hope that screen reader technology and accessibility options will increase in sophistication to the point that they will overcome all of our bad design techniques.

When ever I am designing a class, and the professor wants a podcast, I always point out that they will have to have something ready for students with any type of hearing issues. Notice I said “have something ready.” Some professors understand, but many just wave it off and say “I’ll throw something together when the issue is at hand.” Yeah – great idea – especially when the issue won’t be at hand until you have 2 days to transcribe 10 hours worth of podcasts!

Sheryl Burgstahler and Lyla Crawford of the University of Washington have recently published a paper titled “Managing an E-Mentoring Community to Support Students with Disabilities: A Case Study.” Basically, students are mentored by other students that come from where they are – but you use technology to connect students that may not be in the same geographic location as others. Brilliant, really. And a little more complex than that – so go read the article.

Now, if we can only classify “digital doofus-ness” as a disability and force people with this condition to get mentors – online education could really take off!

3 thoughts on “Technology to Support Students With Disabilities

  1. I completely agree with you that online classes should be accessible to students with disabilities.However, I don’t think that the entire burden to make a class accessible should fall on the shoulders of the professor. If I am teaching a f2f class with a disability it is expected that I will make some changes such as creating a different exam, creating the exam earlier, or provide copies of the slide. But if the student needs transcripts of the lecture, the school provides a note taker who records the lecture and transcribes them for the student. The prof is not expected to transcribe anything.

    Given that creating an online class means lots more work for the prof than a f2f class, having the extra burden of transcribing all lectures and podcasts might create a barrier to entry that many profs don’t want to hassle with. My suggestion is that the school does the same with online classes as it does with the f2f and provide a support person to help students with disabilities in all areas, including transcription. This would serve to keep the prof’s workload reasonable as well as provide a liaison to (and advocate for) the student.

    Just my two cents :)

  2. Oh yeah – I totally agree that schools should provide many of these services for professors. I think it is different at different colleges. I think, but I am not sure, that transcription is not part of the services that are offered by our school. They may not have even thought of that (at least for podcasts). This is probably an issue that we will see more and more of in the future – how schools deal with accessibility issues of “emerging media.”

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