Accessibility in Mind with Curriculum Design

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #8

As a teacher of composition and rhetoric, I feel as though I already have a special affinity for the concept of universal design for learning. In the composition classroom, we spend a lot of time and energy with unpacking our attitudes and assumptions we have about the things we hear, see, and read; along the same lines, we spend equal amounts of time and energy in developing tools to unpack (i.e. detect and question) attitudes and assumptions held by the writers of texts that we encounter. This is a major piece of my curriculum on analysis. Additionally, as my teaching is aligned from a rhetorical perspective, I’m always urging my students to be conscious and considerate of their audience when they compose something. The only way they can give their audience what their audience needs is to first know who their audience is and what their needs are. It only makes sense that as a teacher I do the very same thing: I must be aware of who my audience is (i.e. my students) so that I can figure out what they need from me. To that end, I completely identify with Lewis & Sullivan (2012) when they assert that when students encounter barriers with the curriculum just as those with disabilities encounter problems accessing a building, it’s not the fault of the student or the disabled but of the curriculum and the building (p. 348-49). Curriculum that fails to acknowledge the diverse needs of its audience is not the audiences’ problem, it’s the curriculum’s problem. As such, curriculum must be revised in order to be more universal for learning.

One thing I have been doing recently to make my class more universal is making sure that every single electronic document I generate meets accessibility standards (as assessed by the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker)—this insures that all of my documents can be read accurately and efficiently by a variety of eReaders and other assistive technologies. Just as Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest, I find that I save quite a bit of time designing those documents with accessibility in mind rather than having to revise old documents where I did not have accessibility in mind (p. 348). I also quite like the way it forces me to think about accessibility and my audience as I generate materials for class consumption.

In my ongoing interests in the conversation of whether or not to incorporate tablets into the classroom and beyond, this chapter helped me realize that tablets have the capability of decreasing the both the learning distance and the social distance between disabled students and non-disabled students. Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest that in addition to assistive technologies being expensive and bulky, they can often alienate or distance the user from the rest of the students not using assistive technologies (p. 349). Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of doing the same things that a variety of assistive technologies can do. So not only are they multi-function devices in the sense of having a multiplicity of assistive features: they’re also the same devices that everyone else is using. That being said, I can only conclude that tablets, being a universal technology, would eliminate the problem of “assistive distance.”


References

Lewis, J., & Sullivan, S. (2012). Diversity and Accessibility. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.