Visually impaired individuals often do not receive equal access to the education they pay for. The responsibility for this cannot be put onto any singular organization, institution, individual or policy. The law already supposedly protects blind and visually impaired individuals from not having equal access to materials. So what is stopping this from happening?
There are many issues related to getting alternate format transcriptions of course materials.
- The professors don’t have time to create additional content for a single visually impaired student, and some even create content mere hours before a lecture.
- The accessibility department of the school is constrained by time in creating transcriptions of the material (it may be understaffed or non-existent, depending on public policy).
- Both publicly and privately run institutions cannot keep up with the massive amount of incoming material requiring transcription.
So it is broken up into 3 parts: professors, accessibility departments and other institutions which produce accessible material.
Professors want the freedom to create new content for class the morning before the lecture or to update notes if there is any kind of mistake. It is a massive burden on their time to create a version of the course content which they know will be accessible to a student with disabilities. How could they know anyway? Perhaps they could imagine wearing a blindfold, but most probably don’t know what a screenreader or a microcapsule diagram is, forget how to create them or make content which is compatible with them.
Even if a professor wanted to be 100 percent accommodating, they would need months of preparation and maybe even training.
So, not all the blame can be on them.
Accessibility departments (if they exist at all at the school) have limited resources and can’t transcribe advanced diagrams on the fly in an accessible format while the lecture is happening; expecting results even within 24 hours is pretty optimistic. There simply isn’t enough resources at every institution to handle every students’ needs when we’re talking about advanced STEM diagrams. The department likely doesn’t even know what the diagrams mean, so how are they supposed to transcribe it? They also can’t afford to hire an expert in every possible subject just in case a blind student needs diagrams in that course.
But, not all the blame can be on them either. The regional authorities probably don’t give them the funds required.
“There are other options!” they say, contact a public (or private) transcriber and they will get that done for you no problem. Will they though? By the time of, or 24 hours after the lecture? And do they have the expertise to be able to produce in the students’ preferred format, or only in one or two of the formats they can figure out how to produce it in? What if the student would prefer a webpage, like everyone else gets? Or what if they prefer a physical experience with tactile graphs and braille. Can they produce that in time, or within 24 hours after the lecture? I bet not.
It’s not their fault, everyone is different and has different needs. But how is a producer of alternate format material supposed to keep up with all of that? It sounds like a living nightmare.
What if the professor’s diagrams and graphs could be accessible by default? What if every diagram a professor made, could be replicated instantly into any accessible format the student desires? What if this could all be done without intervention on the part of the accessibility department?
This is my long-term vision.
There is one major upfront hurdle: it requires the teacher to learn a new piece of software for creating diagrams. Depending on the age of the teacher and whether the institution requires it of them, it may have varying success. With that said, let’s imagine for a moment what this could bring.
Whenever a professor is creating something which is more advanced than a set of bullet points or illustrative images, they use this software to create the diagram. By default, it outputs as an image, which they can embed in their PowerPoint/webpage with no issues. Now a blind student comes along and takes their course. All the diagrams are saved in the cloud, and they can be distributed to the student like so:
- Find the class in the online tool
- Click “Select All”
- Find a button: “Export as…”
- Choose the student’s preferred format
Sure, in practice I’m sure it will be somewhat more difficult than that. There are occasionally times when it will be more difficult: maybe there is new content which needs to be created or existing content needs to be edited, then the professor will need to remember to select and export the documents for each lecture individually. Or perhaps the student is able to see documents as they are updates in real time; this would be ideal, obviously.
Accessibility departments can use this software to tweak a few diagrams, which should only take a few minutes, as the original will generally be “ok”, but maybe not perfect using the automated tools. A manual touch-up allows experts in accessibility to make sure everything is produced properly if the automated software doesn’t get it completely correct the first time around. Other Institutions
Other public and private institutions could certainly benefit from this technology as well. It is easy to export into whichever medium the student prefers and provides alternatives in the case that the students’ preferred format isn’t working out for one part of the course.
Finally, the student. If this is designed correctly, then a visually impaired student can also create these diagrams with multiple output formats. This enables them to respond to teachers with proper diagrams that the teacher can see and the blind student can read. Above all: it gives them equal access to the world of advanced STEM diagrams, charts and graphs.
This helps reduce barriers of blind individuals in higher education, and is an economic boon, with potentially extremely large growth:
By removing the medium from data, the data can now be exported to any given format. This is good for blind, dyslexic, hearing & learning impaired students. It adds choice for those who maybe prefer text description over an image, or an image over a text description. It adds choice for those who prefer flashy colours, or are colour-blind and need special attention payed to colours that work for them. This creates choice and accessibility for just about every group I can think of.
It gives equal access to course material, and it enables students of all kinds to create visual diagrams that both sides (no matter their abilities) can understand and collaborate on.
“Build your [X] for people who have had it up to HERE with [X].” — Chelsea Troy