Issues In Preparing Visually Disabled Instructors To Teach Online: A Case Study
The Information Technology and Disabilities e-journal was started in 1994 to disseminate articles about how information technology was being made accessible to people with disabilities. The ITD e-journal was started under the sponsorship of EASI: Equal Access to Software and Information. EASI believes that students and professionals with disabilities have the same right to information as anyone else, and the journal served as a dissemination tool to inform schools and universities on how they can provide a level learning space for their students with disabilities.
Over the ears, its articles covered a broad spectrum of topics, but there were several themes which reflected the changes taking place both in information technology and in how to make it accessible to users with disabilities.
The transition from text-based information to the increased use of graphics
At that early date, there were 2 common mean to distribute information: e-mail and gopher. The ITD e- journal send out a table of contents using a listserv distribution list which contained instructions that let recipients send listserv requests for specific articles. The articles were also posted on gopher which was a text-based precursor of the Web. Personal computers were moving from text based information using command line input to its operating system. The graphical user interface, GUI, was beginning, and many people with disabilities genuinely feared it would slam the door to information technology as adaptive technology software was still using DOS. The Web permitted better browsing and networking but also was beginning to integrate graphics into its interface and its content. Many early articles focused on the GUI problem and began to discuss how to make Web graphic accessible. There were yet no standard or guidelines. The articles give a picture of how graphics and the GUI interface were gradually integrated successfully into adaptive technology.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
In 1995, Recording for the Blind hosted the first of 2 extremely exciting symposia on the topic of making math and science accessible. The hurdles created by these disciplines were overwhelming.
T. V. Raman, then a student at Cornell, demonstrated a sophisticated program which could read and verbalize complex math by using synthetic speech with stereo audio which moved left to right as it walked through a formula. The pitch was raised or lowered to indicate super and sub script. As amazing as this seemed at the time, the actual work on solving the problems turned out to be more complex than was envisioned. The journal had several special issues on STEM accessibility which now is coming to fruition opening these important disciplines to students with disabilities.
Digital Accessibility Information System (DAISY)
Besides having articles covering the development of the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines and the Section 508 standards, researchers around the world were creating a set of standards to permit the creation of electronic documents that would have the same quality of navigability as is found in a print book. Most electronic documents required scrolling and scrolling to move through a document but lacked the ability to move by paragraph, headers, chapters and by pages. DAISY was developed as a new document type to fill this void. DAISY also required the creation of reading tools to let users exploit its navigation power. The journal had special issues explaining the DAISY system and describing software and hardware players as they became available.
Accessible Distance Learning
One of my personal passions for over twenty years has been exploiting the Internet and the Web for distance learning and how to ensure that online learning courses would be useable for students and teachers with disabilities. The journal carried articles on the accessibility issues related to the learning management system applications being used to host distance learning. Articles frequently focused on strategies for instructors to create online course content that would meet the accessibility needs of students with disabilities. Accessible online learning has at least two components. It requires that the learning management system itself is accessible and lets students navigate and find their course work with minimal effort. Once the course content has been found, it too must be in an accessible format enabling students to comprehend and learn its concepts.
An Upgrade, Thanks to DO-IT
In 2011, DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) at the University of Washington volunteered to upgrade the journal website, including all its archives. They did so as a project for students with disabilities in the DO-IT Summer Study program. Students reviewed the original site and identified ways that it could be improved. Then they got started working to implement those improvements. Improvements include:
- All pages were converted to HTML5, and accessibility enhancements were added such as ARIA landmark roles. ARIA landmark roles make it easier for screen reader users to navigate between sections of a page.
- All HTML markup was repaired as needed so all pages validate to the HTML5 specification.
- A new, more contemporary style sheet was implemented.
- All issues and pages were standardized so they have a more consistent look and feel.
- Google search was added to the site to make it easier to search the archives.
- Multiple indexes were added to the site so users can browse all articles by title or author.
- An APA-style reference was added to the bottom of most articles on the site, so researchers could more easily cite ITD Journal articles in their own research papers.
The upgrade was ultimately a much larger project than could be completed during Summer Study, so DO-IT continued to work on the site over the months that followed, with help from one of the Summer Study students, who was hired to work on the project as an intern.
EASI appreciates the hours of time, energy and creativity that DO-IT has contributed to enhancing the look and feel of the Information Technology and Disabilities Journal archives. We know that this enhancement will make these articles more attractive and useful to all of its readers.