Presentation Summaries Pathways to Success for Students with Invisible Disabilities: an AccessComputing Capacity Building Institute at Landmark College 2013)
The content of the presentations is summarized below.
Presenter: Manju Banerjee
Technology is a staple of college life and the Internet is an education gateway. Many students today are learning online. The Education Growth Advisors (2013) describe an Iron Triangle of cost, quality, and access that affect student learning. These are things that need to be taken into account given the diverse ways that students in higher education learn. Adaptive learning, through one-on-one instruction, differentiated instruction, or student centered learning, can be one way to provide personalized instruction to a diverse set of learners. According to the Education Growth Advisors (2013),
…a more personalized, technology-enabled, and data-driven approach to learning…has the potential to deepen student engagement with learning materials, customize students’ pathways through curriculum, and permit instructors to use class time in more focused and productive ways.
Dr. Nish Sonwalkar, of Synaptic Global Learning, has developed a brain-based adaptive learning platform based on educational and technological research. Adaptive learning is achieved by real-time analysis of learner behavior and shuffling the content in order to match learning preferences. The result is the highest degree of completion and satisfaction of learners in an online adaptive learning platform at an affordable price.
Landmark College takes an adaptive learning approach that is integrated and holistic, focusing on core skills and the life span of the student. Beyond that, the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training conducts discovery and applied research, a professional development for educators, and a graduate level professional certificate in Universal Design and Technology.
Universal Design in Education
Presenter: Sheryl Burgstahler
The extent to which people with disabilities have had access to higher education has evolved from one of exclusion to one focused on functional limitations and, more recently, to one born out of social justice. Focusing on the functional limitations of people with disabilities leads to trying to accommodate individual students with disabilities. A social justice mindset, meanwhile, focuses on the role of universal design to create an environment accessible to as many people as possible, thus minimizing the need for accommodations.
These are two very distinct ways to create access. Relying only on accommodations as a strategy for creating access means that for each individual with a disability, an alternative service, format, and/or adjustment must be made for that individual every time that they encounter a barrier. UD, meanwhile, calls for “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (The Center for Universal Design, www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud). Accommodations are reactive whereas UD is proactive. Universal design benefits people who face challenges related to ability, but also socioeconomic status, race, culture, gender, age, veteran status, language, and other challenges. Whereas a set of stairs is inaccessible to someone using a wheelchair, a temporary ramp serves as an accommodation for wheelchair users and an entry that is level with the sidewalk or gradually sloped is universally designed. Likewise, whereas an uncaptioned video is inaccessible to an individual who is deaf, a sign language interpreter or transcript of the video could be used as an accommodation. The availability of captioning on the video is a universal design feature, benefiting people who are deaf or hard of hearing, English language learners, individuals in noisy settings, and others.
In a higher education environment, UD principles can be applied to physical spaces, technology, student services, and instruction. Physical spaces should be designed so that everyone can get to facilities and maneuver within them. Take into account the overall design of the physical space (e.g., aesthetics, routes of travel) and to all subcomponents of the space (e.g., signage; restrooms; and sound, fire, and security systems) and include people with disabilities in the design process. In terms of technology, students who need assistive technology should be able to access it, and electronic resources should be available online in a variety of accessible formats. In order to be universally designed, student services should
- have policies and procedures that ensure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities,
- include pictures of people with disabilities in publications and websites,
- post ample, high-contrast, large-print directional signs to and throughout the office,
- ensure service counters are accessible from a seated position and that aisles are wide and uncluttered, and
- train staff about how to arrange accommodations.
Universal design of learning (UDL) ensures that curriculum and courses utilize multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. UD can be applied in the context of overall design of instruction, to specific activities such as a lecture or a role-playing exercise, and in the choice of content, such as including information on UD and accessibility in a course on web design. It is important for the instructor to consider class climate, interaction, the physical environment, products, delivery methods, information resources, technology, feedback, assessment, and accommodation. The publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) contains a checklist—validated at more than 20 postsecondary institutions—that can help educators to apply UD to their courses. You can use the checklist to determine what aspects of UD you already employ and to create a timeline for implementing other practices.
