2004 Conference Proceedings

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A PRACTICAL TOOL FOR ADVOCATING FOR INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION

Presenter(s)
Dagmar Amtmann, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
National Center for Accessible Information Technology in Education
U.W. Center for Technology and Disability Studies
University of Washington
Box 357920
Seattle, WA 98195
Email: dagmara@u.Washington.edu

Kurt L. Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
National Center for Accessible Information Technology in Education
U.W. Center for Technology and Disability Studies
University of Washington
Box 357920
Seattle, WA 98195
Email: kjohnson@u.washington.edu

Summary:
We will demonstrate the use of a fully accessible DVD featuring a blind computer user navigating a post-secondary environment with a screen reader and describe how to use this to raise awareness and influence policy to advocate for accessible IT in education.

The National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education (AccessIT, www.washington.edu/accessit) developed a video that is available on a fully accessible DVD. The video, entitled "Surfing the Web with a Screen Reader", presents the topic of accessible web design for all users, including those who use adaptive technology to access computers and the internet. The shift toward electronic information systems represents a remarkable opportunity for people with disabilities, especially those who cannot access print (Coombs, 2000). For instance, blind individuals who once had to wait weeks or months for information in alternate formats can now access web-based information at the same time it becomes available to sighted readers. However, the web presents new accessibility challenges, as illustrated in the video web designers who are unaware of the principles of accessible design often inadvertently create web pages that cannot be negotiated with even the most sophisticated of screen reading technologies (Schmetzke, 2001).

The use of the fully accessible DVD itself has value as a training tool in that it encourages consideration of a variety of instructional and other software and multimedia. The special features of a fully accessible DVD may include captions which were designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and are decoded by the TV..Audio Description which provides verbal cues to describe key visual events is included as a track on the DVD and switched on through the DVD menu. Subtitles may deliver captions as well. Subtitles are enabled in the DVD menu. Finally, there are "talking menus" to afford access to the directory and other information for people with vision impairments..

Using an accessible DVDs to train IT and Administrators about accessible Web design

Universities, community colleges and other institutions increasingly conduct essential communications using the web. When web pages are inaccessible, students with disabilities may miss out on opportunities for sharing work, communicating with peers and mentors, keeping in touch with the latest developments, and taking advantage of experiential learning for which they may already have limited opportunities due to their disabilities. With distance learning gaining popularity, designing educational websites with universal design in mind, has become a necessity. Web content developers make every effort to make the information accessible to all visitors, but sometimes have difficulties understanding how people who use assistive technology access the web, and how specific web design strategies increase accessibility of websites. The video, "Surfing the Web with a Screen Reader," was developed to illustrate how technology is used by blind users and what they can do to make their pages accessible to all visitors.

This video provides a "real life" feel for the issues around accessible web design. It serves as an excellent introduction and stimulates discussion. Viewers understand quickly the reality of accessing various kinds of websites routinely found at universities and the barriers that may be present.

Conclusion

Fully accessible DVDs demonstrate how accessible multimedia design can facilitate the full participation of diverse audiences. Surfing the web with a screen reader can be used as a tool to help raise awareness and influence policy about accessible IT in education.

To order the video "Surfing the Web with a Screen Reader", please contact AccessIT by calling 866-968-2223, or visit the AccessIT website at http://www.washington.edu/accessit.

[s1]"a number" translates only to about 14 major motion pictures: compared to the total number of DVD releasees this is minute at best. This might be an interesting point to make.

[s2]I deleted the word "format", as technically speaking ALL DVDs are of a format capable of providing accessible features. All DVDs contain space for up to 32 subtitling tracks and up to 8 separate audio tracks, and all DVDs and players support audio menus. The issue isn't the format, but simply whether or not the producers opt to load those tracks with accessibility info. (This might be good information to include.)


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