Posted by: MandyS | September 6, 2011

Activity 2.2 – What is accessibility? (Part 2)

These are the notes I have made in relation to each of the questions posed.

What does the word accessibility mean to you?

I jotted down a number of words I came across in the readings which I think are pertinent to understanding the meaning of accessibility; remove/minimise barriers, equality, equivalency, level playing field, accommodation, promote independent learning, interaction.

On that basis, I would suggest accessibility in my own context i.e. HE, as being the promotion of independent learning for students with disabilities by removing or at least minimising barriers to online learning so as to ensure that they are able to interact fully with all aspects of their studies.

Why are people working to improve access?

The trend within HE is towards online/elearning and as such there are a multitude of tools available to facilitate this. This is coupled with the fact that, as the figures suggest, the number of students declaring disabilities within HE is increasing. Society strives towards equality and for that reason, the adequate provision of accessible elearning has become a necessity.

What are the main issues relevant to your institution?

The OU already seems to have in place a strategy for the provision of accessible online learning, but as with any organisation, it is dependent on its practitioners having the knowledge and understanding of how to make elearning accessible. The main issue for the OU would appear to be developing the ‘strategic partnerships’ that Seale alludes to i.e. each stakeholder taking responsibility for accessibility and understanding each other’s role.

1. What is your story?

W201 is delivered by means of paper manual. Some activities are required to be undertaken online and students have access to online module websites and forums. I have students who have additional requirements but I tend to find that they rarely require my assistance, presumably because their ‘needs’ have already been provided for by student services. I make sure I acquaint myself with the student and their disabilities/impairments, so that I know how these may impact on their studies. Invariably, the response is to ask for help if/when it is needed.  To date, I have had 3 students with additional requirements ‘drop-out’; I don’t know whether this is significant but each of these students had mental/learning impairments e.g. depression, dyslexia, rather than physical e.g visual, hearing. What concerns me is whether I can do more? Do I really understand how to make the module accessible? Are the students with disabilities able to interact with the module in the same way as those without? Does it make a difference that the disability is a mental/learning impairment?

2. What are the costs/benefits for you as a learner?

In my case, I would suggest that the benefits far outweigh the costs. I have no issues with studying on-line; I work from home, have unlimited access to a computer and the internet, knowledge of available software and am able to use most ‘tools’ effectively. When I am away from home, I am still able to access and interact with the module via my mobile phone.

3. What metaphor, analogy or imagery would you use to describe the finding of solutions to accessibility problems?

Tricky one this; will get back to you.

4. What information would you want from a conference on ‘making online learning accessible’

I think my starting point would be finding out about available hardware/software, how it works, its benefits, cost implication, whether it is adaptable to specific needs; in particular, it would be good to have the student’s perspective of these points, together with how it can be adapted to my own teaching.

5. Why do some students not declare disability?

There could be any number of reasons why student’s don’t disclose but perhaps the main one is that the student may not feel that the disability is likely to interfere with their studies. Some students may even be embarrassed or perhaps think that they may be treated differently in some way. I suppose it depends on the perception a student may have on the way in which his/her disability is regarded in general terms. Although institutions need to have some idea of numbers from a resourcing perspective, I wouldn’t have thought it imperative that exact numbers would be required; this seems somewhat idealistic. However, I do think it is more important that institutions are able to identify the exact nature of learning needs so that all disabilities can be accommodated effectively; as there can be many variations of impairment/disability it is unlikely that what works for one student will necessarily work for another.

6. Managing identities

I am open about what I do/have done and would disclose anything (personal or medical) which I think would impact on my ability to perform my job or my studies.

These are my thoughts so far; I wonder whether they will change as the module progresses?

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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