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Active Learning and UDL in collaboration with Technology

Labo : Active Learning, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in collaboration with Technology - Step 3

2014 CSUN’s Top Ten

By Roberta Thomson. The 16 April 2014


It was my second trip to the California State University of Northridge (CSUN) Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (March 17-22, 2014). This 29th edition saw 4,300 attendees and exhibit hall visitors gather at the Hyatt in San Diego, to learn and share with researchers, educators, practitioners, end users, and exhibitors.

Sandy Plotin the Managing Director for the conference described this year’s conference as “another banner year”.  The official conference began with a riveting and humour-filled keynote by Tommy Edison, @BlindFilmCritic, followed by the  Fred Strache Leadership Award was given to David Rose of CAST, one of the founders of the term Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

To give an idea of the size of this conference there are two pre-conference days with in-depth topics, followed by 3 days of up to 20 choices of speakers/panels, during 7 sessions per day and a final morning session of practical projects done by local university students.

Choosing the top 10 things to follow in the coming months and year is a tough task to do given the variety of choices and 116 exhibitors. Nonetheless here is what I have determined given the bias of what I selected to attend.

1 - UDL - David Rose commented in his acceptance of the above award that it is schools that have disabilities. He said, “the schools are autistic, schools have physical disabilities”. And made mention that it is the “ecology of the schools that have the problem and this is where the change needs to take place”.

Rationale for top 10: I believe this to be important because there is a growing awareness of UDL in Quebec and an understanding that it is the interaction of a student with the environment of a classroom that causes barriers to learning. His words indicate a shift in focus away from saying the problem is with the student and moving the focus onto all the elements that impede access to learning.

2 - UDL research - Dr. Björn Fisseler from University in Hagen, Germany, started the first session with a literature review of “Factors Influencing Retention of Postsecondary students with disabilities”. His review followed closely the work of Vince Tinto’s and the model of student retention. One of his main comments revealed the absence of research related to the use of UDL in relation to student success.

Rationale for top 10: This absence of research is an important trend as many voices are stating this fact and the time is right to look at this since UDL is a growing practice that promotes student success and retention.

3 - VOICEYEMaking printed material accessible. This is a two dimensional bar code that has the highest information capacity on the market. A VOICEYE code, less than 1-inch in diameter can hold up to 2 pages of text. This is similar to QR codes but without the need for the internet.

Rationale for top 10: This technology will widen access for so many people who use a variety of ways to access to information. By scanning the barcode with the VOICEYE app using a smartphone, iPod or iPad one can use their individual method of access to the text. These could be used on prescription medicines, magazine pages, etc.

4 - Temple University & Penn State – Paul Paire (Temple) and Christian Johansen (Penn) spoke about their campuses movement toward creating web accessibility across campus. Penn State needed to create change in response to a lawsuit filed by the NFB – National Federation of the Blind and is working toward a settlement deadline on Oct. 2014. At Temple they are trying to be proactive as can be seen by their Accessible Technology page and their Accessibility Statement.

Rationale for top 10: These two institutions are examples of a growing movement toward improved web accessibility in postsecondary campuses. Even though these are in the United States, which has broader and deeper laws related to disability, there is a growing need to review accessibility in order to widen access for all students and individuals everywhere as the internet is the worldwide web.

5 - Annual Legal Update – Lainey Finegold and Linda M. Dardarian of San Francisco led their annual review of the status of disability rights in the US. Again, even though this is American, its topics are of interest to Canadians. Three examples that cross borders are:

  • Voting systems – Alameda County, California. Ensuring that equal opportunity is in place so that voters can vote independently. Blind and visually impaired voters experienced problems with audio and tactile features of voting machine. These voters had to dictate their votes to a second party who would then input them.
  • Apple– A very recent Class Action Lawsuit has been filed against Apple for failing to design a Point of Sale Device that is accessible and usable by persons who are blind or have visual impairments.
  • Redbox DVD movie dispensers – class action lawsuits filed from users with visual and hearing impairments. Redbox Discriminates Against the Blind by Failing to Provide Accessible Self-Service Kiosks. The touchscreen used for selection of movies has neither tactile buttons or screen features that allow users to navigate their way through the kiosks. Also, a deaf customer filed a class action lawsuit, stating some movies that say they have closed captioning do not.

Rationale for top 10: I placed this in the top 10 as it is a signal for consideration of manufactures to consider accessibility of all users in their design of products and systems.

6 - CanAdapt SolutionsDavid MacDonald from Ottawa spoke from the Canadian point of view. He stated that following the Donna Jodham decision in 2012 the federal government recognized that there were barriers in their websites for people with vision impairment. CanAdapt, solutions run by David MacDonald, is one of the main consultants that has been working with them to bring their websites into compliance with the WCAG 2.0 standards.

Rationale for top 10: The reason this is in my top 10 is firstly, this is a Canadian specific initiative and secondly this is the direction organizations need to move in order be widen access for all users through web accessibility.

7 - QIATQuality Indicators for Assistive TechnologyGuidelines for identifying, disseminating and implementing assistive technology in an 8 step process from considering the AT needs of a student to the professional development and administrative support for AT. There is also specific website for postsecondary indicators– QIAT-PS.

Rationale for top 10: As assistive technology is often purchased in large quantities with a one size fits all approach, the QIAT and QIAT-PS offers a framework that can guide administrators and educators in making more efficient and sustainable purchases and implementation. Plus, closely match the tool to the user’s needs implementation of assistive technology

8 - Google - Google is making forays into taking accessibility seriously. Before this conference I wasn’t aware of the extent of accessibility available through Google. From using accessibility features of their products to a Google specific accessible web search of websites for the visually impaired.

Rationale for top 10: Companies like Google, Comcast, IBM, Apple and others are designing with accessibility in mind benefiting many users who may have before faced many barriers. These types of changes being made not only benefit those who have faced barriers but increase access for all. ‘The Future is in the Margins’ by David Rose and Anne Meyer.

9 - NPR/Accessible Radio – At the exhibitor’s hall I met with a representative from NPR – National Public Radio, who shared their efforts to put in make radio accessible by having captioned, braille and personalized audio information services available for users. Plus, accessible emergency alerts for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Rationale for top 10: I believe this is a super initiative that widens access for people in the all communities. It was shared that CBC Radio may be looking into this type of service as well.

10 - IAAPInternational Association of Accessibility Professionals – This association had its inaugural launch following an initial proposal at CSUN 2013. ‘The mission of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is to define, promote and improve the accessibility profession globally through networking, education and certification in order to enable the creation of accessible products, content and services.’ Institutional or Individual memberships are available and membership is free until March 2015.

Rationale for top 10: Since accessibility is such a diverse field, trying to streamline and structure the movement with its disparate parts can be daunting and inefficient. Hence this association is attempting to create building blocks and create sustainable infrastructure and standards.

A highlight, which I missed, was seeing Stevie Wonder who dropped by the exhibitor’s hall to share his support for the power of assistive technologies which make a difference in the lives of those with visual impairments and those who face other environmental barriers.

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