Introducing accessibility and disability

Introducing accessibility and disability

1.1 Why include accessibility in innovation?

In countries where the use of computers and the web in daily life is widespread, many disabled people now have better and more independent access to information and communication. New technology developments can make this access easier, but they can also raise new barriers. These barriers can often be removed by considering the needs of disabled users when designing and implementing computer interfaces. This is what we are talking about when we use the term ‘accessibility’.

As common technical and physical barriers are removed, or at least lowered, people are turning towards designing courses so that students with the widest range of abilities and social circumstances can participate successsfully.

These are the ideas that we are talking about when we use the term ‘accessibility’.

We have included accessibility in this course because the needs of disabled students have to be taken into account when considering how to deliver and support distance teaching. If you are already doing this in your own work, these activities may provide some additional resources. If not, the activities will help you to start to do so. The material in the activity topics begins with the basics about disability because it is very difficult to discuss accessibility without talking about disability.

Experience has shown us that it is better to consider accessibility at the beginning as well as throughout a process. It is often much more difficult to incorporate accessibility after a complex product has been completed and may be very expensive to achieve.

Leaving aside the technology for a moment, what we are really concerned with is access to the teaching and learning, not just access to using a computer. As you start to look at making adjustments to course materials, questions are raised about the effect of this on the intended learning outcomes of the course or the course component in question.

For example, if you provide a description of an illustration, will the description enable a blind student to think about the subject to the same extent as a student who can see it? And in the context of the course, is this important?

Educational professionals need to be aware of the need to make appropriate adjustments to support accessibility and it is a teacher's responsibility to make any decisions that affect the academic content. We will go into more detail about this later in the course.

As the use of information technology and web-based applications in distance teaching has increased, response to the needs of disabled students can no longer be seen as something that can be fixed bit by bit when individual students request it. In many countries legislation exists that requires all sectors to take steps to ensure that disabled people are not excluded. This applies to education too.

Information and communication technology that has been available for a few years will have been used by disabled people and the accessibility issues will already be known. The accessibility of an innovative technology can be predicted and tested, although its success or otherwise will not be truly known until significant numbers of disabled students try to use the technology.

In this course we set out the motivating factors for including accessibility in the design and presentation of online learning. We ask you to consider what you already know about disability from your own experience and to begin to create a list of study activities that may be challenging for disabled students. You will build on this in the other activities presented in this course.