Let’s take a moment and look back to our college days. Remember the courses that really stood out, those we excelled in. I remember one from my undergrad, even now, 30 years later. Think about how those courses were delivered. Were there various approaches for understanding the content? What components or methodologies of learning made it possible for you to grasp the concepts and apply them to the subject matter?
Now think about the course where you struggled the most. What about that course made it difficult to grasp the concept and apply it to the content? Mine was World Civ I. In that class, 3 times a week for 16 weeks, the professor would walk onto the stage of a large lecture hall, open his notebook and speak for 50 minutes. He would barely take a breath as he moved through his lecture for the day. There was never time for questions nor were there visual components. There was not even a timeline for the topics that would be presented. Then, he was nowhere to be seen until he walked out on the stage for the next class. For me, it might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher standing there, “Wah wah wah WAH wah wah.”
There were those in the class that were able to listen and grasp all the concepts but that sure wasn’t my experience. The professor also wrote the textbook, but the lecture did not coincide with the textbook materials so it was like having two incongruent sets of notes that just did not make sense. When I squeaked by with a C, after working harder than I had ever worked in a course, I was so glad to just be done.
What were the barriers in your course that caused challenges with being able to apply the content? What if those challenges were in all of your courses? If the barriers I experienced in my World Civ course carried over to all my courses, I might have made it a year but there is no way I would have continued as a student. What about those students that experience barriers in all of their courses . . . accessibility barriers?
Accessibility challenges with technology
With the advancement of technologies and the reliance on the Internet, every one of us expects to be able to access the information needed in order to achieve even the most routine tasks. When we want to know anything, we just ask Siri to Google it for us. We live in a country that has the most comprehensive policy for Internet accessibility, yet individuals with differing abilities still face barriers with web content and software on a daily basis:
- Content that is not formatted properly blocks technology such as a screen reader from voicing what was typed.
- Unorganized content with small buttons or links requires precise navigation in order to advance to the next page.
- Video or auditory content without a transcript, closed captioning or an interpreter prevents clear equivalent communication.
- Inconsistent navigational design creates confusion.
- Missing auditory descriptions of visual content being discussed prevents an accurate correlation between the content item and the discussion.
There are many more examples. But the bottom line is this – when done correctly, all of the items mentioned above create a better learning environment for everyone.
Who wouldn’t benefit from consistent navigational design? Who wouldn’t like to be able to easily scroll over a button and click without having to try and hit the one small spot that works? Transcripts or closed captioning provides all of us, especially those of us whose first language is not English, the ability to read along with the presentation. It is much easier to search a transcript for a specific term than to try and find it in a video lecture.
The journey toward one path for all
Imagine you are trying to travel home from the neighboring town. While you are attempting to take the most direct route home, you encounter barriers that appear immovable. You are forced to find an alternative route. Sometimes the alternative route isn’t ready and you have to sit and wait; sometimes the route leads you to more barriers and detours; sometimes to a dead end. You can see other vehicles, not impacted by the barriers, going down the more direct road and able to make it to their destination but you have to take a different path. Why? Everyone pays their share of taxes to provide navigable roads but only certain vehicles are able to access them.
On this drive you are required to constantly focus on the navigation of the barriers rather than being able to focus on the journey. It’s exhausting. You love your vehicle, it is perfect, even if you could, you wouldn’t trade it in. But the streets and roads are just not accommodating. Why is it expected that the owners of vehicles that are unable to access to the direct route continue to maneuver their way around possibly never arriving? Shouldn’t they demand that the barriers be removed so that all can travel the direct route?
Most of us would think the above scenario is unacceptable. There are probably some, as you were reading, who felt frustrated and angry. But for individuals with diverse abilities, the path they have to navigate at many institutions of higher learning is often much like the scenario above.
Over the next couple of months my colleague JoAnna Hunt and I will focus on eLearning and the impact on individuals with various visual, hearing, physical and cognitive abilities. Stay tuned as we share these considerations and how they can enhance all individual’s academic experience by providing barrier free access.