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H810 - Navigation Tips for students with visual impairments

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 4 Jan 2013, 16:50

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Fig.1. Google Docs help center - navigation

I was looking for a way to an an Umlaut to the name 'Engestrom' in Google Docs help but instead stumble upon something far more valuable in relation to access to e-learning for students with disabilities - navigation short cuts. These apply to how a person with sight impairment might move through a text and so, like basic web usability, informs on best practice when it comes to writing, proof reading and lay-out, i.e. editing with a reader with a visual impairment in mind.

Somehow the clear way the guide is laid out caused the penny to drop in a way that hasn't occurred in the last three months however many times I have observed, listened to, read about or tried to step into the shows of a student with a visual impairment.

Web usability recommends a way of laying out text that is logical, clear and suited to the screens we use to access content from the web. This logic of headings and multiple sub-headings, let alone plain English in relation to short sentences as well as use of paragraphs makes reading not only easier for those with no disability, but assists those with varies degrees of visual impairment as content is then better able to respond to standard tools of text enlargement and enhancement, but also of screen readers that work best when reading through text.

What assistive technology does, a control that doesn't require a mouse and keeps a manageable set of keys under the fingers rather than needing to run back and forth across the keyboard, is to reduce the above commands to actions that a visually impaired or blind person can then use to control their web viewing experience.

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H810 Activity 16.1 Assistive Techology - giving it a go

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 19 Oct 2014, 10:58

Fig. 1. Close on the Braille Map - Lewes Station, East Sussex

Two months into 'H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students' I find my antennae are picking up signs and symbols, practices and expectations related to access.

A bus that is full unable to take on the wheelchair user. A blind person on the tube.

Fig.2 Sign as you exit Tower Hill underground. I like the fact that neither the words 'disability' or 'access' are used.

A notice outside Tower Hill tube station and Vvideo clips on products, services and experiences that give some insight into whether or not a piece of assistive technology works or not.

This week (or last) I've been getting behind so jump back and forth between the two we were asked to try some specific tasks as if we were blind. Being the stubborn type I have pressed on with this, alone. Taking my glasses off is a shocking start as I find my face close to the screen. Wearing a blind fold is the next step. Also, as I videod test drivers doing, putting goggles made of plastic coffee cups with the bottoms cut out over my eyes to recreate tunnel vision.

The evidence of the last couple of months, let alone witnessing the Paralympics, shoes how far more diverse the community of people with disabilities is, compare to the rest of the population. Loss of vision is on a scale, as is hearing and mobility.

I guess this is what I am meant to conclude.

I have tried to test accessibility from the point of view of someone who is visually impaired before. I try again using narrator.

Why does it fail?

1) Am I personally adapt at tackling new technology? If so, how so? One way or another I will take to something, visually impaired or not, if I find it intuitive. More importantly I have to have a time and task critical goal. And if that isn't adequate motivation, what is? Motivation will overcome many hurdles.

2) My context, especially past experience of the tools being used. Here's a test.

This sentence is written entirely as a piece of touch tyoung, You can see for your self when and where I start to get lost.

To do this, I found myself looking up at the ceiling.

Actually, EXACTLY as I have seen a proficient blind user of JAWS do.

Think of a blind pianist like Stevie Wonder.

Why look at the screen that offers no clues ... no support, rather sit back and let your fingers do the talking and the seeing. There is a reason why learning the piano as a boy the teacher covered the keyboard - at least I had the music to sight read. Equally there is a reason why learning to touch type on day three or four or something I found myself sitting at a blanked out keyboard. Decades on I delight in the fact that six or more keys on the keyboard have been wiped clean. I just centre my hands and get on with it. A similar challenge has been drawing while not taking my eyes off the object (or person) I am drawing.

These are skills of dexterity, with or without sight.

The appropriate test for assistive technology has to be with someone with the impairment being tested for ... and ideally, as you would do in any research, with a group that are representative of the adapt as well as new comers.

Whilst personas will do, when we have credibly empathy with a potential user, when it comes to disabilities first hand experience is required - far better to engage them and understand it from their point of view than try to imagine what it is like. THIS is how the wrong decissions are taken. Instead of imagining what it might be like - get out and do first hand research with actual representative groups. This is far, far more revealing (as planners in advertising agencies will tell you).

 

 

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H810 Activity 12.1 Notes on the history of England's first school for blind people

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 24 Oct 2014, 08:39

Braille provided a way to read material that could be reused by blind people and reduced the pressure on readers.

Worcester College

The attitude to blindness pioneered by those who founded Worcester College is, I think, best exemplified by Samuel Forster when he asserted that ‘the blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark...blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark...’, an attitude which much later became embodied in the school’s motto, “Possunt quia posse videntur”, They can, because they think they can.

Is preparedness for employment of greater value than an 'education'?

  • The debate rumbles on in relation to all secondary and tertiary education, whether 'academic' or vocational.
  • Thomas Anderson, manager of the Edinburgh Asylum before he went to York, was a great advocate of the utilitarian approach, and censured the English organisations for concentrating on schooling rather than employment.
  • Why educate the blind student if they have no gainful employment or means of supporting themselves afterwards? What indeed is the point in education if nothing follows for anyone? In developing the frustration takes young people onto the streets to protest.
  • As Ritchie says, ‘education was the attainment of a certain degree of factual awareness and the acquisition of a quantum of information—the names of the kings of Israel, the lengths of the chief rivers of the globe and several other categories of facts all equally unconnected with the growing and developing nature of the young’.

