Accessibility Matters Part Two

cartoon figure holding a sign saying access denied
Accessibility can be hard work.

Accessible content requires the user to jump over hoops.

It gets tiring. Frustrating. No one understands unless they’ve been there too.

Most ‘accessible practice’ is lip service… tokenism.

Here’s an example of the separation between theory and practice. I followed an interesting looking tweet (as you do) to a blog by Wendy Mitchell @WendyPMitchell who was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in her fifties. Visit Wendy’s website Which Me Am I Today for more details.

Wendy Mitchell website banner showing a view over a lake surrounded by hills

Wendy raises awareness about what the condition is like, in particular what it means for her in daily life. At one such event three ‘healthcare professionals’ had arrived to join her.

‘Two nurses were from the Learning Disabilities team and one from Mencap. We were also joined by Acho from the Recovery College ….They all dealt with people with dementia so I went through all my challenges and simple solutions. They, like many professionals weren’t aware of dementia affecting so many of our other senses so I filled them in on that as well.’

Here lies the heart of the issue. Unless you’ve had personal or 1-2-1 experience of impairment or disability you don’t know what the day-to-day reality is like. If ‘health care professionals’ don’t know the full story then what hope is there for digital content designers and internet providers to create fully accessible and inclusive online environments.

The topic of last week’s #lthechat + #HEAchat was designing interaction for diverse cohorts with Dr Pauline Hanesworth. Many answers to the first few questions included  suggestions of what diversity might look like. Try to define this yourself. By definition, diversity is broad because humanity contains a complex array of difference. Designing for diversity is almost always going to be impossible. So let’s turn it around

tweets from #lthechat

Rather than identification of the constituent parts of a diverse student cohort, we should focus on preventing barriers to access instead – put inclusive practice first –and promote the principles of inclusive design. While there will never be a one-size-fits all model e.g. multimedia will always have exclusive parameters, creating and making time to think about the issues. Learning the value of alternative formats (textual equivalents which can be customised to suit user requirements) is always time well spent.

My colleague Lee Fallin got it…

tweets from #lthechat

tweets from #lthechat

It’s always comforting to find like minded people – who understand the need need to get beneath the academic theorising to the nitty gritty reality – the practical steps everyone can take to ensure their content reaches the greatest number. After all, equality legislation was always about being proactive – about anticipating requests for alternative formats – and providing them at source rather than them having to be asked for.

What went wrong? Why does society seems to be taking backward steps?

In the 1990’s the three Equality Commissions did some fantastic work campaigning and raising awareness of discrimination around the triad of disability, age and sex. When disbanded, replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, dilution of focus was predictable. The single Equality Act introduced a host of protected characteristics – all of which matter – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they don’t.

What I am saying is attention to disability over the years seems to have become blurred and relegated to a back seat. Changes to the benefit system are bad enough – for every so called Daily Mail ‘scrounger’ and ‘benefit cheat’ there are thousands whose physical and cognitive impairment, often through no fault of their own, makes participation in society both challenging and difficult.

image of a broken mirror from pizabay

We’ve reached a state where some individuals with genuine ‘disability’ now have fears about disclosure, who feel they have to disguise integral aspects of themselves in case of negative repercussions, in particular from those with no idea of what it’s like to live in 2017 – in a society which seems to be taking backwards rather than forward steps around access to the built environment – e.g. dropped kerbs which take away the distinction between pavements and roads, street art with no warning of obstruction and it’s not just the real world – it’s the digital one too. This is what concerns me the most. In a society when the platforms of the public sphere are digital and the provision of welfare is first and foremost, where the NHS policy is Digital First, then to be digitally excluded is to be silenced, discriminated against and excluded.

access denied sign with red figure sat looking downcast
image from https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-access-denied-sign-clipping-path-included-image-image60841223

What can be done?