Examples of UDI practices include
- arranging seating so that everyone has a clear line of sight,
- welcoming students by name,
- avoiding stigmatizing a student by drawing undue attention to a difference,
- using large, bold fonts with high contrast on uncluttered overhead displays and speaking aloud all content,
- providing multiple ways to gain and demonstrate knowledge and using multiple senses,
- avoiding unnecessary jargon and defining terms,
- providing scaffolding tools (e.g., an outline),
- selecting materials early,
- providing materials in accessible formats,
- providing corrective opportunities,
- testing in same manner in which you teach,
- minimizing time constraints as appropriate, and
- knowing how to arrange for accommodations.
Ultimately, UD of instruction minimizes the need for individual accommodations, can be implemented incrementally, does not lower academic standards, and values diversity, equity, and inclusion.
For more information about UD in higher education, refer to the book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice, published by Harvard Education Press and including the work of 42 authors. Also visit the Center for Universal Design in Education website.
Overview of Profiles of Invisible Disabilities
Presenters: Manju Banerjee, Linda Hecker, Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki, and Sapna Prasad
A learning disability is a significant difficulty in the acquisition and use of listening skills, speaking, reading, writing, writing, reasoning, or math abilities despite average to above average intellectual abilities. It is presumed that learning disabilities occur due to nervous system functioning. They are not due to sensory impairment, intellectual disability, psychiatric disabilities, cultural and instructional deprivation or cultural differences.
The DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) will have a diagnosis of “Specific Learning Disorder” which will replace dyslexia, written expression disorder, and dyscalculia based on specific characteristics of an individual’s reading, writing, and math that negatively impacts their academic achievement, work, or daily living.
There are many misconceptions about dyslexia, including that letters are seen reversed, that it's related to IQ, that it is uncommon, that it can be outgrown or cured, and that it is rare in females. S. Shaywitz (2003) referred to dyslexia as an “unexpected weakness in a sea of strengths.” Phonological processing difficulties on single words or rapid naming tasks can lead to difficulty reading, spelling, and writing. Both eye-tracking data and brain scans show evidence that eye movement and brain activity are different in individuals with dyslexia. Dysgraphia, also a language-based disability, affects an individual’s ability to write. Individuals with language-based issues may
- avoid reading, writing, speaking; need extra time to read of write; or be easily fatigued and frustrated;
- have trouble following directions;
- have difficulty learning new words or organizing thoughts in speaking and/or writing;
- misuse in words when writing or speaking;
- produce written work that is sparse and filled with mechanical and spelling errors or that doesn’t seem to reflect the caliber of thinking shown in class;
- need extra time to read or write; and
- have significant trouble learning second languages.
People are widely aware of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and associate it with the stereotype of a hyperactive individual. Many falsely believe that you can outgrow ADHD and that it can be cured with medication. In reality, a multi-dimensional approach is more effective. “ADHD disrupts the development of inhibition and other self-directed executive functions producing a disorder of self-regulation across time and so interfering with the capacity to choose, enact and sustain actions towards goals” (Barkley 2011). ADHD typically manifests early in life. Core symptoms include inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. It may affect executive functions such as planning, management, working memory, self-monitoring, inhibition, and metacognition. In students, this may be seen to affect
- organizing, prioritizing, and activating to work;
- focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention to task;
- regulating, alertness, sustaining effort, and processing speed;
- managing frustration and modulating emotions;
- utilizing working memory and accessing recall; and/or
- monitoring and self-regulating action.
Dyscalculia refers to difficulty understanding, translating, and performing basic math functions with accuracy such as estimating; comparing quantities; retrieving numerical facts; understanding numerical symbols or math concepts and procedures; and using basic arithmetic. Other factors that may affect math performance include poor language and reading skills; poor visual-spatial skills; attention difficulties; weak executive function coordination; weak working memory; and weak long-term memory.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that starts in childhood. In the DSM 5, Asperger’s, PDD-NOS (Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified), and high-functioning autism will all be folded into the ASD diagnosis. No two individuals with ASD present exactly the same characteristics. ASD is characterized by fixed interests, repetitive behaviors, and deficits in self-regulating emotions, planning ahead, social-emotional reciprocity, and nonverbal communicative behaviors.
Accessibility: Past, Present, and Future
Presenter: Richard Ladner
People with disabilities can do almost anything in almost any scientific field. Technology is often a key factor in their success. Individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in the workforce, especially the STEM workforce. Although 16% of the US population between the ages of 15 and 64 has a disability, 10% of individuals in the workforce have a disability, and 5% of individuals in the STEM workforce have a disability, only 1% of STEM PhD holders have a disability. Students with disabilities are also less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than students without disabilities.
