Technology and the Internet have revolutionized the way we teach at the postsecondary level as well as the way students learn. As Ben McNeely points out in Educating the Net Generation, (2005), today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Today’s students, K through college, represent the first generations to grow up with their entire lives surrounded by, and using, computers, video games, digital music players, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. In this ubiquitous environment, given the sheer volume of their interaction with technology, today’s students think and process information much differently than their counterparts from earlier generations.
ICT Accessibility in Higher Education Network
Not long ago, I joined a LinkedIn group, ICT Accessibility in Higher Education Network which was created to bring together faculty, staff, instructional technologists, college and university IT decision-makers, students with disabilities, educational publishers/vendors, and all others in the higher education community who are actively involved or have an interest in ensuring that information and communication technology (ICT) being used or being considered for adoption is accessible to everyone, especially people with disabilities. (In this group, ICT includes the full range of technology used for in-class or remote delivery of instruction, online course registration systems/learning management systems, campus websites/portals, library technology, career center software, and social media used to engage existing or attract new students.)
The goal of this group is to broaden the campus ICT accessibility conversation to include everyone who has a role in the selection, purchase, implementation, support/training on, and use of technology in the college and university setting, in and out of the classroom. Group moderator, Jennison Asuncion, initiated discussion by asking members to, “identify key information and communication technology accessibility challenge(s) facing people with disabilities on your campus.
Common Themes and Issues
The comments and related discussion have been thoughtful and several familiar themes and issues have emerged, including:
- Convincing leadership at higher levels in our organization that technology accessibility is a priority. Creating accessible technology and web sites allows persons with disabilities equal participation and benefits everyone with better overall design.
- Effectively integrating the technologies used by students with other technologies available on campus to support teaching and learning.
- Inaccessible materials, especially third-party materials (e.g. content management and e-mail systems, textbooks, videos etc.)
I believe that this group will be a valuable resource for all participants for we can learn from one another and little by little, perhaps get the message out that accessibility isn’t just for students with disabilities. As assistive technologies are becoming part of the mainstream (e.g. the text to speech and speech to text on the iPad) universities are going to need to respond with accessible content so that the general student body can access materials on multi-modal devices.