Access to higher education is so important to get right. The cost alone is bad enough without having additional struggle with processes and resources. Attitudes such as insistence on PDF formats, seeing accessibility as the sole responsibility of Disability Services, ignoring the need for textual equivalents to video/audio, acceptance of inaccessible environments like ebooks, provision of new digital content which breaks basic guidelines on colour, contrast and navigation – it’s all around us.

I believe digital inclusion and accessible working practices should should be the seventh element of the Jisc Digital Capabilities model

At the moment it isn’t there – why not?  It suggests those leading the digital capabilities agenda in HE are unaware of the issues themselves and this worries me.

Digital capability is about so much more than using tools – it’s about understanding and reflecting on the wider social impact of the internet and this includes parameters of inclusion and access.

Over on #lthechat the tweets had moved on…

A related topic. Not only does this challenge the myth of the digital native which I still hear being used – uncritically – by staff who teach and support learning across the sector – but it neatly opens the door to ask what being digitally capable means and these are the conversations we need to be having more often.

The #lthechat was over but the tweeting continued…

In the meantime, Lee had the right idea!

This week’s blog started as a combination of accessible and inaccessible digital environments (Accessibility Matters – Part One) with calls for opportunities to debate diversity and barriers to the HE experience – it’s concluding with a reminder how those with digital access need to raise awareness and campaign for the digital rights of those who have it less easy.

Reread and share the Jisc guide to Getting started with accessibility and inclusion

Revisit the Toolkit for creating accessible learning materials developed by TechDis.

Be sad because apart from the Toolkit, all that’s left of TechDis is an archived version of the front page of its website.

The digital world is transient, fast moving, here today and gone tomorrow, but some things should be fixed – given more permanence –  and Tech Dis was one of them.

Who is carrying on the work?

I’m not sure.

Let’s make a list of cares about digital inclusion.

If you’ve read this far and want to be included let me know…

 

image of man holding a sign is from https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-access-denied-banner-held-up-little-man-white-background-image40043062

 

Advertisements

Accessibility Matters Part One

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

I’d heard negative reports about Sharepoint. Which goes to show you shouldn’t judge a tool by its reputation. Using it had two advantages – a selection of useful editing tools and when the text size is increased (unlike MS Windows and Office) the text box ribbon and menus enlarge too.

Both of these matter.

First the tools.

Many user generated content boxes only offer plain text which isn’t enough. I want to edit and format, emphasise, bullet a list, switch to html.

image showing comment box in Speedgrader on Canvas

Hull has Canvas as a VLE and most of its comment boxes are plain text. The minimalist style is particularly frustrating in Speedgrader (yes, you can attach a Word document but in the Grade Studio you can bold, italicise, underline and add a URL which is great for directing students towards additional guidance and support)

Giving feedback and feeding forward for future assignments is a key part of the educational relationship. It’s a skill and an art to critique constructively. Whether feed-back or feed-forward, the process needs to sound as though the student matters and the tutor cares. This can be a challenge to achieve online, where digital text often appears cold, devoid of human touch with an increased risk of misinterpretation. Being able to edit the appearance of text can help this lack of emotion but – other than a : -) face (which doesn’t even convert to a real smile like MS does) plain text has no affordance for personalisation.

smiley from MS Word

It’s not just Canvas which sticks to plain text. The message tools on Twitter and Facebook lack editing features but their function is more ‘of the moment’ like a text equivalent of a quick message whereas meaningful feedback should be personal and contextual – if ever a place was needed for editing tools it’s the online marking of assignments.

Guidance on writing feedback e.g. REAP’s Seven principles of good feedback practice or the Seven Steps Giving Effective Feedback from Plymouth University, is all about what feedback should do. The choice of  media rarely gets a mention, other than as a beneficial alternative to text.

Video and audio offer opportunities for a more personal touch but are still best used in combination with written text rather than as an alternative.  The interpersonal effect of digital writing – i.e. being able to ‘talk’ online as you do face-to-face – is hardly addressed any more. Yet the truth is – compared to (legible) handwriting – Times New Roman is impersonal. Where are the workshops on How to reduce the neutrality of Helvetica or Ways to make TNR emotionally supportive. Choice of media matters. Digital feedback is one of those fuzzy places where the affordances of communicating online meet the limitations of digital text but too few people are discussing it.