Of what use is this to the young blind student?

  • Or should it be in addition to the practicalities of living beyond their school?
  • The prevalent view a century ago was that knowing stuff equated to intelligence. In 1918 on applying to join the fledgling RAF my late grandfather told me how he was asked to name the six most northern counties of England.

A challenge the blind could do without and that was met most readily by those families with the means.

  • Higher education for blind children was confined to those fortunate enough to be born into families with the means and the will to provide this privately.
  • Something that across provision for disabled students hasn't changed, for example, the specialist Northease Manor School charges annual fees of £25,000 p.a. which, usually after a tribunal, local authorities may pay - while of course the well off have no such hoops to go through.

Inspiration from those who make it:

  • Blind Jack of Knaresborough, the road-builder, Nicholas Saunderson, the Cambridge mathematician, Thomas Blacklock, writer, teacher and philosopher, James Gale, inventor and Elizabeth Gilbert, a major figure in nineteenth-century blind welfare.
  • It would be wrong to suppose that blindness, like other handicaps, necessarily acts as a stimulating challenge.
  • Blindness may act as a challenge, but only under favourable circumstances. The exceptions emphasize how grim were the prospects of blind children before education for the blind became an accepted fact of life: conditions were too bad for the handicap to stimulate.

Discriminatory:

They were (says its 1872 report) ‘to bestow a sound and liberal education upon persons of the male sex afflicted with total or partial blindness, and belonging, by birth or kinship, to the upper, the professional, or the middle classes of society.

These unctuous and somewhat naive sentiments were, fortunately for his pupils, not characteristic of Forster. His attitude towards the education of the blind was unusually realistic and forward-looking. In 1883 he read a paper at the York Conference entitled “A plea for the higher culture of the blind”.

'The blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark. The mysterious effects of this constant living in the dark have always exercised the imagination and sentiment of tender-hearted persons; but teachers of the blind prefer to disregard it, and come in time to forget it. To them blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark.... needing the special aids and ingenious contrivances required by the circumstances.’

Presume nothing, ask the end user:

  • Forster wisely consulted some of his older pupils, and they advised adapting braille for the purpose.
  • Flexible, adaptable, accommodating and building on past experience and successes – so motivational and supportive rather than prescriptive.
  • Since braille was the only system which could feasibly be written, the boys learnt to write braille.
  • ‘Teaching to write with a pen and pencil is now generally abandoned as a waste of time’: but those boys who could write before they went blind were encouraged to keep it up. Forster admitted that much teaching was still oral, but not to the extent it was ten years before.
  • Can't start young enough, so perhaps schools can introduce tools and software.
  • Forster was very keen to get his pupils at as early an age as possible, preferably seven or eight, for no kindergarten was then in existence, and the later the pupils arrived, the harder it was to teach them.

Ingenious and inventive:

Mr Marston has been ingeniously endeavouring to apply these games to the use of “our” boys, by means of the principle of localisation of sound.

The difficulties of those boys (roughly one in five) who went on to university are worth elaborating. The student’s main need was for an intelligent sighted reader, for he had few textbooks with which to follow lectures.

'Daily shewing how the same visitation is robbed of its severity, and overruled to practical good.'

Vincent work station:

The software which accompanies the workstation makes it a versatile aid, but its uses might be grouped roughly into three main areas. First, and most obvious, it is a method of communication with non-braillists. Second, it is a valuable teaching aid. Third – it’s fun!

(Bignall and Brown, 1985)

Bell, D. (ed.) (1967) The History of Worcester College for the Blind 1866–1966, London, Hutchinson & Co.

Bignall, R. and Brown, E. (1985) ‘Vincent Workstation’, The British Journal of Visual Impairment, vol. 3, pp. 17–19.

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Accesibility for disabled and older people

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 8 Oct 2012, 06:01

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'Excluding people who are already at a disadvantage by providing small, hard–to–use, inflexible interfaces to devices and apps that create more problems than they solve'. (Jellinek and Abraham 2012:06)

This applies to older people too, indeed anyone on a spectrum that we might draw between full functionality and diminishing senses. Personally, with four immediate relatives in their 80s it is remarkable to find how quickly they respond to the text size options of a Kindle, even having text read out loud, the back-lit screen of the iPad and in particular galleries of thousands of photographs which are their memories too (in the later case invaluable to someone who has suffered a couple of severe strokes).

Reasons to think about accessibility:

  • social
  • ethical
  • legal

My observation here is that Many programmes are now deliberately ’app like' to meet expectations and because they are used in smartphones and tablets not just desk and lap tops. Where there is such a demand for app-like activities or for them to migrate seamlessly to smartphones and tablets (touch screen versions) we need stats on how many people would be so engaged - though smartphone growth is significant, as a learning platform tablets are still a minority tool.

The users who can miss out are the blind or partially sighted or deaf. Blind people need audio to describe what others can see and guide them through functions while deaf people and those with hearing impairments need captions where there is a lot of audio.

It is worth pointing out that there is 'no such thing as full accessibility for everyone'. Jellinek and Abrahams (2012:07)

But on the other hand, 'we mustn't exclude disabled people from activities that the rest of us take for granted'. Jellinek and Abrahams (2012:07)

There is less homogeneity in a learner population than we may like to think

REFERENCE

Jellinek, D and Abrahams, P (2012) Moving together: mobile apps for inclusion and accessibility. (Accessed 25/082012) http://www.onevoiceict.org/news/moving-together-mobile-apps-inclusion-and-assistance

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