The next sneak preview from Daniel Scott’s book ‘Learning Technology’, is taken from Chapter 3 entitled ‘Deliver and facilitate’.
Accessibility and assistive technologies
Accessibility is about ensuring everyone, especially your learners, has access to resources and services, while ensuring that it is easy for them to obtain and interact with your materials. Accessibility is about providing people with as many options as possible, not so much about providing one form or mode of access. Assistive tech- nology means using tools, systems and devices that remove barriers to learning caused by an impairment. It is not about choosing a specific operating system or device.
To learn effectively you need to be in the right mindset and environment to fully store, recall and interact with knowledge. Due to our own preferences, when we learn in a classroom or online we may prefer a desktop or mobile device to help store knowledge and information. However, using different types of devices can either enable or hinder your process of learning. For example, you may prefer to use a laptop to have more screen space and a keyboard to focus, study and type. Mobile devices may be limiting for some people who need to use multiple windows and files to research and absorb information or find it difficult to type on screen. Using personal devices is a great way of embedding assistive technologies because it is likely already mapped to the learner’s preferences. However, be prepared that some learners will not have access to personal devices or may prefer not to use their own devices on campus. Find out if you can borrow sufficient devices from your information technology department or library for the lesson or the day so that all learners can be included in any ILT-related activities.
Assistive technologies can help learners to better use digital technologies if they have a physical or learning disability or have accessibility preferences. Assistive technologies aim to increase access to learning, by improving flexibility and inclusion. In terms of ILT and eLearning, assistive technologies often include screen readers, voice recognition and screen magnification software. For example, in your VLE you may have the option to change background colour, text size and the ability to speak text aloud on the web page. You can also purchase ergonomic mice and keyboards to suit specific needs to enable greater access to digital technologies.
There is a legal obligation to make learning materials accessible, outlined in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001). Also, your employer may have specific requirements that must be followed to ensure you meet the regulatory requirements as well as your learners’ needs.
» Select an online tool or device you are using or want to use with your learners.
» Consider the opportunities and constraints the ILT tools presents.
» Identify and assess a range of assistive and adaptive technologies to support your learners in their learning.
» Investigate the accessibility options and features that are available to help your learners use the tool or device to fully participate in the learning activity.
It is also important to consider accessibility when presenting your materials electroni- cally. The following are some suggestions you could follow in the planning and designing of your teaching activities and resources.
» Ensure the format and layout of your materials are clear, concise and consistent. Information should be appropriately presented so that learners can navigate it easily.
» Make alternate versions of your materials available to your learners, for example, if using Microsoft PowerPoint. Make video, PDF and Microsoft Word documents available with accessibility options on, such as the ‘navigation pane’, to increase readability.
» Ensure that relevant software is installed on the computers and devices and that it works. This will reduce time and frustration for you and learners trying to solve these problems during the session.
» Use appropriate sans-serif fonts such as Arial and styles to increase readability.
» Choose appropriate colours: be aware of any learners that have visual impairments, don’t use difficult-to-read colours like yellow, and ensure there is sufficient contrast between background colours and text.
» Ensure that any images you use have descriptions attached to them (alternative text). This will mean that the text description you’ve added will be read out to anyone using a screen reader.
» All diagrams and tables are labelled.
» Add descriptive text to hyperlinks, rather than saying ‘click here’ as the link may not be visible to some people.
The ‘Accessibility Checker’ feature in Microsoft applications is useful to help you identify any areas for consideration. You may want to consider the conditions that Figure 3.5 illustrates and perhaps select and implement an appropriate mix of text, images, audio, video and interactions to meet the wider needs of your learners – it’s about being inclu- sive by design.
If you would like to gain a greater understanding of accessibility and assistive technolo- gies, access the following links to free courses and resources.
» OpenLearn – Introduction to cyber security: Stay safe online – www.open.edu/ openlearn/science-maths-technology/introduction-cyber-security-stay-safe-online/ content-section-overview
Figure 3.5. Images adapted from ‘Accessibility Issues in Online Learning’ webinar from Jisc’s Alistair McNaught on 23 October 2015.
» OpenLearn – Accessibility of eLearning – www.open.edu/openlearn/education- development/education-careers/accessibility-elearning/content-section-0
» OpenLearn – Assistive technologies and online learning – www.open.edu/openlearn/ education-development/assistive-technologies-and-online-learning/content-section-0
» FutureLearn – Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society – www.futurelearn.com/courses/digital-accessibility
For more information and guidance on using tools to create digital activities and resources while maintaining accessibility and promoting inclusivity, see Jisc’s guides: www.jisc. ac.uk/guides/using-assistive-and-accessible-technology-in-teaching-and-learning and www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/meeting-the-requirements-of-learners-with-special-educational- needs or Dyslexia Action: www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk
Get your copy of Daniel’s book here.