So the first surprise with Sharepoint was the text editor toolbar.

Second was the enlarging tool bar.

One of the advantages of dodgy vision (and truth be told, there’s not many) is how it highlights the inaccessibility of digital practice, both from the software giants and from individuals uploading content.

I don’t image of tv on a wall use screen margination software for a number of reasons – one of them being you need a large screen. Suggestions like plug your laptop into your TV assume you have a TV in the first place and  besides, have you ever tried it? If you could put the TV on your desk it might work but most TVs sit in the corner of the room or are fixed to a wall.  Not everyone has wireless connectivity, cables are trip hazards while sitting comfortably with a keyboard, books, coffee cup etc on the floor is not always easy.

I get by with Ctrl+ and Ctrl – although some recent websites designs prevent this. Instead of enlarging content I find myself scrolling down the screen instead. Latest versions of Windows have a slider bar controlling magnification but my Surface and laptop only have a limited choice of magnification options. Choosing the higher ones creates anomalies e.g. items you’re used to seeing on the taskbar get hidden like in the before and after images below (the upward arrow is the hidden icons tray). This might seem trivial but it isn’t. Also note how the text in the footer bar remains the same size!

Image showing the taskbar at default size

Image showing the task bar enlarged with missing icons

I don’t always want everything enlarging so I prefer Ctrl+ and Ctrl- to manage my onscreen view on a page by page, file by file basis.  The problem with programmes like Word is you can only increases the working area.

image showing enlarged text in Word while menu bars remain small

Sharepoint shows enlarging the toolbars and menu items as well is possible but you can see in the image below how the browser tabs remain resolutely tiny.

images howing enlarged text in Sharepoint also enlarges the edit toolbars while browser tabs remain small

It’s worth mentioning how exploring and utilising the Windows accessibility options involves working with menus displaying a default text size – which is too small to read – which is why I need to enlarge it in the first place!   This is a typical accessibility loop – like opening an online document to find a message on page iv saying if you need an alternative format please contact …… Um….. shouldn’t this information be provided somewhere other than within the online document itself?

I don’t want the size fixing – I want the flexibility to increase and decrease online content depending on the context, device, location, light, time of day etc. If MS SharePoint can take the step towards getting it right,  why doesn’t the Office suite give me the same accessible working environment?

Who else cares about these issues? Some answers can be found in Accessibility Matters; Part Two

Inclusive T and L conference Part Two #itandlexcellence

slide with text saying inclusion is for everyone

Many of the issues were simply good practice and would help all students and not just students with specific access requirements

Part One inclusion/exclusion issues with chairs offered first thoughts from the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference. Part Two contains further reflections and takeaways.

Alan Hurst opened the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference at York St John with a reference to Michael Oliver. Great call! Oliver’s influence with regard to the construction and promotion of the social model of disability in HE was a transformational threshold. This transferred the cause of inaccessibility from the individual to the environment where barriers to participation could be  physical and/or cultural; a huge step from a deficit model whereby the ‘problem’ was perceived to be caused by individual impairment. Adoption of the social model led to major changes to the built environment; ramps into public buildings, installation of lifts, accessible facilities and (marking the early days of the internet, when Tim Berners Lee led on digital democracy) the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

diagram showing medical and social models of disability

I didn’t hear the social model mentioned again.

Other takeaways for me included a reminder of Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice (2008) – all HEI should have a copy. Where is the UK equivalent?

Inclusive teaching needs building in (like the production of transcripts or other textual equivalents) to the learning design, not added at the end. Bolt-on methods can be better than nothing but are never seamless and prone to dropping off.

Inclusive teaching means stop making assumptions. We are all different. Individual needs may be invisible. Where they are public (assistance dog, wheelchair, amputation) associated needs might not be what you think. Start a  conversation about preferences for learning.