Over time, accessible technology has led to innovations to assist people with disabilities. At times, these innovations lead to solutions for all users. Optical character recognition (OCR) was first invented in the 1970’s to allow blind people to access print books. Now there are OCR applications for smartphones and Bookshare has more than 200,000 accessible books on-line, almost all that have been scanned from print copies using OCR. More than 30 million books are now available and searchable in Google books thanks to OCR. Similar patterns can be seen elsewhere as well. The telephone, now a mainstream device, was first invented by Alexander Graham Bell as a byproduct of his attempt to build a device that provided a visual representation of sound vibrations to aid deaf children learning to talk. In the 1960s Text telephones (TTY) were devised to allow deaf individuals to use telephones. This early technology has been supplanted by SMS (short message service) texting, which is now a mainstream technology. Likewise, speech recognition was originally devised to allow for hands-free access by people with little use of their hands. The videophone, a version of which was introduced by AT&T at the 1964 World’s Fair excited the signing deaf community. In the past 10 years these products have become mainstream.
Other technology used by people with disabilities includes screen readers used by individuals with print disabilities. Screen readers read aloud text that is displayed on the screen and use the keyboard to navigate. Their functionality, however, is limited by how accessible particular documents and webpages are. For example, in order to be accessible via a screen reader, images must have alternative text descriptions. In addition to specialized software like screen readers, many devices today have built-in accessibility features such as Windows 7’s Magnifier and iPhone’s VoiceOver technology.
There is significant research being conducted today in order to make computing more accessible. Researchers interact at mainstream computing conferences, as well as conferences specifically related to human computer interaction or accessibility. Examples of recent research projects include
- VoiceDraw, which allows a user to draw using vowel sounds and speech
- WebAnywhere, a web-based screenreader that does not require users to download special software
- Supple, a system to automatically customize user interfaces for people with low-vision and/or mobility disabilities
- ASL-STEM Forum, a web portal for people to document and discuss sign language for terms specific to STEM fields
- Slide Rule, a precursor to VoiceOver that demonstrated that touch screens can be made accessible.
- GoBraille, an accessible smartphone-based tool to help blind people using public transit
- VizWiz, which allows blind users to take a picture and ask a visual question such as “what does this street sign say?” Crowdsourcing is then used to generate an answer
Individuals with invisible disabilities may benefit from accessible technology as well. Some individuals with invisible disabilities use speech recognition for text input or use a screen reader or magnification for reading. Research is being done in this area by the Center for Defining and Treating Specific Learning Disabilities in Written Language and the Center for Game Science at the UW as well as the Mind Research Institute in Irvine, CA.
Several aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI) can be used to empower users with disabilities including
- user-centered design—to involve the user at every step and to use feedback to influence future designs
- universal design—to design for the maximum number of users rather than just the average user
- ability-based design—to design for varying abilities by incorporating customizable features in the design itself
- design for user empowerment—to design to enable people to solve their own accessibility problems, whenever possible
User empowerment can be particularly important because it allows smartphones to become accessibility tools, users to interact to accomplish an accessibility goal, or allows people with disabilities to use their knowledge and education in computer science or other fields to solve accessibility problems.
Case studies of individuals with disabilities and accessibility highlight the importance of these technologies.
- Anandya is both deaf and blind. He uses a Braille device wirelessly tethered to his iPhone to access standard applications that are accessible because of VoiceOver. He often travels by himself on public transit, including airplanes.
- A high school student who is deaf, has low-vision, and has a mobility disability took part in a workshop at the University of Washington that used Scratch, a graphically based programming environment designed for youth. With magnification, an enlarged keyboard, and a joystick she could navigate the Scratch interface. Unfortunately, she was unable to master the nonstandard select and drag mechanism in Scratch because of the level of fine motor control that was required. Scratch was not designed for people with mobility-related disabilities in mind.
- Nicole, who now works at Google, is blind. As a high school student, she learned to program in her AP computer science class. She had difficulty in her math classes because her teachers did not understand the Nemeth Braille code she used for math. An aide translated her solutions to written math for the teachers. At a workshop at the University of Washington she learned about LaTex, a commonly used markup language for math, that when processed and printed yields beautiful looking equations. She came up with the idea of writing a computer program to translate Nemeth to LaTex using her knowledge of programming and her newfound knowledge of LaTex. She was successful and used it in her math classes. In the end, her solutions were the most beautiful in the class. She was able to solve her (rather, her teacher’s) accessibility problem on her own. This is the highest level of user empowerment.
