H810: Week 15: Activity 34: Seale Chapter 11
Do you think that there are any incentives for your organisation to develop or improve the accessibility of its online resources? If so, what are they?
I believe that I am detecting differences between the three universities and also between departments:
- One university is a research and teaching university with an emphasis on the research. The emphasis of the website seems to be to produce materials and information that will be attractive to the best students. The legal issue is mentioned as an incentive to make more materials accessible but a greater incentive seems to be the competition between departments. For example, one lecturer applied for research funding which he used to purchase a T3 which produces embossed slides for students with a visual impairment and also to employ a PhD student to prepare slides. He published a paper on the work and attended several conferences. I am certain that his core motive was the interests of his students but the competitive instinct between departments had two others quickly following his example which has resulted in a greater incentive for all three departments to produce accessible materials. Other departments will help out students but rely on them to be proactive in asking for help and discussing issues with the lecturer. One student told me that he liked this approach because he had to enter the 'real world' at some point and needed to be able to do this if he wanted a job. He felt that life had been very easy for him at his specialist school and the approach of this university was a very valuable stepping stone.
- Another university is mainly a teaching university and the focus is definitely on the student experience. In some ways this is a great approach as the lecturers do their best to ensure the students are participating and get the most from their course. They are generally very approachable and willing to help with accessibility issues but, in my opinion, tend to make life very easy for the students in general. For example, a student with a visual impairment has a few problems accessing the intranet. She can do it but lacks practice. The lecturers bend over backwards to send her all information by email instead and as Word documents rather than pdfs which she does not like. I am beginning to get very concerned that she will end up with a really good degree but be unable to function in employment.
- The third university is the OU. I feel that the OU is in a very special position here as they have large numbers of students with additional requirements and so the incentive to produce accessible materials is very high. This has led to excellent research in the area and thus an elevated position in the academic community which reinforces the incentive to research and develop accessible materials.
Think back to before you started this course. Are there any assumptions you had then about whether and how to make online resources accessible?
Working in student support, I think that my views were very student centred. I assumed that the lecturers were being obstructive when they did not provide accessible materials and I did not understand the complexities of the issues involved from the lecturer's point of view and all the different aspects of accessibility and how they interrelated.
Have these assumptions or rules changed as a result of studying on the course? If so, why and how?
I have a greater understanding of the complexities involved and much more sympathy with the lecturers who are designing material, especially since I designed my own resource. I do still feel that lecturers need information about good practice and that universal and flexible design should be built in to general materials. They do not need to be referred to the WCAG guidelines! They also need to be told that universal and flexible design is not enough and they may still need to adapt materials or find alternative experiences in some cases.
Thinking about your organisation - can you identify people who make, enforce, advocate or implement 'rules' that apply to accessibility? (You may prefer to refer to roles rather than individuals.)
Students who are proactive and insist on materials being in an accessible format are both rule-makers and rule-enforcers. In some settings they are also asked for their opinions on specific issues.
Lecturers implement the rules but also may be involved in advocating the rules to other departments.
Student services are (or should be!) involved in making, enforcing and advocating rules.
External/Agency support staff are involved in advocating on the behalf of students and may be consulted on rule-making.
Administration, library and information technology staff in all settings can be involved in both implementing and enforcing the rules as they have their own website presence and are often the first resort when students are having difficulties accessing information.
Disability/accessibility consultants advocate on the behalf of students and may be involved in rule-making.
Senior managers enforce rules and may be involved in rule-making.
External organisations may be involved in rule making (government organisations) or enforcing rules (legally/ pressure groups / lobbyists)
In your context, are there any internal politics regarding accessibility? If so, what feeds the political debates:
Should every course be open to everyone with a disability?
How can someone gain a geology degree without being able to see and describe rocks and thin sections?
This debate is fed by the employment objectives of the courses. Figures are published on the number of student's employed once they have graduated with detail on whether their employment is related to their degree course.
At one university the majority of resources are focused on research but some lecturers have overcome this by attracting funding into accessibility research
Accessibility is "someone else's problem"
Traditionally it has been the student's job to purchase any extra materials required. Publishers are not happy about releasing digital copies of books to students and so they insist on communicating with universities not individual students. This is a new concept and so there is currently no person responsible. There is a lot of confusion as to whether this should be a library responsibility, a lecturer's responsibility, disability services responsibility or the personal tutor's responsibility.
Do you agree with Seale that 'there is a limit ... to the extent to which the institutional change framework can help us to understand the goals and motivations of institutions and teams'? (Conclusions, p.157)
North's institutional change framework is an example of a conceptual framework. These frameworks can act like maps that give coherence to empirical inquiry. Because conceptual frameworks are potentially so close to empirical inquiry, they take different forms depending upon the research question or problem (Wikipedia). North does not describe it as a theory as he says that there are too many gaps in it - these gaps make it possible to include other ideas which make the framework adaptable and so I do not agree with Seale's idea that there is a limit to how far it can assist our understanding. Having studies Engeström's work on contradictions in H800, I think this could be included into the framework to expand our understanding. I am also studying Rassool's framework to understand literacy as part of E801 and I can see the similarities. She includes social, cultural and ideological aspects of literacy in the analytical framework and I could see that including these in the study of accessibility regulation and change would help to understand this complex field. For example, I am currently working with a student from a Muslim background and I am having problems encouraging her independence as her cultural background effects her personal views. This is causing great contradictions as she wants to aim for independence and employment but her cultural background is that she should rely on her brothers for assistance.