Prof Ann-Marie Houlton used the analogy of a kaleidoscope in her keynote. It worked well. Turn the tube. Click. Different pattern. Effective learning design is a kaleidoscope. It offers with diversity but all the pieces you need are already there.

A slide linking inclusive design to a kaleidoscope

The institution of higher education (HE) is a beast; large, old, traditional, eclectic and so on…. Changing the culture of HE presents complex challenges and no where is this more true than inclusion. I worry about society taking backwards steps rather than forward ones. Ideally, inclusion is holistic. The reality is inclusion being seen as something someone over there (not in my place) does for disabled students. Another blog post I think.

Inclusive teaching deserves a scholarly approach. Who is writing about inclusion these days?

Inclusive teaching involves understanding how language matters. Disabled students or students with disabilities? Inclusion as a disability issue or inclusion as universal design, an improved experience for all.  The focus of the workshop Fostering inclusive language and behavior in the classroom was gender and sexuality; excellent places to start rethinking the roots of exclusive attitudes and practices (presenters Liesl King and Helen Sauntson used non-inclusive rather than exclusive – is this another linguistic shift? Should I stop referring to a an inclusion/exclusion binary?)

slide showing examples of attitudes - contact me for full text

Language is the biggest building block in the world! It constructs self  and reality. Perpetuates social stereotypes. Discourse analysis and visual literacies are valuable tools but who still uses them? Science is fighting back. Rationality rules. The further we move from the postmodern turn, the more single sources of truth take centre stage. We need to challenge this. We need to talk.

As always with conferences the best conversations took place around workshop tables and over lunch.  I picked up some useful links including the Jisc InStep project looking at curriculum design and graduate attributes. From 2009, it’s judt as relevant today.

So what happens next – after the conference, still in the zone, feeling the buzz. What happens when we’ve thought about inclusion, reviewed programmes and practices, ticked the boxes – when do we stop?

The answer of course is never.  Inclusive teaching should be agile, permanently in beta, continually under development. Each year every class and cohort is different. You wouldn’t have a fixed approach to your teaching (would you?) and it’s the same with inclusion.

HE is a rite of passage but the path can be tricky. Sometimes blockages happen or barriers inadvertently reinforced. It would be good to see more inclusive T&L conferences, including opportunities to talk to students about their own experiences. Inclusive teaching is about listening.

slide showing student comments about complex decision making - contact me for full text version slide showing student comments about disclosure - contact me for full text version slide showing student comments about reasonable adjustment - contact me for full text version

Finally, inclusive teaching is about what we do. Let’s have more conferences around learning designs – so long as one of its pillars is inclusive practice. Either way, did I mention this? – we really do need to talk.


images my own except medical and social model ones from http://ddsg.org.uk/taxi/medical-model.html 

contact me for full text version of slides s.watling@hull.ac.uk


inclusion/exclusion issues with chairs #itandlexcellence Part One

image of coloured plastic chairs on wheels

Chairs on wheels meet solid floor. Blessing or nightmare?

Easy to move, don’t need lifting, don’t scrape or grate when dragged

BUT

…can be difficult to sit on, too easy to slide backwards before you’ve made contact or can fail to provide support if you reach out for them. Chairs on wheels might be good for some but not others.

The conundrum lies at the heart of inclusive practice.
One-size-fits-all models are rare.

Take bobbled surfaces known as textured paving. It warns those with visual impairment of a road crossing but bouncing over them can be uncomfortable for wheelchair users. Shared surfaces where pavements blend seamlessly into roads make crossing easier for those with wheels but can be confusing (even dangerous) – in particular for assistance dogs trained to stop at raised kerbs. The risk is  absence of an inclusive solution becomes an excuse for not changing practice in the first place.

photo of colleague Patrick Lynch at York St John

Yesterday I attended the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference  at York St John University with colleague Patrick Lynch.  The opening Keynote by Prof Ann-Marie Houghton set the scene; universal design means changes for some which create an improved experience for all. Accessible design is not an activity targeting disability. It’s a state of mind and a practice which can benefit everyone.