Assistive Technology and Accessible Technology Design
Presenters: Sheryl Burgstahler and Richard Ladner
It is important for individuals with disabilities to have access to information technology (IT) because it changes the way we live, work, learn, communicate, and play. Technology can increase an individual’s independence, productivity, and participation in education, careers, family life, community, and recreation. Beyond that, IT drives advances in other fields and powers the economy. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2009/spring/art04.pdf) predicts that computer specialists alone will account for over 57% of the growth in science and engineering occupations between 2008 and 2018. If individuals with disabilities can’t access technology, they won’t have access to these jobs.
Assistive technology (AT) is software or hardware that helps individuals gain access to IT. In the past thirty years, as there has been an explosion in computing technology, there has also been a significant increase in the AT that is available. Examples of AT include
- Mouse/pointer alternatives such as keyboard commands, headpointers, touchpads, trackballs, joysticks, foot-operated mice
- Keyboard alternatives such as on-screen keyboards, mini keyboards, expanded keyboards, one-handed keyboards, ergonomic keyboards, software tools such as sticky keys
- Low vision
- Large monitor
- Enlarged keyboard labels
- Screen and text enlargement
- Video magnifiers
- Large print documents
- No vision
- Scanner, OCR, and speech output
- Refreshable Braille and embossed displays
- Learning disabilities
- Scanner, OCR, speech output
- Word prediction or abbreviation expansion software
- Flexible, multi-feature software that can be used with Microsoft Word and other software such as the Read & Write GOLD toolbar with a collection of literary support tools including OCR, scanning, speech output, and voice recognition
- Large print, highlighting, color options
- Speech input
- Idea organizers
- Spelling or grammar checkers
- Smart pens with OCR and speech output, including those that record lectures linked to specific notes (LiveScribe)
- Talking calculators
- Post-It notes, highlighter pens, and other low-tech tools
- Large-print documents on colored paper
Many current operating systems have built-in accessibility features. Macintosh OS X and/or Windows 7 have features including sticky keys, mouse keys, keyboard and mouse customizations or shortcuts, visual notifications for audio alerts, variable colors and contrast, screen or text enlargement, speech output, and speech recognition. iOS has features include speech output; speech input; screen or text enlargement; variable colors and contrast; audible, visible, and vibrating alerts; assignable ringtones; and Bluetooth connectivity for keyboards, refreshable Braille displays or other devices.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (along with its amendments of 2008) and the Rehabilitation Act are generally interpreted to mean that colleges must develop and use accessible IT. Universities need to be sure that their websites and other resources are accessible. At the University of Washington, an Accessible IT Task Force is responsible for enhancing online resources, promoting accessible IT, and exploring policies and processes. Universally designed websites are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0). Universally designed IT benefits a variety of people including those who
- are unable to hear the audio, see the screen, and/or use a mouse;
- are limited in English skills or do not speak English;
- are in a noisy/noiseless location;
- have slow Internet connections; or
- need to find content quickly.
Accessible websites use standard HTML, alternative text for images, simple backgrounds, high contrast color schemes, descriptive link text, and avoid reliance on mouse-only input. Test a webpage for accessibility by turning off the graphics and sound, using only the keyboard, or using accessibility checking tools such as Siteimprove. Learn more about accessible web design through the Web Design and Development Course Curriculum. The course teaches standards-based, accessible web design where accessible design is taught early as a core design principle and reinforced throughout the course. Students must use valid code on assignments and conform to accessibility standards.
Universally designed videos
- address multiple audiences in their design;
- film with captions in mind;
- have large, clear, searchable captions;
- are designed so that key content is spoken as well as visually presented;
- clearly organize content; and
- have an audio-described version available.
Find universally designed videos at DO-IT Videos.
There are many conferences that focus on technology for people with disabilities:
- Closing the Gap Conference, October, Minneapolis, MN
- California State University Conference on Technology for People with Disabilities, March, San Diego, CA
- Accessing Higher Ground, November, Colorado
With accessible IT, students with disabilities can independently complete homework in a way that works for them, access webpages and videos, use a telephone, engage in conversations, and go online to do research, bank, shop, or take classes. Regardless, there are still many ways that AT can be improved in the future, including voice recognition in more languages, more accurate automatic captioning for videos, better customer support, and lower cost options. We need to ensure that developers are aware of the need for AT and universally designed IT.