Posted by: MandyS | September 5, 2011

Activity 2.2 – What is accessibility? (part 1)

I say part 1 simply because this is largely a resume of what has stood out to me in the readings so far and is my way of focusing my thoughts on the questions posed by the activity.

Seale Chapter 1

To me, the main issue here is that despite the multitude of tools available, accessible elearning in HE is poor. This has never really occured to me, I think probably because the impression I have from working for the OU is that the courses are ‘made’ to be accessible and the students have generally already obtained the necessary ‘tools’ they need prior to their embarking on the course. One of the notes I made when reading this chapter was that perhaps it is because practitioner’s don’t know how to make elearning accessible? For W201, I am made aware of any additional requirements and use the material available via the OU to make sure I understand what the ‘disability’ involves, so that I can adjust my face-to-face tutorials when necessary, but that is probably the extent of my support. In answer to my own question then; no, I don’t know how to make elearning accessible and I wonder if this is probably true of the vast majority of tutors. But should I? Is it my responsibility? Initially, my thoughts were that those who design the courses are the specialists and should it not be their responsibility to ensure accessibility. A number of my fellow colleagues on H810 are involved with ‘developing’ elearning within their own organisations and I can see how accessibility will be a priority; making me wonder how my own role fits in. On reflection, I suppose this is a narrow view of elearning being accessible; it is not just about the design of the course but about its presentation. After all, I am a facilitator and that must involve some responsibility in making my own input accessible. I have a role, but I need to find out what that role is.

Seale Chapter 2

Although the figures are not necessarily accurate, it would appear that the number of disabled students in HE is increasing, which ultimately begs the question, why? The simple explanation would appear to be that more students are reporting disabilities but I think that Seale is suggesting that it may also be because there is an increase in the number of ‘disabled’ students i.e. there are more students being ‘classified’ as disabled. If I have got this right, there appear to be various ‘models’ of disability which influence the way in which ‘disability’ is percieved. The most restrictive is the Administrative model as the disability has to fit within certain definitions e.g. to obtain benefits or Blue Badge. The least is the universal model operated by the WHO (World Health Organisation) which is dependent on the extent to which the performance of activities is limited, which could result in anyone being disabled. I have dodgy neck discs which limit what I can and cannot do, as such, I may be percieved as being disabled, although this is not something I would declare; a bit like Seale’s reference to Roulstone ‘it’s not natural to dwell on what one cannot do’, which could be a reason why some disabled students don’t declare their disability.

An interesting aside is the comment referred to by Finkelstein that ‘disabled people need to exercise some control over the support systems they use’. I presume this means that the more support a person with disabilities asks for, the more likely they are to be percieved as being in need of support, which could lead to intervention where it is not actually needed or even wanted. One of my students requires a number of ‘tools’ to assist her in completing the course. However, her initial contact made it clear that she would only ask for help from me if and when she needed it; Roulstone again.

And the conclusion to be drawn from this? There is a need to make elearning accessible and all those involved in education have a role in that. However, it should be the student with the disability who ultimately determines what that need is.

References:

Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routledge; also available online at http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/resourcepage/view.php?id=569013&direct=1 (accessed 26 august 2011)

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