Digital exclusion was largely missing from the conference. There was reference to commuter students in rural areas not having high speed internet (true for some areas in towns and cities) but I missed references to inclusive design of documents (headings and styles please) or standard attention to font, text size, colour, contrast etc.

This isn’t because we’ve reached some magic tipping point where all resources are accessible. Any VLE offers a range of poorly designed lecture slides which don’t print well in b/w, have too many words on top of images or my pet hate of grey font on white (I can’t see it!!) or audio and video without text equivalents.

In one session we were told it wasn’t possible to provide transcripts for captured lectures because the technology isn’t there yet. This implies a gap while waiting for the technology to catch up yet Windows ‘speech to text’ is not bad and there’s a range of free apps which will give a workable document for editing. Yes, it’s a digital capabilities issue which is all the more reason for institutional support to develop digital ways of working but any lack shouldn’t be an excuse. Where lecturers create and upload notes and/or slides before their presentation, this is the basis for a textual version of recorded content.

It seems students need to disclose and have their ‘disability’ accepted in order to have a text alternative provided for recordings which in itself feels like an exclusive practice.  Audio/video alongside notes and/or images offers a holistic learning experience. Why wouldn’t we want to support students in this way? How many lecturers have tried extracting core information from a 50 minute podcast dealing with an unfamiliar topic!

The exception was Prof Houghton who gave the first keynote with clear, well spaced slides and ‘There’s alt-text on the images.’  Not a phrase you hear every day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. Maybe I don’t go to the right conferences. Most of them are about learning and teaching in particular where it’s online….

Inclusion is about so much more than making reasonable adjustments for some. It’s about the freedom to move independently within the built environment and getting on and off public transport, it’s about dropped kerbs and street art springing unannounced from pavements. It’s about the language we use, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about the social construction of attitude and bias.

Exclusion is created by culture and society and preventing it begins with adopting inclusive design practices.

image showing road cross with no textured paving

This pedestrian crossing over a dual carriageway appears to have no textured surface to indicate the road (taken recently in Hull) 

photo of pavement water fountains
This feature lacks barriers and the water is intermittent; if you couldn’t see it, how would you know?  (Belfast 2013)

Changing the culture of HE is complex and challenging. Nowhere is this more evident than learning and teaching where responsibility for inclusive practice is too often seen as being somewhere else, anywhere else, except with us. TEL-People say it’s within Student Services who say they’re not techies and on it goes. We need to work together on this. The aim is a tipping point where inclusive design and teaching becomes the norm. We’re going round in circles. Conversations at the conference were similar to those from two decades ago. If anything, the issues have become more convoluted.

image of the cover of TechDis Accessibility Essential series of guidance for accessible online content

The lack of a go-to resource doesn’t help. Jisc TechDis is no more. Such a loss. Their Accessibility Essentials series hit the spot while Informing Policy, Improving Practice and Improve your 3 Rs – Recruitment, Retention, Results remain excellent introductions and rationale. We need more not less of the TechDis attitude and enthusiasm for inclusive practice.

Knowledge makes so much difference. Simulation has been frowned upon for failing to authentically replicate lived experience, but a day in a wheelchair or wearing glasses which mimic glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration can offer transformative insight. We need to remember not everyone with an impairment is registered as disabled and take care not to confuse the issues. Hundreds of thousands of people live with invisible conditions such as colour blindness, dyslexia or some form of sensory difference. While careers and consultancies are constructed from the impact of diversity, most of us want to do what others take for granted, for example use the internet and read what’s on the screen (did I say no grey text on a white background please?!)

I’m stopping now before I get really ranty but will end on a plea – if you were to make one single change, please do think about how you present content, in particular online. Plain font, decent size and good contrast are all essential. For those of you who believe Browser customisation is the answer – it can’t work unless content has been designed to adjust.

Everyone is different. It should be what makes us special rather than a problematic.

Also, if you agree please retweet, repost and reply – let’s continue the conversation.

image showing a diversity of cartoon people
image from the presentation of Prof Ann-Marie Houghton. 

Photos all my own or from the conference presentations.

 

What’s your excuse?

pencil sketch of a bar of soap and a box

I’m in that cleft stick again. The one called accessibility. That’s my stick in the corner. On its own. Because most of the time we don’t think about it – don’t talk about it – and with exception of a small band of colleagues from across the sector – we don’t much care about it either 😦

I’m drafting a policy document for the use of Panopto. I can’t say the words (Shhhhh lecture capture) because that colours how people see the software. It influences usage. In the way VLE’s get used as digital depository dumps, recording 50 minute lectures is making minimal use of the affordances as well as being poor pedagogical practice. Try it yourself and see. Choose an online lecture. Unplug your speakers, turn off your sound and be sure to concentrate…

For the last decade multimedia has been challenging the supremacy of text. Yet for all the speed and variety of digital content, there isn’t a one size fits all method for getting messages across. This is the century of communication. Toffler called it the Third Wave. An information age following an agrarian and industrial/technological age.

blue information symbol

The 20th century has bought an obsession with the collection, curation and communication of information. Now in the 21st we have big data and learning analytics. It can only get better (or worse depending on your ontology). I’m unconvinced by this new data revolution. Its rhetorical promise is like the hyperbole heralding the arrival of the VLE and look where that got us.

The grating sound is the soap box being dragged out.  Early this year I presented the keynote at a Making Research Count Conference at UCL. The theme was living and working in digital times and included barriers to digital access. Feedback included this – which says it all…

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

Digital exclusion is invisible. With digital platforms of the public sphere those denied equality of access are neither seen nor heard. People agree social exclusion is a big issue (which it is) and digital divides are important (which they are) but when it comes to doing something then the whole shebang is seen as being outside of their remit. Let’s bring it closer to home.

drawing of a digital divide between ipad and paper

How are you getting on with the recorded lecture with no sound?

It’s a new academic year. The DSA has changed. Institutions have to consider the principles of reasonable adjustments. Software like Panopto is being hailed as a convenient answer but unless textual equivalents are provided how can it be?

I wave the digital inclusion flag with regard to online learning and teaching content but it’s lonely out here. Sort of invisible. It would be so much easier if we were all in this together but other people don’t seem interested. There’s always an excuse or it’s the responsibility of someone else. They talk the talk but don’t do anything about it.

Accessibility isn’t to be put aside until there is more time. The future will never have enough time. It will be exactly the same as it is today. It’s 2016. Equality has been a legal requirement since 1995. Part of the problem – I think – is how digital inclusion gets side-lined into being a disability issue rather than a fundamental digital capability leading to best practice and experiences for all.

We need to talk!

Why we should

  • It’s a legal requirement (Single Equality Act 2011)
  • The law takes a proactive approach – content in alternative formats should be provided not requested  Universities have to make reasonable adjustments
  • Inclusivity improves access for everyone (not just people with disabilities, international students, etc etc)
  • Multimedia is a valuable learning tooI
  • access is explicit in the sconul 7 pilliars of information literacy through a digital lens
  • It will enhance learning

Why we don’t

  • We don’t realise any of the reasons why we should
  • TechDis has been disbanded
  • It isn’t an explicit element of the Jisc digital capabilities framework
  • We’d know its important and would love to but…  we haven’t got the time, resource, money, skills, capacity, interest – fill in the blanks.

So what’s your excuse? What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Lets get a conversation going and make 2016 the year for virtual inclusion.

Tweet @suewatling and #digitalinclusion

————————————————————————————–

digital divide image from http://www.idgconnect.com/IMG/082/17082/digital-divide-india1157-620×354.jpg?1412145199 
information symbol https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Simple_Information.svg